DiMasi sentenced to eight years

Harshest punishment ever in Mass. corruption case

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

Former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, once arguably the most powerful man in Massachusetts, was hit Friday with an eight-year jail sentence for his conviction on charges that he sold his office for personal gain, the harshest punishment ever doled out in a Massachusetts public corruption case.

If he serves his full sentence, DiMasi, 66, will emerge from prison when he is 74 years old. He was also ordered to forfeit $65,000, the amount of bribes he allegedly received in a long-running conspiracy.

Prosecutors had recommended a 12-year sentence for DiMasi and his attorney suggested three years.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf said DiMasi may self-report to prison in six to eight weeks. He said the sentence will be carried out at a correctional facility at Devens and will be followed by two years of supervised release.

The judge said he factored DiMasi’s “good works” as a legislator and family man when crafting his sentence but in delivering it, Wolf ripped DiMasi for risking himself, his family and the causes he believes in for quick cash from a software firm.

“Corruption has very real victims in general and in this case,” Wolf said. “Mr. DiMasi sold out and betrayed many of the people who wrote lovely letters on his behalf. Corruption also disparages honest legislators.”

Wolf worried that DiMasi’s scheme would discourage “honest and able people” from running for office and “betrays the promise of America to people who take great risk to come to our country lawfully.”

Wolf also quoted Louis Brandeis, who addressed Boston businessmen in 1903 after Mayor James Michael Curley was convicted of fraud: “The waste and theft of public monies that result from having such men in office is bad enough, but one hundred times worse is the demoralization of people which results.”

DiMasi was convicted in June on charges that abused his power to steer a pair of state contracts – a $4.5 million deal in 2006 and a $13 million deal in 2007 – to Cognos Corp., a Canadian company, in exchange for monthly $5,000 kickbacks funneled through a law associate. According to prosecutors, DiMasi began conspiring shortly after he took the speakership in 2004 and experienced a decline in income from his law practice.

Veteran Beacon Hill lobbyist Richard McDonough, also 66, was convicted in the scheme as well. Wolf sentenced McDonough – once a powerful agent for Anheuser-Busch, Suffolk Downs and other prominent Massachusetts interests – to seven years in prison.

DiMasi and McDonough were convicted of conspiracy, two counts of honest services mail fraud and three counts of honest services wire fraud. DiMasi was also convicted of a count of extortion. Most of the charges carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

A third codefendant, DiMasi’s longtime financial adviser Richard Vitale, was acquitted of all charges against him. A fourth, Cognos salesman Joseph Lally, pled guilty to the scheme in March and testified against his former conspirators.

Although DiMasi is the third consecutive speaker convicted of a felony, he is the first to receive a prison sentence. His predecessor Thomas Finneran pled guilty to obstruction of justice and Finneran’s predecessor Charles Flaherty pled guilty to tax evasion.

Beacon Hill has been grappling with fallout from DiMasi’s conviction since it was delivered in June. But the sentencing – less than three years after his colleagues overwhelmingly reelected him as the leader of the House, amid mounting evidence that he was under fire – casts an unwelcome backdrop as lawmakers begin to consider a fiercely lobbied-over proposal on expanded gambling, a plan DiMasi once scuttled.

Meet the Author
DiMasi’s legacy as a lawmaker, now tarnished by his conviction, included a drive to require all Massachusetts residents to obtain health insurance – a law that became the model for President Obama’s federal health reform law. He also championed gay marriage, aggressively working to scuttle a constitutional amendment to ban it.

His tenure included legislative efforts to set long-term carbon emission restrictions, incentivize the development of renewable energy, strengthen laws aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect, stiffening punishments for sexual predators of children, and advancing stem cell research in Massachusetts. He also memorably worked to kill an effort by Gov. Deval Patrick to bring three resort casinos to Massachusetts, a proposal that has since been revived and seems headed toward passage.