By Michael Norton and Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- As one of his former top deputies testified Wednesday about a directive from Speaker Robert DeLeo to protect the state probation department budget from spending cuts during the recession, DeLeo issued a statement from Beacon Hill alleging that federal prosecutors pressing the case were making "inaccurate and inflammatory" comments and denying a quid pro quo "for any legislative action."
Federal prosecutors in Boston have spent weeks trying to prove that three former state probation department officials made sure jobs went to politically connected individuals in exchange for favorable treatment from the Legislature or to advance Rep. Robert DeLeo's 2008 campaign for speaker.
Former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien and two of his former deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are on trial for allegedly rigging hiring in the department. O'Brien allegedly gave DeLeo 10 jobs to grant other members of the House in the lead-up to his successful run to succeed former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi.
Several current and former representatives have testified that DeLeo's office made available to them opportunities to fill probation department jobs.
The trial is ongoing, with Rep. Garrett Bradley and former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charley Murphy, who represented Burlington, called to the witness stand on Wednesday.
"In light of the inaccurate and inflammatory comments about me made by the prosecutors in the Federal probation trial, I feel compelled to set the record straight. Since I am not a party to those proceedings, I cannot defend myself against false accusations. I will repeat what I have said previously: I never swapped jobs for votes, and there is no one who can truthfully say otherwise. No State Representative has testified that they cast a vote for me because of an opportunity to fill a job in the Probation Department and none can do so truthfully," DeLeo said in a statement.
DeLeo added, "I never increased the budget of the Probation Department for the purpose of creating jobs that could be filled by legislators. All budget decisions were based on the need to maintain staffing levels that were necessary for public safety and proper judicial administration. I never recommended a candidate for a position in probation, or anywhere else in State government, whom I did not believe was qualified. There was never a quid pro quo for any legislative action. Had there been a quid pro quo for the Probation Department's budget as has been alleged, 100 percent of the applicants whom I recommended would have received positions. That was not the case. I ask that the repetition of inaccurate and scurrilous statements cease immediately."
When he was the new chairman of House Ways and Means in the winter of 2009, Murphy was instructed by DeLeo not to cut the probation department's budget, Murphy testified at the Moakley Courthouse Wednesday.
"We had to make significant, drastic cuts," Murphy said, estimating that he had proposed about a 10 percent reduction to probation to account for recession-battered state revenues.
Before presenting the budget to the members, Murphy said, "We'd go upstairs, present it to the speaker for his review, approval."
DeLeo had been the chair of Ways and Means before rising to the speaker's post with the help of Murphy and nine others, whom Murphy said met weekly to strategize the Winthrop Democrat's ascent to the top post in the House.
"He indicated to me the probation budget would not be cut," Murphy said Wednesday.
A Burlington Democrat, who was ousted from leadership in 2011, Murphy said he disagreed with DeLeo's recommendation.
"If we left it unscathed, it probably wouldn't reflect very well," Murphy said in court.
When DeLeo reiterated his directive, Murphy said "yes, sir," and moved on.