In many ways the nation’s probation officers and their leadership are held to extremely high standards that may not be applicable to other professions. Because of the nature of probation officers’ work duties, which include constant contact with criminals at various stages of reform and the expectation that they both control and protect these probationers, POs must be of the highest moral character if they are to do their jobs properly and with minimal incident. It is with this constant requirement as the backdrop that the trial of a former probation commissioner began this week.
John O’Brien, former Massachusetts Probation Commissioner, and Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke, two of his former deputies, were arrested on racketeering charges in March 2012. The charges stemmed from allegations that between 2000 and 2010, the group concocted a hiring scheme that gave preferential treatment to those who had political connections. Specifically, the three are accused of having hired applicants based on the group’s desire to please state lawmakers that they felt would help their department when it came time for lawmakers to appropriate funds to the department.
Based on the allegations, O’Brien would obtain lists of people who had been sponsored by state lawmakers and were applying to work for the department. He would allegedly use this information to instruct Tavares and Burke to ensure that these candidates received the best scores on tests and interviews, essentially making them more likely to be hired than more qualified applicants.
In addition to helping candidates sponsored by state lawmakers, prosecutors allege that O’Brien’s own daughter also benefited from the scheme, obtaining a position as an assistant program manager for the electronic monitoring program over more qualified candidates.
High profile attorneys have lined up on both sides of the case. On the prosecuting side appears one of the attorneys who helped prosecute Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger for the state. The attorney for the defense is William Fick, who is also a member of the team defending Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzokhar Tsarnaev.