I have to admit it takes me a long time to figure some things out. I have had a hard time understanding why O’Brien is being tried in federal court. He is charged with racketeering, the statute that usually relates to gangster activities. I thought what he did was to engage in political patronage. The other day when I went back to the prosecutor’s opening statement I began to understand that this was a case of fraud.
Here’s the absolute worst case scenario against O’Brien. He ran a system known only to himself and two others in which he disguised that only people with political or judicial connections were hired into various positions and promotions were given based on those connections. He did this for the purpose of increasing his budget so that he would have more power and could hire more people.
No matter how you twist and turn that is the essence of the case the prosecutor has been making week after week: jobs were given to those who were connected to people with influence.
Judge William Young, who is presiding over the O’Brien trial, said as the trial began: “I’m going to emphasize in my pretrial instructions that political patronage is not a crime. The crimes, or the crimes here that are alleged, are fraud crimes.”
When I went back to the opening statement of prosecutor Wyshak I saw that he said that O’Brien “handed out jobs like lollipops” to friends and families of powerful people, especially lawmakers, in exchange for more money, power, and autonomy for the agency.”
Now that sounds like patronage when O’Brien gave jobs to friends of powerful people such as lawmakers (Wyshak omits mentioning judges) in exchange for having them treat his agency nicely.
Then Wyshak went on to clarify why what looked like patronage wasn’t patronage. He said that “patronage is not a crime . . . the trial is not about patronage because, he said, the probation department is prevented by law from partaking in patronage”.
Apparently there is a law out there that says something to the effect: “Although patronage is legal the probation department cannot partake in patronage.” I can’t seem to locate that law but then I haven’t done due diligence in looking for it. Even so, I greatly doubt there is such a law. I say that for a simple reason. The legislature would have had to enact such a law. Since the legislature is the prime beneficiary of patronage from the probation department it would be cutting off its nose to spite its face if it did.
So what’s going on here? The facts of the case revolve around political patronage. O’Brien may have taken it to an extreme but it doesn’t change what it is. In order to prosecute O’Brien, the federal prosecutor pretends some law changes patronage into something other than what it is. Whatever it is changed into makes it criminal. That is the real fraud in the case. The judge was correct in pointing that out.