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Patronage in the Probation Dept.

A Globe Spotlight Team report on corrupt hiring and promotion practices within the Massachusetts Probation Department, and coverage of the investigation of the agency that followed the stories.

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Highlights from the probation report

Highlights from the probation report

Explore the conclusions and sworn testimony of key witnesses in the independent counsel's report of the Probation Department.
Probation: An agency for the well-connected

Probation: An agency
for the well-connected

More than 250 employees of the department are personally connected to officials, or gave at least $500 to state legislators, an analysis found.
Small-town legislator, big financial support

Small-town legislator,
big financial support

Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati represents a small area of the state, but he attracts tens of thousands of dollars in political donations from probation officers.
Probation connections

Probation connections

A six-month investigation found that the state's Probation Department employs at least 250 friends, relatives, and financial backers of politicians and top court officials.


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Documents »

Read the report
Read the report
Independent counsel Paul F. Ware's report on the Probation Department's hiring practices.
Investigation report
Investigation report
Draft report of a probe into alleged discrimination at a probation office.
Probation chief held in contempt
Probation chief
held in contempt
Documents in a legal fight where John J. O'Brien was held in contempt.
Lawsuit depositions
Lawsuit depositions
Depositions given in a suit that alleged discrimination on the basis of race and sex.
Showdown over a subpoena
Showdown over a subpoena
A motion and response to fight an investigation into the Probation Department.
O'Brien's retirement application
O'Brien's retirement application
State Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien abruptly resigned Dec. 31, 2010.

DeLeo: 'In the clear' in Probation Dept. probe

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said he has been told he would not be charged in the probation investigation that has roiled state government. (12:24 p.m.)

Opening statements delivered in O’Brien's corruption trial

Former Massachusetts Probation Department head John J. O’Brien used his influence to turn out attendees for a political fundraiser for then-Treasurer Timothy Cahill in exchange for a job for his wife, a prosecutor said today in opening statements in O’Brien’s corruption trial.

Former probation commissioner and codefendant to be tried together

A Suffolk Superior Court judge has refused to order separate trials for former state probation commissioner John J. O’Brien and his codefendant, ex-Treasury aide Scott S. Campbell — even though lawyers for the men argue a single trial will pit the two against each other. (12/30/12)

Corbett Jr. stepping down as acting probation commissioner

Acting Commissioner of Probation Ronald P. Corbett Jr., who took control of the state probation system in the wake of a job-rigging scandal that led to criminal charges against top probation officials, will leave office in 2013, the court system announced. (Globe, 8/24/12)

Taxpayers to foot legal bill for ex-probation commissioner O'Brien

John J. O'Brien, the former probation commissioner charged with racketeering and mail fraud, has been appointed a federal public defender. (Boston Globe, 6/14/12)

Former state probation officials face federal criminal charges

Three former members of the scandal-plagued Probation Department are now under federal indictments, according to US Attorney Carmen Ortiz' office. (Boston Globe, 3/23/12)

Former probation chief arrested in hiring scandal

A former acting chief probation officer was arrested and charged with intimidating and harassing a witness as part of the federal investigation of the patronage hiring scandal at the state Probation Department. (Boston Globe, 12/21/11)

DeLeo moves to fire aide Murphy

House Speaker Robert DeLeo scheduled a caucus to remove Charles Murphy, who infuriated DeLeo with comments related to an ongoing investigation of probation department patronage. (Globe, 12/5/11)

Probation official on leave amid investigations

The acting chief probation officer at Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton was placed on administrative leave yesterday amid questions of whether he would be indicted by a federal grand jury investigating the patronage hiring scandal in the state Probation Department. (Boston Globe, 10/27/11)

Former probation commissioner O’Brien indicted

A Suffolk County grand jury has indicted former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien on charges that he traded political donations to former state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill in exchange for a job for O’Brien’s wife. (Boston Globe, 9/19/11)

More fraud questions raised for probation

Former probation commissioner John J. O’Brien followed a “deeply flawed’’ process to award a multimillion dollar contract for electronic monitoring services, raising suspicion that O’Brien’s choice was based on “favoritism, fraud, or improper influence,’’ according to the state inspector general. (Boston Globe, 6/8/11)

Mass. probation chief fires department’s top lawyer

Acting Probation Commissioner Ronald P. Corbett Jr. has fired the agency’s top lawyer, concluding that Christopher J. Bulger “violated his professional duty’’ by repeatedly briefing Corbett’s predecessor about the investigation into his conduct. (Boston Globe, 5/31/11)

Senate tackles state job patronage

Stung by a Probation Department scandal, the state Senate approved a bill designed to limit the influence of political connections in obtaining state jobs. (Boston Globe, 5/20/11)

AG looks into treasury job offers

Attorney General Martha Coakley is investigating whether former state treasurer Timothy P. Cahill and former probation commissioner John O’Brien violated state ethics law by trading treasury jobs for campaign donations. (Boston Globe, 5/8/11)

Speaker’s words — and his ways

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has emerged as an antipatronage reformer, but a Spotlight Team review has found that he sponsored many for probation jobs. (By Andrea Estes and Scott Allen, Globe Staff)

Interim Mass. Probation leader is named

The state’s top administrative judge appointed Ronald Corbett Jr. to a two-year term as commissioner of the Probation Dept., replacing John J. O’Brien, who resigned on New Year’s Eve amid charges that he had built a fraudulent hiring and promotion system. (Boston Globe)

O’Brien resigns amid scandal

State Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien, whose alleged use of his agency’s payroll to reward political patrons plunged the department into scandal, abruptly resigned yesterday. (Boston Globe)

Judges struggled to limit O’Brien

The state’s top judges are facing tough questions about whether they fulfilled their responsibilities to monitor the Probation Dept. and rein in Commissioner John O’Brien. (Boston Globe, 12/4/10)

The Ware report

Coverage of the report on the Probation Department that Paul F. Ware Jr. prepared for the Supreme Judicial Court.

Amid scandal, Petrolati resigns leadership post

Thomas M. Petrolati, the third-ranking Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, agreed to leave his leadership post, becoming the first political casualty of an independent counsel’s report that portrayed him as a major player in the patronage scandal engulfing the state’s Probation Department. (Globe Staff)

SJC orders probation overhaul
as report finds rampant fraud

The state’s highest court ordered court officials to move swiftly to fire the probation commissioner, suspend his senior lieutenants, and ask prosecutors to weigh criminal charges. (Boston Globe, 11/19/10)

Lawmakers fed budget to keep jobs coming

The independent counsel’s report that staggered the state Probation Department yesterday exposed evidence of a corrosive partnership with state lawmakers who for years have used the agency as a sort of private employment agency, knowing that as long as they fed the agency’s budget, jobs for their supporters would follow. (By Andrea Estes and Scott Allen, Globe Staff, 11/19/10)

The Spotlight Report

An agency where patronage is job one

The state Probation Department once set the standard for the nation in rehabilitating criminals. But nine years ago the Legislature freed it from meaningful oversight, and the results were predictable: budgets soared, and the welcome mat was out for hundreds of job seekers with political juice. (Boston Globe, 5/22/10)

O’Brien's rise and reign defined by tenacity

Just before he took over as the state’s chief administrative judge, Robert A. Mulligan began meeting with the court system’s department heads, chummy meet-and-greet sessions that gave the incoming boss a chance to get to know his top lieutenants. (Boston Globe, 5/23/10)
State Representative Thomas Petrolati

Questions loom for patronage ‘king’

Investigations are swirling around state Representative Thomas Petrolati, a legislative leader with huge sway over Probation Department hiring and a history of acting as if rules do not apply to him. (Boston Globe, 10/24/10)

A legacy of lax oversight and dubious claims

The troubles at the state Probation Department go way beyond patronage. Key programs have gone astray, with bloated budgets and indifferent management; caseload reports are wildly exaggerated; and a culture of secrecy prevails. (Boston Globe, 7/24/10)

Spotlight follow-up

Evidence of insider job deals at Probation

The independent counsel investigating the Massachusetts Probation Department has found strong evidence that suspended commissioner John J. O’Brien manipulated his agency’s hiring and promotion process to advance applicants with insider support, according to a source familiar with the investigation. (Boston Globe, 7/25/10)

Department scandal puts incumbents on defensive

From Western Massachusetts to West Roxbury, the controversy at the state Probation Department is reverberating in political races as candidates for the Legislature and other offices seize on reports of the agency’s record of patronage as yet another reason to sweep incumbents out of office. (Boston Globe, 5/29/10)

Probation commissioner suspended

Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien was stripped of his duties as the state’s highest court appointed a special counsel to conduct an investigation into the state agency. (Boston Globe, 5/24/10)

Legal battles

Lawmaker must face questioning on hirings

The state’s high court rejected a bid by state Representative Thomas M. Petrolati to avoid answering questions about his efforts to place friends, relatives, and political supporters in state probation jobs. (Boston Globe, 9/16/10)

Columns and commentary on the series

Globe Editorial

In Probation scandal, the disgrace is widespread

The most troubling revelation of the independent counsel’s report on the state Probation Department wasn’t the rampant patronage. It was the fact that this corrupt jobs bazaar seems to have been an open secret on Beacon Hill. (Boston Globe, 11/19/10)