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Prosecutors ask judge to uphold guilty verdicts in Massachusetts probation job-rigging case

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BOSTON — Federal prosecutors urged a judge Friday not to disturb the convictions of former state probation commissioner John O'Brien and two deputies in a job-rigging case.

The U.S. Attorney's office filed a 61-page response to earlier motions from lawyers for O'Brien, Elizabeth Tavares and William Burke that had asked U.S. District Court Judge William Young to enter either a judgment of acquittal or set aside the verdicts and order a new trial.

O'Brien was convicted by a federal jury on July 24 of racketeering and mail fraud in a case that focused attention on the patronage culture in state government. He was accused of leading a scheme to rig the probation department's hiring process to favor job candidates who were sponsored by powerful state legislators, often over more qualified applicants.

Tavares also was convicted of racketeering and mail fraud, and Burke of racketeering conspiracy after a two-month trial. All three defendants are scheduled for sentencing Nov. 12.

"The defendants' briefs contain the same old and tired arguments that they have unsuccessfully made throughout the litigation in this case," prosecutors said in their response to the defense motions. "While the tenor of these arguments may have been appropriate during pre-trial litigation and during the trial of this matter, they now lack force and vitality in the face of the jury's verdict."

Among other things, the defense contends Young gave faulty instructions to jurors before deliberations and that the evidence at trial was insufficient to warrant guilty verdicts.

O'Brien's lawyers also argued the government failed to prove he offered illegal gratuities — in the form of jobs for constituents — to legislators in exchange for official acts, such as favorable treatment on the department's annual budget.

In their response, prosecutors rejected that argument and said a rational jury could find based on the evidence that the defendants intended to "influence particular or specific official acts."

Young has scheduled a hearing on the defense motions for Oct. 22

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