Hiring Hacks Ain’t a Crime, Court Says

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/12/20/hiring-hacks-aint-a-crime-court-says/

A federal appeals court has overturned the convictions of three former state probation department officials who hired unqualified candidates sent to them by state legislators.

John O’Brien, Elizabeth Tavares, and William Burke went down on a federal rap for bribery and racketeering in July 2014.

Prosecutors argued that the three committed bribery by making sure that job seekers tapped by state legislators would get jobs in the probation department in exchange for legislators’ support for increasing the budget of the probation department.

“But not all unappealing conduct is criminal,” the appeals court ruled Monday.

While the case embarrassed state officials, some critics of the outcome wondered at the time if federal prosecutors were criminalizing politics as usual in Massachusetts.

Appeals Court Judge Juan Torruella agreed with the central facts the jury convicted on, but decided they weren’t crimes.

“Although the actions of the defendants may well be judged distasteful, and even contrary to Massachusetts’s personnel laws, the function of this Court is limited to determining whether they violated the federal criminal statutes charged. We find that the Government overstepped its bounds in using federal criminal statutes to police the hiring practices of these Massachusetts state officials and did not provide sufficient evidence to establish a criminal violation of Massachusetts law under the Government’s theory of the case,” Torruella wrote.

O’Brien served as commissioner of the probation department from 1998 to 2010. Tavares served as a deputy commissioner between 2000 and 2010. Burke served as deputy commissioner for western Massachusetts from 1998 to 2009.

The probation department has about 1,600 employees.