By Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- House Speaker Robert DeLeo thought his colleagues would be "grateful" for the opportunity presented several years ago by his office to fill jobs in the state probation department, the Winthrop Democrat said Friday, a day after a jury found three former department managers guilty on public corruption charges in connection with a job-rigging scandal.
Shedding light on job-filling opportunities that House Democrats testified to during the trial of former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien, DeLeo, in interviews with WCVB and FOX News, offered some of his first public comments in the wake of Thursday's verdict. DeLeo was identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, but was not charged and has strongly refuted suggestions of any wrongdoing.
"At the end of the day, know that I'm trying to do the right thing. I'm trying to be honest," DeLeo said during the opening of the WCVB segment featuring an introduction in which anchor Ed Harding said DeLeo, who has not yet been available to the State House press corps, "wants to set the record straight."
Asked what he thought was going on when probation officials offered his office an opportunity to fill jobs and those recommended by lawmakers were hired without interviews, DeLeo told reporter Janet Wu, "To be honest with you I never personally called any legislators. I had . . .
As he did after the verdict, when in a statement he noted the racketeering convictions of O'Brien and former deputies Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III involved illegal gratuities - the provision of jobs in expectation for favorable treatment - DeLeo said prosecutors had not proven that bribery occurred.
"Hopefully people realize about gratuity - that is a unilateral action, so in other words as opposed to bribery, which sort of takes two to tango," DeLeo said.
DeLeo was identified late in the weeks-long trial as one of many so-called unindicted co-conspirators in the case, prompting him to step up his criticism of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz and repeat his assertion that he did not offer jobs as part of a strategy to win supporters in the race to become House speaker in 2008 and did not give the department favorable treatment legislatively. DeLeo became speaker in 2009 after serving as Ways and Means Committee chairman under former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi.
"If anyone else thinks that a thirty-thousand-dollar job can make someone vote or not vote for you for speaker of the House, you're sadly, you are sadly, sadly mistaken," said DeLeo.
Wu reported that DeLeo would not say whether he thought O'Brien was guilty of wrongdoing and said he was not worried that O'Brien will "talk" in a bid to secure a lighter sentence. Wu said DeLeo was worried about public opinion in the wake of the verdict in light of a string of convictions and plea deals involving public officials, including his three predecessors, entangled in public corruption cases.
During an interview with FOX 25 political reporter Sharman Sacchetti, which also ran on Friday night, DeLeo was asked whether the case was "haunting" him and if it had tarnished his reputation. He answered affirmatively to both questions. "I can't say it's an easy process," DeLeo said.
He added, "Unless my constituents or people of Massachusetts as whole can look at me or their representative or senator and think that they can trust us, then we've got some problems." DeLeo called changing how people view the Legislature, following the criminal convictions of his predecessors and other elected officials, one of his "biggest responsibilities."
Prosecutors never charged DeLeo or any other legislator in the case.
The speaker said he only learned about the twists and turns of the trial through media coverage, and while he described a "right" for people to recommend others for jobs he expressed concern about "the issue of altering of test results," an apparent reference to testimony about score sheets that witnesses said were manipulated to ensure that jobs went to politically connected individuals.
In the wake of reports that some House members might like him to remain speaker beyond the eight years allowed under rules, Sacchetti asked DeLeo how long he would remain in the speaker's chair.
"Right now there's been a lot of discussion and it's been very, very gratifying and rewarding," said DeLeo, who instituted limits on the terms of speakers as a public trust initiative upon assuming that role and is scheduled to hit that four-term limit in January 2017.