Top Mass. probation dept. official resigns in wake of hiring scandal

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Another top official in the state’s probation department has resigned, following an investigation into corrupt hiring practices in the department. The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that Elizabeth V. Tavares, first deputy commissioner, resigned a day before a disciplinary hearing in which she was expected to be fired.

Deputy commissioner Elizabeth V. Tavares resigned in advance of an expected firing, over corrupt hiring practices in the state's probation department.

Tavares was suspended with pay in November, after the release of a report by special counsel Paul F. Ware which said the department’s hiring practices were riddled with fraud and “systemic corruption.”

Ware reported 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.

The report said Tavares was “at the heart of perpetuating the sham selection process” and passed along O’Brien’s favored candidates to a hiring committee that was already told who it should hire. “First Deputy Commissioner Elizabeth Tavares was central to the process, admitting that she received names of favored candidates from the commissioner and funneled them to other deputy commissioners and regional supervisors in order to ensure that the commissioner’s candidates received final round interviews,” according to the report.

After the report was released, the State’s Supreme Judicial Court recommended that Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien be fired, and that Tavares and two others, deputy commissioner Francis M. Wall and legal counsel Christopher J. Bulger, be put on administrative leave “pending the conclusion of disciplinary proceedings.”

A federal grand jury is considering charging the officials with fraud and extortion, and the state’s attorney general, Martha Coakley, has assigned a team of prosecutors to the case to determine if state laws were broken.

The Ware Report

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Mass. public agency funds over $100,000 for study on male group sex

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Group sex study funded by taxpayers: MyFoxBOSTON.com

Taxpayers in Massachusetts are footing the bill for a controversial study on gay group sex, according to a news report on Boston’s FOX 25 TV station.

According to the report, the Fenway Institute has been recruiting gay men and paying them up to $300 to attend group sex parties, reporting back on the activities, and agreeing to be tested for HIV. Ads on Fenway’s website asked “Go to male group sex parties? Like group sex with men?”

The study, called Project PARTY, was paid for by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and has cost taxpayers over $100,000.

“Whatever the perceived merits of this study the fact is it is an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds and should be halted immediately,” House Minority Leader Bradley Jones told Examiner.com. “We are facing a $2 billion structural deficit and yet we have extra cash lying around to fund a group sex study? If this is how the taxpayers money is being spent, they should demand a refund.”

A spokesman at the Fenway Institute disagreed saying, “I absolutely think it’s justifiable, and we should be doing more of this kind of work.”

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Correction department employees switching jobs to scam pension system

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A Fox undercover operation in Boston has exposed shady, but legal loophole in the Massachusetts Department of Correction that allows managerial and administrative workers to retire many years earlier than they would otherwise be entitled to receive full pension benefits.

Here’s the way it works: A department employee in another group, makes a career switch and becomes a correction officer, a more hazardous job that allows employees to retire far earlier than other positions.  As long as the employee remains a corrections officer for 12 months, they are treated for retirement purposes as though they spent their entire employment in that position.

The practice is known as group jumping, and Fox found 14 instances of the practice since 2005.

One such employee interviewed briefly by Fox, was Cheryl Nelson. She spent nearly thirty years working as an office assistant in the department, before becoming a corrections officer in 2008. She acknowledged that she is on track to now retire with a full pension 11 years than she could have as an administrative employee.

Nelson disagreed she was gaming the system. “It helps me as a single person to better my retirement. I’ve got to think about my future,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve taken advantage of anything with the state. Absolutely not,” she said.

Mike Widmer, President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation disagreed with her assessment and said there was only one reason an employee would switch to a corrections officer at the end of their career, that being to enhance their pension benefits at the expense of taxpayers.

Widmer called maneuver legal “but it’s absolutely wrong. It’s wrong morally and it’s wrong fiscally.” He added that group jumping has been going on for years.

Gov. Deval Patrick has already weighed in on the issue, and suggested a special commission look into the problem, but last year’s legislative body failed to do so. The governor’s spokesman, Jay Gonzalez, said that a comprehensive pension reform package is in the works and will be proposed early this year.

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Cat ordered to report for jury duty

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East Boston resident Sal Esposito has been summoned for jury duty. There’s just one problem: Sal is a cat.

This Boston cat has been called for jury duty and will report to the court as required by law.

The issue arose after Sal’s owners, Anna and Guy Esposito, listed him on the last U.S. Census under “pet.” Residents are submitted to the list by street address and Sal Esposito may have gotten mixed in with his human neighbors.

But Sal’s owners tried to have him disqualified due to his inability to speak or understand English, but were denied. Unless the matter is resolved, Anna Esposito said she will take the feline to court to perform his civic duty on March 23.

MyFoxBoston.com

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Parole board reorganizes after career criminal kills police officer

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Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced on Thursday, a reorganization of the state’s parole board, including five resignations and three suspensions, after a career criminal paroled by the board shot and killed a Woburn police officer on Dec 26.

Patrick said he was taking action to restore public confidence in the board after the killing of veteran police officer, John “Jack” Maguire. The officer died in a shootout with Dominic Cinelli, 57, after Cinelli tried to rob a local Kohl’s department store.

Cinelli had been serving three concurrent terms of 15 years to life, when paroled two years ago. He was a career armed robber, who had shot a security guard while on a one-day prison furlough in 1985. Cinelli also died in the shootout.

The governor’s inquiry into the release of Cinelli found “several failings” before and after he was released from prison, including not conducting monthly interviews with friends and family to insure that things were going smoothly with his parole.

“After this review, I cannot say that the Parole Board or parole office did all they could to ensure public safety,” said Patrick at a news conference.

Patrick said that he would introduce legislation that would put third-time violent crime offenders away for the maximum sentence. Until the new board is in place, Patrick said that no violent or high-risk convicts would be paroled.

The five parole board members that resigned include one of Patrick’s campaign volunteers, Parole Board Chairman Mark Conrad, who was appointed to the position by Patrick.

more at The Boston Globe

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Mass. hands out $58 million in aid to solar company, now leaving state

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In a blow to state officials hoping to make Massachusetts a hub of clean-energy manufacturing, solar panel maker Evergreen Solar, Inc. announced Wednesday that it will shut its operation in Devin, and fire all 800 workers. The company’s 450,000-square-foot manufacturing plant has been operational only since 2008.

Governor Deval Patrick led the controversial effort to lure Evergreen’s stateside operation to  Massachusetts, providing the company with aid and subsidies worth $58 million, one of the largest ever handed out to a private enterprise.

The company’s chief executive, Michael El-Hillow, said that the local cost structure was too high compared to China, at a time when the selling price of solar panels is dropping steadily. “During the month of December, we experienced a 10 percent decrease in average selling prices from the beginning of the fourth quarter. As industry selling prices continue their rapid declines into 2011, panel manufacturing in Devens, either fully or partially, is no longer economically feasible, consequently requiring a complete shutdown of the facility.”

The company said that it will continue to have its headquarters in the state, but move all of its U.S. manufacturing work to its plant in Michigan, where it said costs are lower and the state has provided them with $5.7 million in tax incentives. The bulk of the company’s development and production activities will continue to take place in Wuhan, China.

The state says that not all the money is wasted, having invested about $13 million in infrastructure such as roads and utilities, which can be used by other companies looking to operate in the former army base in which Evergreen had located.

Even though state officials said there are claw-back provisions enabling it to recapture some of the monies it gave to Evergreen, the company said that it expects to have to pay back only $3 million to $4 million, less than 10 cents on the dollar.

One lawmaker, Democrat Sen. James B. Eldridge, is pushing the state to take more action against companies that don’t follow through on their promise to provide jobs after taking big aid packages. “I really hope the Legislature takes a hard look at these tax-break strategies for big corporations,” he said.

The Boston Globe

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FBI wants bribe money back from Boston politician caught in sting

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Adding to his mounting troubles, Boston city councilor Chuck Turner, convicted on corruption charges in October 2010, is now being asked by prosecutors to return the $1,000 bribe he took from an FBI informant.

After taking a $1,000 bribe from an FBI informant, the feds want their money back.

Turner was caught on videotape taking a $1,000 bribe from the local businessman turned FBI informant, for agreeing to help secure a liquor license. After the incident, he lied three times to the FBI about it. The sting was part of an operation targeting corrupt politicians. Turner is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan.25.

Last week, Turner filed complaint with the U.S. District Court seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the action the city council took on Dec. 1 to remove him from office.

Turner’s lawyer, Barry Wilson, also filed papers yesterday seeking a postponement of the scheduled hearing date. Wilson said that Turner is suffering from depression, and is out of the country recovering from his “rigorous trial schedule.”

Wilson has proclaimed his innocence, telling jurors that he only took $200 in what he called “a preacher’s handshake.”

The Boston Herald

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