Former Massachusetts Probation Chief Sentenced to 18 Months Behind Bars

Three former top Massachusetts probation department officials who were found guilty this past summer of rigging the agency's hiring process were sentenced Thursday afternoon.

John O'Brien, the former probation department head, was sentenced to 18 months in jail, one year of supervised release and a $25,000 fine. 

Elizabeth Tavares, a former deputy, was sentenced to three months in custody. Another former deputy, William Burke, was sentenced to probation and will serve no jail time.

"I'm just happy. Thank you," Burke told reporters as he left federal court.

"He believed in the justice system. And my dad's coming home," one of Burke's daughter said.

In court, U.S. District Court Judge William Young said giving the harshest sentence possible, which would have been four to six years in prison, would have sent the wrong message that the defendants were "rogue" employees when they were more of the norm; however, Young added that other Bay State judges should be "appalled" by the extent of corruption that was revealed in the state's probation department.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz called the trial a "hard-fought" victory for the federal government and Massachusetts residents.

"The trial of this case exposed more than a decade of corrupt hiring practices in the state's probation department," she said.

O'Brien's attorney, Stelio Sinnis, said he and his client were disappointed in the prison sentence, but were "grateful that the court acknowledged that patronage has been a long standing factor in Massachusetts politics and hiring and that it didn't start with Mr. O'Brien."

The head of the FBI's Boston office also weighed in on the sentencing.

"The message I have to any corrupt public officials out there is, if you think this team can come together, I mean we've got offices full of people sitting at desks right now waiting to be challenged. Bring it. You think you've got a scheme that you can get over on us, you're not going to win," FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Vince Lisi said.

O'Brien, Tavares and Burke were found guilty in July after seven days of jury deliberation of rigging the state's hiring process to favor politically-connected applicants over more qualified ones.

Although no lawmakers were charged in the case, the charges put a spotlight on the practice of patronage on Beacon Hill and on House Speaker Robert DeLeo, whom federal prosecutors insinuated was involved.

O'Brien and Tavares must report to prison on Jan. 12. Attorneys for all three defendents plan to appeal.

Contact Us