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July 12, 2014

Emotions, allegations mark wrap-up of probation scandal trial

BOSTON -- Surging emotions and recriminations marked the final day of testimony Friday in U.S. District Court as federal prosecutors wrapped up their fraud and racketeering case, presented over ten weeks, against three former state probation department officials.

After defense attorneys decided against presenting their own evidence, Judge William Young set Tuesday for closing arguments and said jury deliberations could begin as early as Tuesday afternoon.

Former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are charged with operating a secretive patronage scheme veiled by a purportedly merit-based hiring system. Federal statute provides a sentence of up to 20 years for the crimes, though sentencing guidelines could limit prison time to no more than about a year and a half.

The testimony of former Worcester District Court Chief Probation Officer William Mattei Friday involved several themes that have run through the weeks-long trial: faded memories, accusations of lying and complicated analyses of what makes a job applicant most qualified for a position.

Mattei said that his judgment of whether Bernard Dow was best qualified for the job of acting chief probation officer was clouded by his belief that Dow was too “quick to issue violations” against probationers and appeared to spend work time on union matters. Dow had the backing of former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and prosecutors contend he was one of the fraudulent appointments made by O’Brien, allegedly as a concession to the lawmakers who determine the department’s budget.

“Looking back in retrospect, I think it’s unfair of me to knock him down,” said Mattei, who ranked Dow third among the applicants seeking the promotion, and said “I let my personal feelings enter into my scoring of him.”

Mattei, who retired in 2010 after 10 years as chief, said O’Brien had called him while Mattiei was preparing a venison meal, and told him Dow would get the assistant chief job.

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