Fred Wyshak the federal prosecutor in Boston who prosecuted Whitey Bulger is about to begin the trial next Monday of the former commissioner of the Massachusetts Probation Department, John J. O’Brien, and two of his associates. It will be held before veteran Judge William Young in the Boston federal court on the waterfront. Wyshak’s office is in that courthouse.
Wyshak said the gist of the case against O’Brien “is he handed out these jobs, like lollipops, to legislators who were able to pick their friends, and neighbors.” That’s basically what the racketeering indictment against O’Brien says, he gave them out because he was asked asked to do so by Massachusetts politicians and judges. Wyshak tries to downplay the judges involvement.
This long-standing practice in the United States and in Massachusetts of politicians and judges trying to land jobs for their family, friends and constituents has normally been considered as patronage. Until Wyshak’s indictment of O’Brien for racketeering, by the way the same charge as he indicted Whitey for, this giving of jobs to people with connections was never considered criminal.
I dare say there isn’t an agency or department or prosecutor’s office or any other government entity in Massachusetts, or perhaps every other state including federal agencies such as the Department of Justice, where you can’t find some people who got a position because of a connection to a politician.The 48 year head of the FBI, J.Edgar Hoover loved to please the politicians; we know he hired John Connolly as an agent because the Speaker of the U.S. House asked him to do it. Lucky for him he died before Wyshak found out.
Take a DA’s office: when the DA Jane Doe first ran for that position she received donations from people with sufficient financial resources to assist, hands-on assistance from young attorneys who work hard for her election, and backing from her party’s leadership in the Massachusetts House and Senate or Governor’s office. If Jane is elected I’d expect that those who helped bring her into office may seek to influence her hiring decisions by pushing someone they are interested in, or that the young attorneys who labored in Jane’s campaign might feel they have an inside track on any job that is in the offing.
Now under the Wyshak rule, as I understand it, it would be all right for Jane to hire people who are suggested by those who gave her financial help or to hire those who worked for her, but if she gave a person a job because someone in the House or Senate, or even the Governor’s office, recommended that person she would be liable to being prosecuted criminally. That is because those politician will pass on her budget.
Wyshak’s theory in the O’Brien case is that O’Brien and his aides who gave out the jobs were getting a benefit by doing this. They didn’t put any money in their pockets. They were pleasing the politicians who had control over their budget which meant they could insure their department was properly funded. So rather than hiring the best available people, as determined by Wyshak, they did favors for the pols and hired their candidates and got more money in their budget.
If Wyshak’s theory holds up then anyone in state government in a position to hire or expend Commonwealth money who does so after being approached by a politician who advances a candidate or project is liable to criminal sanctions. Unless, of course, the hiring agency hires or contracts for the project that Wyshak deems to be the most qualified or proper.
I understand Wyshak’s mindset. He’s upset that persons who had connections with pols or judges got jobs and those without the connections who had much better backgrounds and qualifications were left out. I agree with him that stinks. I’d like to see a system where the most qualified were hired all the time but that’s not ever going to happen just like it won’t happen that all the best students get into the best schools since there will always be room set aside for legacy kids or the kids of big money donors.
Those with influence and money will do better than others in landing government job or federal ambassadorship. That Wyshak finds life isn’t fair doesn’t turn it into a crime. Or does it?
It seems apparent that those who work in Massachusetts departments and agencies would be well advised to ensure their hiring is well documented. They’ll get the calls from the pols or judges who don’t risk anything criminal by calling; but, if they hire based on that call they are putting themselves in jeopardy. How much, we’ll see when we see the results in the O’Brien case come in. In the meantime they should start making records of why the person they hired or the project they approved after pressure from a pol would have happened without such call.