NECN INVESTIGATES: Convicted Ex-Senator James Marzilli Allowed to Travel Overseas While on Probation

Necn investigates a disgraced former Senator on probation overseas

If Facebook is any indication, James Marzilli has been having quite a time. Relaxing at the beach, cocktails with friends and travel all over the world. For the past three years, the former Massachusetts state senator has volunteered to teach civics in a 10-week program at a school in Burma.

"He was quite good. He did well," said Nang Haeo Hseng, the program's director.

NECN INVESTIGATES WEB EXTRA: Photos from James Marzilli's Travels

She said the Kaw Dai Organization felt honored to have an American politician at their school and the first two years passed without incident. But a few months ago, Marzilli's behavior started to become erratic.

"The smell was so bad," Hseng said. "And then the students cannot - how you say? - in class, not good."

Hseng said Marzilli started showing up to class appearing drunk and belligerent. She said he began talking to students about inappropriate topics like prostitution.

"We are a little bit afraid of him too," she said. "So we try to avoid - especially the girls, we ask them to avoid him."

It's not the first time females have been warned about him. Marzilli, 58, spent three months behind bars for sexually harassing four women in a string of bizarre incidents in Lowell in 2008. He pleaded guilty in 2011, admitting that he also trailed a woman down the sidewalk telling her "the sex is sweet, the sex is sweet, you want it..." When police officers chased him into a Lowell parking garage, he allegedly broke down crying and gave police a false name, saying he was then fellow state rep - now Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Back in 2011, Walsh said, "I hope he gets the help he needs."

Marzilli - who has revealed he is bipolar - spent several weeks at MacLean Hospital before sentencing, where Judge Paul Chernoff ordered him on probation until 2016. He was put on GPS monitoring for a year and ordered to seek mental health treatment, including, but not limited to, sex offender therapy.

So why let him out of the country five times in the last four years?

"For a victim, it is a slap in the face," said Colby Bruno, an attorney for the Victim Rights Law Center. "You send someone out with very little supervision. You give them access to a vulnerable population. You tell them to check in via email once a month and the reality is you have no idea what they're doing."

Even the school said it didn't have the full picture. When we asked the director why she invited the disgraced former pol to come for nearly a year - if the volunteer position was only 10 weeks - Hseng said she didn't.

She claimed an email Marzilli's lawyer submitted to a judge inviting him to stay for an additional 7 months as an "adviser" is a fake. She insists that the email did not come from her and provided necn a copy of the actual email she claims she sent. It was only after we contacted her that she realized an allegedly fabricated email was being attributed to her.

Marzilli's lawyer would not comment and Marzilli did not want to speak with us either. We went to one of the places he stays, we called him, we emailed him, and when we sent a message to his Facebook page, it was quickly deleted.

To get permission to travel, an offender must first ask the Massachusetts Probation Department. If the office denies the request, which it did in each of Marzilli's cases, the offender can appeal to a judge. Each time Marzilli asked, Bay State judges said yes.

"It ought to be granted in very, very rare circumstances - certainly not to travel around Southeast Asia because you feel like seeing that part of the world," Suffolk County District Attorney said.

Judge Kathe Tuttman has allowed Marzilli to travel the 8,000 miles from Boston to Burma three times. She declined to comment, but a transcript of the latest hearing shows she asked Marzilli's probation officer to confirm there had been no previous incidents when he'd left the state before. She also asked if Marzilli would have internet access so he could check in with probation via email once a month.

His probation officer, Ross Ickes, admitted Marzilli did not stay in consistent contact on his last trip to Burma. "It was a little sporadic the last time, your Honor, but he was able to have a little access," he said.

In addition to the email check in, Judge Tuttman ordered Marzilli to sign a standard extradition waiver and provide his travel details to Probation, along with details of where he'd be staying.

Retired Judge Paul Chernoff allowed Marzilli to take his first trip - a family vacation to Mexico just months after he was released from prison. Chernoff did not want to speak with us on camera, but did give us a statement. He said he's not sure if he would have let Marzilli go to volunteer at a school in Burma, but that a judge needs to weigh flight risk and the risk to reoffend.

"He had serious issues," Judge Chernoff said, "But when I looked at the stakes, I had to make a judgment. He had never touched anybody before. There was nothing to indicate he was going to touch anybody and I have no reason to believe he has."

After the alleged incidents with the students overseas, the school barred him from ever returning. But instead of coming straight back to Massachusetts and his probation officer, Marzilli went to Kuala Lumpur, Thailand and other exotic locations - posting on Facebook about drinking, smoking and ogling the locals, who he referred to as "eye candy."

"The very element of 'I'm not where I said I was going to be' raises an incredible red flag," Massachusetts Senator Bruce Tarr  said. He said he is stunned the state isn't tracking offenders more closely.

When we asked Probation how many of the state's 86-thousand probationers have been - or are - overseas and what crimes they committed, they told us they don't track that information.

We tried to get answers from Probation Commissioner Edward Dolan. We wanted to know if officials called the school to confirm that the details of Marzilli's trip were genuine. Did they reach out to Immigration and Customs? Did they alert local police a convict would be in their community?

A spokesperson refused to give us Dolan's public schedule and declined our repeated requests for an interview, telling us firmly, "This is not a Probation story."

Said Tarr, "I think the Judiciary and Probation need to take a long hard look at this and, if they don't see a problem, clearly I think it deserves further action."

Convicted Ex-Senator James Marzilli responded on Facebook to necn’s investigation into his volunteer work in Burma following his sentencing.

After we started asking questions, Marzilli did return to Massachusetts, and Probation said he is in compliance with his conditions, which include meeting with his probation officer twice a month. It's unclear what - if anything - they're doing to investigate the school's allegations against him.

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