By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- A state probation official testified Tuesday that Rep. Robert DeLeo's office became the hub for department hiring between 2006 and 2008 as former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien sought to help the Winthrop Democrat in his ultimately successful drive for the speakership.
Ed Ryan, who oversees electronic monitoring, or ELMO, for the Boston area, was the department's legislative liaison between 2005 and 2008, and said he spoke about the speakership bid with O'Brien and Lenny Mirasolo, a DeLeo aide and the father of DeLeo's godson.
"They were trying to gather support for Chairman DeLeo, Representative DeLeo, and that Bob Rice and Hank Naughton were two of the people that Lenny had clearly identified... to vote for Bob DeLeo in the speaker's race," Ryan testified, relaying what he said O'Brien told him. Ryan also said Mirasolo, who retired in 2012, "clearly identified to me that he was trying to get Representative Naughton and Representative Rice to vote for Representative DeLeo."
O'Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are charged with rigging hiring in the department and distributing jobs as a means of gathering "political currency."
Rep. Hank Naughton and former Rep. Robert Rice both testified that DeLeo or Mirasolo called them in 2007 with an offer to recommend someone for a job at the new ELMO facility in Clinton, Naughton's home city. People recommended by Naughton and Rice were hired and both supported DeLeo's speakership bid, though they denied the jobs played any role in their decision.
Rep. John Rogers, a Norwood Democrat, was DeLeo's chief rival for the speakership, and at some point he told Ryan about five or six people he would like appointed to positions in Gloucester, according to Ryan. Ryan said he told O'Brien about the request and the commissioner was curious why Rogers would be interested in jobs so far from his home.
About a week later, O'Brien said Rogers was running for speaker and instructed Ryan to forward all calls for job recommendations from members of the House to Mirasolo. Ryan said he didn't refer to Mirasolo calls from members of the Senate, "obviously, because they don't vote in the speaker's race."
On the Senate side probation job candidate recommendations were pooled through the Senate president's office, witnesses previously testified during the weeks-long trial.
Rogers conceded to DeLeo in January 2009, and DeLeo was elected speaker.
DeLeo has said there was "never" a jobs-for-votes arrangement. In 2010, soon after the release of independent counsel Paul Ware's report about patronage in the probation department - which did not delve into the ELMO hiring - DeLeo expressed "anger" in an appearance on Nightside with Dan Rea.
"It was a report that I was, just brought great anger to me. I was very unhappy to read what was going on at the probation department," DeLeo said, saying it seemed political contributions were factored into hiring decisions. He said, "When someone comes up to me and they're seeking a job, whether as a probation officer or whatever it may be, myself as the speaker of the House, I look at it as my responsibility to try to bring the brightest and the best into the fold, into the Commonwealth, whether it's probation or any other state agencies. And I'm concerned that that sort of mantra was not honored by the powers that be when they were interviewing folks and bringing them into the probation department."
DeLeo has also continually emphasized that there have been no allegations against him, and claimed that he has been cleared by prosecutors.
Ryan also said he would be at O'Brien's side when the commissioner pre-determined how the finalists should be ranked ahead of the final interview. He said a list of prominent sponsors, mainly lawmakers, of the candidates was the only document O'Brien would use in making those determinations.
"He would base it upon the political influence that the candidate had received and he would rank them how he wanted them to finish," Ryan said.
Unlike Francis Wall, another witness who described the mechanics of the alleged job-rigging scheme, Ryan did not have a history of perjury that would allow defense attorneys to credibly describe him as a "serial liar."
The defense made some progress toward discrediting Ryan's account when he contradicted himself within a span of about five minutes. Ryan said he had spoken to Naughton and Rice about the job openings, and under cross-examination by defense attorney John Amabile, he claimed he had been the one to inform the lawmakers of the job openings. Minutes later, under questioning by prosecutor Karin Bell, Ryan said they already knew about the jobs when he spoke to them.
"You just told him they didn't know about the jobs," defense attorney Stellio Sinnis said. He said, "Are we making this up as we go along?"
"Absolutely not," Ryan answered.
Naughton said he heard about the job from Mirasolo and Rice said DeLeo told him about it.
Ryan said he knows he and others in the department are considered to have committed crimes and said he was suspended for one month without pay as punishment for his participation in the hiring scheme.
When there was hiring happening and he was the legislative liaison, Ryan said he would sometimes field hundreds of calls a day from people seeking to recommend candidates for probation jobs, and said he would never promise anything.
"I would say, 'I'll let the commissioner know,'" Ryan said. He said, "That's as far as I would go."
Defense attorneys also questioned why Ryan had not raised the ELMO hiring in testimony to a grand jury and an independent counsel dating back to 2010, and cast some doubt on the timing of when Mirasolo became the focal point in the House for probation jobs.
Under cross-examination, Ryan said Mirasolo could have become point-man as early as spring 2006, more than three years before DeLeo's election as speaker. Ryan had previously said the request from Rogers that preceded Mirasolo's central role occurred in late 2006 or 2007 to the best of his memory.
The ELMO hires were for supposedly temporary positions, which were not posted and were made without interviews, though witnesses have testified that many of those hires remain in the department.
Rep. James O'Day testified DeLeo called to alert him to the job opportunities at the ELMO facility in 2007, and Rep. Anne Gobi testified in 2008 DeLeo mentioned to her she could recommend someone for a job at ELMO. Both O'Day and Gobi's candidates were hired. O'Day, Gobi, Naughton and Rice are all Democrats from the central Massachusetts area where the facility was located.
After Ryan finished on the stand, former Chief Justice of Administration and Management Robert Mulligan began testifying.