In a stinging rebuke to U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Boston, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed a centerpiece of her anti-corruption prosecutions and overturned the convictions of the state’s ex-probation chief, John J. O’Brien, and two of his deputies, the Boston Herald reports. “We find that the Government overstepped its bounds in using federal criminal statutes to police the hiring practices of these Massachusetts state officials and did not provide sufficient evidence to establish a criminal violation of Massachusetts law under the Government’s theory of the case,” the court ruled in an unanimous decision.
A federal jury in 2014 found O’Brien and his deputies, William H. Burke III and Elizabeth V. Tavares, guilty of racketeering conspiracy for running a fixed hiring system. O’Brien and Tavares were also found guilty of four counts of mail fraud and one count each of racketeering. Burke was found not guilty of mail fraud. The appeals court also overturned the convictions of Burke and Tavares. Prosecutors had spent 10 weeks arguing that O’Brien, Burke, and Tavares operated up a corrupt hiring process in which they chose sometimes unqualified applicants under the guise of a legitimate process, and in return saw their department’s budget and staff increased.