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July 16, 2014

Prosecutors: Baddour made about 100 probation dept. recommendations

Former state Sen. Steven Baddour of Methuen made dozens of recommendations to the state Probation Department for hires, transfers or promotions in the span of four years, federal prosecutors say in a document filed July 22.

The 375-page document is part of the federal trial against former Probation commissioner John J. O’Brien wrapping up in Boston. O’Brien and two deputies, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke III, are accused of running a rigged hiring process within the Probation Department, exchanging jobs and/or promotions to politically connected or sponsored candidates for legislative favors.

Prosecutors and a state independent counsel have alleged O’Brien used Probation to accumulate political clout for himself by making patronage hires and expanding the Probation’s budget.

Independent counsel Paul F. Ware, who investigated claims of a rigged hiring system at the Probation Department and issued a report in 2010, noted that many of the most frequent sponsors also were the most frequent recipients of campaign contributions from Probation Department employees.

None of the lawmakers and judges whom prosecutors said sponsored candidates for hiring or promotion, including Baddour, have been charged with any crimes. Baddour was on the defense’s list of potential witnesses, but was not called during O’Brien’s weeks-long trial.

The document contains two lengthy charts detailing who sponsored candidates at the Probation Department and who the candidates were. The large majority of recommendations came from state legislators, though judges, probation officials, congressmen and other elected officials are sprinkled throughout.

The charts represent the assembly of many years of so-called “Sponsor Lists” kept in the Probation Department to track politically sponsored candidates, prosecutors said. They are compilations of 250 pages of documents with thousands of entries over 51 different sponsor lists.

Those charts list 101 recommendations attributed to Baddour for 27 people, though four of those names appear to be duplicates with different spellings. That puts him among the most active sponsors, according to federal documents and Ware’s report.

Most of the recommendations are for probation officers and associate probation officers. Some of the listings included specific locations, such as Salisbury or Newburyport and Essex county juvenile probation.

Ware did not list Baddour in the top 10 active sponsors, but wrote that those 10 legislators sponsored between 54 candidates at the most and 20 at the least.

The recommendations from Baddour, a Democrat who served in the state Senate from 2002 to 2012, came on 13 different dates from 2004 and 2008. The list also included a “2005/2006” entry and an undated entry. It showed several people who received two recommendations each on a given date, and one person who received three recommendations on one date.

Baddour said he made the recommendations because the candidates asked him to.

“The case is about to go to the jury and it is the wrong time for me to be commenting on the quality of the evidence, so I won’t,” he said in a statement. “Recommending people was part of what I thought I was elected to do; people look to their elected officials for assistance with all kinds of things and if a legislator from this area said ‘no’ to his constituents the way your questions seem to suggest, that legislator would not have served 10-plus years, as I did. And no, what you call the ‘probation scandal’ had nothing to do with my departure. I do miss the things that are important about public service, like helping the public. I don’t miss the innuendo that goes with it.”

Emails seeking comment sent to seven current probation employees named in the document were not answered.

The chart listed 11 separate recommendations from Baddour for a former Newburyport associate probation officer, Seanna Mejia, for example, mostly from February 2005 to November 2006, according to the document. She was hired in Newburyport in 2006, according to the Probation Department. Mejia did not appear in state campaign finance records as having donated to political candidates or officials.

Francisco Vargas had seven recommendations in 2005 and 2006, according to the chart, and was a prolific campaign donor. Vargas was a probation officer in Newburyport, and was promoted to assistant chief probation officer in 2008.

Campaign donations made to Baddour

According to state campaign finance records, Vargas donated $1,500 to Baddour from 2005 to 2009. He also donated $300 to former state Senate President Robert Travaglini, who was named in Ware’s report as one of the most active and successful legislative sponsors.

Another candidate from Haverhill was listed with 10 separate recommendations through 2005 and 2006, though probation never hired him.

The candidate, Stephen Rogers, donated $200 to Baddour, $100 each in 2007 and 2008, according to state campaign finance records. He also donated to state Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, and to former state Attorney General and failed gubernatorial candidate Thomas Reilly.

One candidate Baddour recommended, Irene Kennedy-Murphy, had donated generously to Worcester County and Western Massachusetts legislators such as state Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, who is chairman of the Senate Ways and Means budget committee, and state Rep. Thomas Petrolati, D-Ludlow, a former whip and assistant majority leader. She has given nearly $3,500 to those candidates over the years, according to state records.

She also received recommendations from Brewer, Petrolati and Chief Probation Officer Edward Driscoll to be associate chief probation officer for the Franklin/Hampton juvenile probation office, a position she now holds.

Ware’s report noted that Baddour was among the top 20 legislators for receiving contributions from probation department employees. At the date of the report’s release, 13 employees were noted as contributors. Petrolati had the most with 87, followed by Rep. Mark Montigny, the assistant majority whip from New Bedford, with 46, and former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, D-Boston, with 34.

A review of the recommendations showed that about two-thirds of Baddour’s recommendations occurred on dates between January 2005 and November 2006. Another 13 were marked as “2005/2006,” according to the chart. Baddour served as state senator from 2002 to 2012.

A few recommendations, including for Baddour’s wife Ann, were made in early 2008. Ann Baddour was hired in the probation officer in Haverhill in 2008, according to probation and state judiciary documents.

Defense attorneys filed a motion last week to have the sponsor list excluded from the trial, calling it “unnecessary and prejudicial.” The lawyers have argued their clients did not break the law, characterizing the department’s political patronage hiring as typical of Beacon Hill. They face up to 20 years if convicted of charges including racketeering and mail fraud.

O’Brien was indicted on March 22, 2012, according to federal court documents.

Baddour joined the Senate after winning a special election in 2002. In 2005, he was appointed as vice chairman of the legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary, which has a role in setting the Probation Department’s budget.

He confirmed on March 26, 2012, he would resign for a job with the law firm McDermott Will & Emery. He told The Eagle-Tribune at the time that his decision had nothing to do with the scandal at the Probation Department. He said then he did everything properly and appropriately.

Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.

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