Second probe of Mass. Probation Dept. planned
A day after Massachusetts’ top court released a scathing report alleging corrupt hiring and promotion practices at the Probation Department, the state inspector general said he’s forging ahead with his own inquiry.
Inspector General Gregory Sullivan opened his investigation earlier this year at the request of Gov. Deval Patrick. He said he is trying to determine if the Probation Department was overstaffed.
Sullivan said Friday he’s looking specifically at the department’s community service and electronic monitoring divisions to see if they have more workers than needed. One of Sullivan’s mandates as inspector general is to root out waste, fraud and abuse.
“There have been allegations made that within the Probation Department there is one class of probation workers who are overworked and that others have had much less of a workload,” said Sullivan, who expects to release his report in the spring.
Sullivan isn’t the only state official wading through the 337-page report to see if further action is needed.
Attorney General Martha Coakley said she views the release of the report as just the beginning of a possible investigation.
“We are thoroughly reviewing the extensive report, which chronicles a disturbing picture of the Probation Department and will aggressively work to determine the scope of any violations of the law,” Coakley said in a statement.
A copy of the report was also sent to U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. A spokesman for Ortiz declined to comment on whether she has reviewed the report.
Patrick has said all law enforcement agencies should review the report and said that it bolsters his argument that the agency should be combined with the parole board and brought under the control of the governor’s office.
Patrick said he’d known for some time that the Probation Department was a “rogue agency” and that if it had been under executive branch control it would have received more scrutiny.
During the past three fiscal years, Patrick has vetoed more than $18 million from the Probation Department. The Legislature restored $7 million of those vetoes.
Independent counsel Paul Ware, who compiled the report at the request of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), has suggested there is evidence of possible crimes, from federal wire and mail fraud to state ethics, campaign fundraising and bribery offenses.
The report said there was a legal basis to conclude that attempts by public officials to rig the hiring practices at the Probation Department for well-connected applicants “constitutes criminal conduct.”
The SJC has launched a massive shake-up of the department.
The justices ordered Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert Mulligan to begin steps to remove the department’s senior officials most responsible for the alleged abuses.
Mulligan told the court he will immediately seek to oust Probation Commissioner John O’Brien, who was suspended in May after a series of Boston Globe articles alleged the department had become a patronage haven for lawmakers.
The report also cited the actions of some of Beacon Hill’s most powerful lawmakers, who frequently recommended constituents and others for probation jobs.
The report says that at the same time that many of those job requests were being fulfilled, lawmakers were voting to increase the department’s budget, sometimes more than requested, even as the state skidded into a recession.
From 2005 through 2009, the report said, allocations for the department increased steadily from $115 million in 2005 to $142 million in 2009, an average annual increase of about 5.6 percent. During the same period overall state spending, excluding public assistance, grew at an annual increase of about 4.2 percent.
The report said there appeared to be “an understanding” between certain legislators and O’Brien that generous appropriations for the Probation Department were linked to O’Brien’s willingness to give jobs to those applicants recommended by lawmakers.
The report concluded that “the hiring and promotion process in the Probation Department is corrupt and has disproportionately favored politically connected candidates.”
On Friday, House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Murphy denied that jobs are for sale on Beacon Hill.
“Is there any evidence?” said Murphy, D-Burlington, when quizzed by reporters at the Statehouse. “He says there’s a statistical chance. That’s not evidence.”
Although not everyone sponsored by a lawmaker received a job, the success rate was especially high among the most powerful legislators.
According to the report, 24 of 36 job candidates sponsored by former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi were hired, a success rate of 67 percent. Sixteen of 28 candidates sponsored by former Senate President Robert Travaglini were hired, a success rate of 57 percent.
Seven of 12 candidates sponsored by current House Speaker Robert DeLeo were also hired.