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Former deputy probation commission William Burke arraigned again on corruption charges; February trial date set

NORTHAMPTON — The lawyer for William H. Burke III of Hatfield on Tuesday claimed that corruption charges against the former deputy probation commissioner are “ridiculous.”

“I think this is a political prosecution,” said Brockton attorney John A. Amabile.

Burke pleaded not guilty for the second time to 19 criminal charges in U.S. District Court in Boston on Monday after an indictment was brought against him by federal prosecutors in a long-running corruption case. It marked the third time Burke was arraigned on some of the charges.

Burke and two other probation supervisors are alleged to have relied on a rigged hiring scheme that got favorable treatment from the Legislature in exchange for jobs for their friends an relatives. In a special report issued in 2010, Burke admitted giving special treatment to job applicants put forward by elected officials.

Amabile said the accusations against Burke are unusual, particularly because the former deputy probation commissioner recommended candidates for hire and received no financial gain.

“It’s a great publicity generator,” Amabile said. “The remedy for this (alleged patronage hiring) is the electoral process, not the criminal process.”

In bringing the new indictment, prosecutors said they had to “refine” and correct certain dates in an earlier indictment so that it is more understandable for a jury.

The charges of mail fraud, racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery are part of a continuing federal corruption probe that also led to indictments against former probation chief John J. O’Brien and former deputy commissioner Elizabeth V. Tavares.

O’Brien and Tavares were scheduled for arraignments on new grand jury indictments Tuesday. Like Burke, Tavares faces 19 counts on similar charges while O’Brien faces 30 charges of fraud, conspiracy, bribery and racketeering.

The trio is scheduled to go on trial Feb. 24, 2014, in U.S. District Court in Boston before Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV. The trial is expected to take several weeks, according to attorneys involved in the case.

“It’s going to take a long time because they have a lot of accusations in there,” Amabile said.

In a related case, Christopher J. Hoffman, the former acting probation chief of Hampshire Superior Court, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 18 in U.S. District Court in Worcester.

Hoffman, also of Hatfield, was convicted of witness tampering and attempted harassment in a July retrial as part of the federal investigation into Probation Department corruption. Hoffman’s first trial in May ended in a mistrial.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

Related

Former deputy probation commissioner William Burke, Hatfield, faces mail fraud, racketeering conspiracy charges

Monday, May 5, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — A long-awaited public corruption trial of three former probation chiefs, including a Hatfield man, begins this week in U.S. District Court in Boston and could take as long as two months. Jury selection begins Monday in the government’s case against former deputy commissioner William H. Burke III of Hatfield; former deputy commissioner Elizabeth V. Tavares; and former probation …

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