Mass. House leader singled out in pay-for-play jobs investigation

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In the wake of the resignation by two top officials in the Massachusetts Probation Department, following a report that the department regularly handed out jobs as political favors, a story in the Boston Globe on Sunday says that one of the most active politicians in the pay-for-play scheme was Speaker of the House, Rep. Robert A. DeLeo.

Mass. House speaker Robert A. DeLeo harshly criticized the corrupt hiring practices in the state's probation department, but his relatives and political supporters were among its beneficiaries.

A report issued on Nov. 18 by special counsel Paul F. Ware, following an investigation into the department’s hiring practices, said that the probation department was riddled with fraud and “systemic corruption.”

The Ware report said that important jobs were handed out as rewards to campaign donors, after politicians sent letters of recommendation to Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien asking him to intercede on the applicant’s behalf. Thousands of phony job interviews were held to create the illusion of an open hiring process, even though jobs had been already committed to the politically connected.

O’Brien abruptly quit on Dec. 30 in advance of a disciplinary hearing that would have likely terminated his employment. On Jan. 19, the department’s second in command, Elizabeth V. Tavares quit a day before she was scheduled for a disciplinary hearing. Two other top officials, deputy commissioner Francis M. Wall and legal counsel Christopher J. Bulger, are currently on paid administrative leave, pending hearings on their involvement in the hiring practices.

Recent comments by Speaker DeLeo suggest that he was unaware of the hiring practices, and once he learned of them from the Ware report, he became a vocal critic of the practice. “We will make clear that all public servants must not only be qualified for their jobs; they must be the most qualified people for their jobs,’’ DeLeo said earlier in January in his speech to the House after being elected to a second term as speaker. He promised to sponsor reform legislation within weeks.

Although the Ware report mostly detailed alleged improprieties of probation department officials, it mentions DeLeo by name 41 times.

Despite his current stance against using jobs as political favors, DeLeo’s record shows that he was one of the most notable offenders, according to the Globe.

A job candidate that DeLeo recommended in 2005, for the position of assistant chief probation officer at the Malden District Court, was one of the least experienced, and the only one of 39 applicants that did not have any basic training, including a mandatory two-week training program or even an employee manual.

After she was awarded the promotion, another department employee filed a grievance questioning her qualifications for the position, which led an arbitrator to order the department to re-open the search for the position or provide additional training for her.

Marisa Gogliandro-Vaughan openly told friends that she had a close relationship with DeLeo and once referred to him as her “godfather.” She also made donations to his election campaign as early as 2002.

DeLeo claims he doesn’t recall recommending Gogliandro-Vaughn, although he said he may have. He claims that she was simply a former resident of his district and “if she received a recommendation, and if that recommendation allowed someone who was less qualified to skip over a candidate who was more qualified, that was certainly not his intent.”

Some of the other questionable hirings reported by the Globe include:

  • DeLeo helped his longtime girlfriend get hired at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, where she is a secretary.
  • DeLeo helped his cousin, Ralph DeLeo, get a job at the state’s Executive Office of Administration and Finance after Ralph and his father each contributed $500 to DeLeo’s election campaign.
  • At the Probation Department, at least 15 people who either donated at least $850 to his campaign or were recommended by his office were given jobs or promotions since 2005. One of those recommended was DeLeo’s godson, now the state’s youngest chief probation officer.

DeLeo had plenty of contact with probation department officials as head of the House’s Ways and Means Committee beginning in 2005, and was responsible for recommending funding expenditures for the department. His influence over the department’s annual budget gave administrators such as O’Brien and Tavares plenty of reasons to keep him happy.

Critics say that the way that O’Brien repaid DeLeo’s generosity with his departmental budget requests, was by fulfilling all of DeLeo’s job recommendations.

DeLeo also brushed off the charges that his former deputy, Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati, reportedly helped over 100 campaign workers get jobs in the probation department. DeLeo claims he didn’t look at it as an ethics issue, rather “What I looked at it was an issue wherein a representative, again in terms of trying to help a constituent, you know, made a recommendation for a job . . . I’m not sure if that falls under any of our ethical rules as being not proper.’’

The Boston Globe

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