Mayor Walsh Says Convicted Probation Dept. Chief John O’Brien Wasn’t Guilty, Calls Case ‘Bizarre’

Former Massachusetts state probation commissioner John O'Brien was convicted of mail fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy in July.
Former Mass. probation commissioner John O'Brien was convicted of counts of mail fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy, but Boston Mayor Marty Walsh disagrees. –Elise Amendola/AP

Days after a jury convicted former Probation Department head John O’Brien of several counts of mail fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh argued that O’Brien was not guilty of any crime at all.

In a Boston Public Radio interview on WGBH, hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan pressed Walsh on his thoughts on the guilty verdicts for O’Brien. Walsh called the case against O’Brien “bizarre,’’ referred to the guilty verdict as a “sad day for Massachusetts,’’ and placed blame on “the system’’ for getting the best of O’Brien.

O’Brien, Elizabeth Tavares, and William Burke III, three former members of the state’s Probation Department, were found guilty of various charges in a lengthy trial on Thursday. Prosecutors said that the group offered Probation Department jobs to friends of state legislators in exchange for political clout. O’Brien was convicted of four counts of mail fraud and one count of racketeering, and all three were convicted of conspiracy to engage in racketeering. The case against O’Brien was brought to light after a report in The Boston Globe in 2010.


The comments came after Braude asked the seemingly basic question of whether he thought O’Brien was guilty. “I don’t think so,’’ Walsh responded.

Walsh then lamented the consequences for state politics.

“It was a sad day. I thought it was a sad day for Massachusetts, I thought it was a sad day for the legislature. I thought it was a sad day for the court, the judiciary,’’ Walsh said. “That’s why people aren’t staying in politics today.’’

Walsh also deflected blame from O’Brien onto “the system’’ that “got the better of him.’’

Braude then asked Walsh about the behavior and tactics of prosecutors.

Walsh did admit that he hadn’t followed all the facts and transcripts of the case. “It just seemed like there was a lot of uncertainty around this case,’’ he explained.

Update: Mayor Walsh provided with a statement clarifying his radio comments and calling the circumstances of the case “distressing’’:

“I was not a member of this jury, and I do respect their judgment and decision. However, I feel as though elected officials have an obligation to be helpful to their constituents, including – when appropriate – assistance with employment opportunities, writing letters of recommendation for schools, and so on.

This was a sad case for the Commonwealth and for Beacon Hill. I know Jack O’Brien to be a good man, and the circumstances surrounding this case and the results are distressing.’’

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