A top House leader signaled today that lawmakers were in no rush to overhaul the troubled Probation Department, in the wake of a devastating report that said the agency is riddled with fraud and “systemic corruption.”
Charles A. Murphy, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he and Speaker Robert A. DeLeo were still reading the report and were not ready to embrace Governor Deval Patrick's demand that they move quickly to transfer control of the agency from the judiciary to the executive branch.
“It’s 337 pages, and we’re going to take our time to go through it,” Murphy told reporters outside DeLeo’s office. “We’re not going to make rash judgments.”
The governor has been trying to seize control of the department since January, saying he wants to professionalize the hiring and operations of the “rogue agency” and “let some sunshine in.”
But Murphy’s comments indicate that the governor may have a major fight on his hands.
Murphy, a Burlington Democrat, pushed back strongly against the report, saying nothing uncovered by Paul F. Ware Jr., the special counsel appointed by the state’s highest court, indicates that lawmakers were feeding the agency’s budget in exchange for campaign donations and jobs for their supporters.
Murphy noted that Ware could not prove that any individual legislator explicitly asked for campaign contributions in exchange for probation jobs, which could constitute illegal bribery.
“Is there any evidence to suggest that jobs are for sale?” Murphy said. “Did Paul Ware say in his report that any legislator got money for jobs? There answer is no. He didn’t. It is not there. He says there is a statistical probability of something like that – a chance. That’s not evidence. And he was very clear to state that.”
Murphy also strongly defended Representative Thomas M. Petrolati, the No. 3 official in the House, who has been called “the patronage king of Western Massachusetts,” for his success in placing supporters on the Probation Department’s payroll. Murphy said he still has confidence in Petrolati, and there is nothing wrong with legislators trying to find jobs for their constituents.
“Phone calls were made to help people, and I’m not going to apologize for that,” Murphy said. “That’s what people do. … And that’s what he’s done, apparently.”
Murphy was the first House leader to speak publicly about the report, which he said "at first blush, certainly give me some pause."
“Clearly, there are some issues in the Probation Department that have to be addressed,” Murphy said. “But I’m not going to get ahead of myself about the steps we’re going to take because I don’t know.”
DeLeo, who has remained behind closed doors, released a two-sentence statement on Thursday that said he was studying the report and that it “appears to make some very disturbing allegations.”
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