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Testimony in federal Probation Department trial reveals unorthodox promotion practices

— Twice when Frank M. Glenowicz was promoted within the Probation Department, he was bartending nights at Joe’s Cafe in Northampton when he got the news from one of his supervisors, William H. Burke III.

In 2006, Burke, a former deputy probation commissioner from Hatfield who frequented Joe’s, had come into the Market Street restaurant, followed by Glenowicz’s father, who knew Burke and sat down next to him, the probation officer testified in a federal obstruction-of-justice case Wednesday.

“I was kind of confused at the setting,” Glenowicz said, because his father wasn’t a regular patron of Joe’s.

At one point, Burke turned to Glenowicz’s father, told him his son had been promoted to assistant chief probation officer in Franklin County and asked him if he could hand his son his badge, according to Glenowicz.

Glenowicz, of Conway, was testifying with immunity in the government’s case against Christopher J. Hoffman, the former acting chief probation officer of Hampshire Superior Court. Hoffman was removed from his job in October 2011 less than two months after he was interviewed by FBI special agents investigating alleged corruption and a rigged hiring scheme in the Probation Department. He was later arrested and indicted on charges that he harassed and intimidated fellow Probation Officer Maureen Adams, his subordinate, around the time she was to be questioned by the FBI.

Adams, of Goshen, testified for nearly three hours Wednesday in U.S. District Court describing the “rocky relationship” she had with Hoffman and a tense atmosphere in the probation offices of the Hampshire County courthouse as her colleagues communicated with each other by phone, text message and email about the FBI’s ongoing probe.

Adams said Hoffman had told her he would tell everyone that she was a “rat” and that she’d be in jail within a week prior to her Oct. 19, 2011, interview with federal agents at Friendly’s restaurant on King Street, a meeting she had told Hoffman about. He had also told her he wanted to know the substance of her interview with the FBI when she was done, according to her testimony.

“I took (Hoffman’s remarks) very seriously,” said Adams. In testimony Tuesday, former FBI special agent Dominic J. Barbara acknowledged under questioning that Adams had told him at one point that Hoffman made the statement jokingly.

‘Tell the truth’

On Wednesday, she clarified that on the stand.

“I meant that he said it in a passive-aggressive way,” Adams said when questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karin M. Bell about the “rat” comment.

Hoffman had also told Adams to “tell the truth and don’t lie,” before her interview with the FBI, information Vincent A. Bongiorni, Hoffman’s defense attorney, said Adams had neglected to tell FBI agents on four different occasions. Bongiorni also noted that Adams did not mention Hoffman’s statement about telling the truth to former acting probation commissioner Ronald P. Corbett Jr. when she lodged an October 2011 complaint with him against Hoffman over the “rat” statement and other remarks, according to an email of the complaint shown in court.

“You never once told any FBI agent that he told you to tell the truth, did you?” Bongiorni asked Adams on cross-examination.

Glenowicz’s testimony provided another glimpse into the influence that Burke, who retired in 2009, appears to have wielded when it came to hirings and promotions in the state’s Probation Department, particularly in western Massachusetts where he was a former supervisor of district court probation officers.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Fisher questioned Glenowicz at length about his rise through the ranks, focusing on his friendly relationship with Burke and encounters with his former boss at Joe’s Cafe, where he personally thanked Burke after his promotion to assistant probation officer. Hoffman also worked as a bartender on the side at Joe’s.

Around three years later, when Glenowicz was promoted to acting chief probation officer of Franklin Superior Court, he testified that Burke had pulled him aside while he was working during a busy time at Joe’s and asked him to come with him to meet state Rep. Thomas Petrolati, D-Ludlow, at the restaurant.

“He told me to say thank you to Tom Petrolati,” Glenowicz said. “Tom turned around and said, ‘No, thank Bill.’”

When asked by prosecutor Fisher what Glenowicz thought he was thanking Petrolati for, he replied, “I assumed the fact that I was promoted.”

“Anything I’ve done I thought I was qualified for the job that I had,” Glenowicz said in court.

Premonition

During testimony, Adams said Hoffman appeared to know his career path when he told probation staff that a year after he was made acting assistant chief, he would become acting chief probation officer.

“Almost to the day he said he was going to come back as acting chief, he did,” Adams said.

While Hoffman remains on unpaid leave, Adams leaves her job Friday. Both of their positions were among 10 ordered reposted in September 2012, after an arbitrator determined many former candidates for those jobs had been unfairly passed over for transfers or promotions in favor of others with political connections and fewer qualifications.

The case against Hoffman is part of a wider, ongoing federal corruption probe that earlier brought indictments of three top probation officials, including Burke, 69, of Hatfield, who served in the Probation Department for 37 years. Burke has pleaded not guilty to charges of mail fraud, racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery, as have former probation chief John J. O’Brien and former deputy commissioner Elizabeth V. Tavares.

The trio is alleged to have instituted a rigged hiring system aimed at getting favorable treatment from the Legislature that in turn increased their individual power and influence in the Probation Department. In a special report issued in 2010 by independent counsel Paul F. Ware and authorized by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, Burke admitted giving special treatment to job applicants put forward by elected officials, including Petrolati.

Burke said Petrolati, who represents Ludlow and parts of Chicopee, Springfield and Belchertown, would call him with names of favored candidates for positions in western Massachusetts, according to the Ware report.

‘Overreaching’

Ware’s investigation of the Probation Department found evidence to suggest that patronage played a role in hirings and promotions of probation officers, and linked Petrolati, among many other legislators, to that system of patronage.

But Petrolati’s lawyer, John P. Pucci of Springfield, said neither Ware nor investigators have found any wrongdoing by Petrolati, and no state lawmakers have been charged.

“He’s been investigated by Ware who found no criminal conduct of any kind,” Pucci said by telephone Wednesday. “He’s been examined for almost four years with hundreds of witnesses and they (investigators) haven’t found any wrongdoing.”

Hoffman has had a number of supporters in court, including Gus Peabody of Hadley, who said he has known him since Hoffman’s boyhood.

“It’s a shame,” Peabody said of the court case. “I think the government is overreaching in its zeal to go after higher-ups.”

Also testifying Wednesday was Amanda Dzialo of Southampton, who is a probation case specialist in Hampshire Superior Court. The trial continues Thursday when Laurie Clark, a Northampton District Court probation officer, and Sean MacDonald, a Hampshire Superior Court probation officer, are expected to take the stand. Bongiorni told Judge Timothy S. Hillman Wednesday that Hoffman had not yet decided whether to testify.

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