NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

June 18, 2014

Probation official 'ashamed' of role in hiring process

BOSTON — Richard O’Neil, the probation department’s regional administrator for probate and family courts, said yesterday in court that he had received a one-month suspension without pay for his role in an alleged job-rigging scheme.

Former probation commissioner John O’Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are facing the possibility of 20 years in jail, according to their lawyers, for allegedly fixing the hiring process, shuttling jobs to politically wired applicants while maintaining the façade of a merit-based personnel policy.

O’Neil, who said he “liberally” scored favored candidates in intermediate interviews and shared the names of pre-selected candidates with others on the hiring panel, said last week during the trial that he learned from prosecutor Robert Fisher that he is named as a co-conspirator in the case and that he agrees with that designation.

“Yes, I do, and I’m ashamed of it,” O’Neil told the jury yesterday. Though he is not facing prosecution, O’Neil said he had been reprimanded by probation officials who took charge after O’Brien left the department for participating in the rigged hiring scheme and was suspended without pay for a month.

As a regional administrator, O’Neil would participate in second-round interviews with a judge and a chief probation officer, helping to advance names of preferred candidates, which he said became a more frequent directive from Tavares.

O’Neil initially would merely pass along the names to the chief probation officer, he said. After the pre-selected candidates increasingly became the people hired for the jobs, he began telling the judges as well to try to maintain his standing with them.

“My concern was that the judges were going to be concerned about my integrity and the integrity of the process,” O’Neil said Monday. He said that during one hiring round a judge in Hampden County asked O’Neil if there were any names.

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