Federal prosecutors told a jury Friday that evidence against former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and two associates paints an “ugly picture of corruption” and that jurors need only use common sense to find the men guilty of accepting bribes and kickbacks in exchange for the speaker’s clout in steering two state contracts to a favored software firm.
But DiMasi’s attorney said in closing arguments that prosecutors had offered only “inference upon inference upon inference,” with no conclusive evidence that payments were made in return for officials acts. Another defense lawyer told the jury the prosecution’s case was “built upon a foundation of quicksand” because it relied heavily on the testimony of former software salesman Joseph Lally, who pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors that could net him a lighter prison sentence.
The arguments followed more than five weeks of testimony in one of the state’s most closely watched political corruption cases in decades. Gov. Deval Patrick and past members of his administration were among the witnesses called to testify.
In his approximately 90-minute closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Fuller reviewed for the jury the evidence against DiMasi, Richard McDonough and Richard Vitale and said DiMasi, as a powerful lawmaker, performed “official acts ... resulting in kickbacks to his partners in crime.”
Fuller said DiMasi used his clout to assure that the software firm Cognos received the contracts worth a combined $17.5 million in exchange for payments, with DiMasi pocketing $65,000 funneled through what Fuller called a “sham contract” with the speaker’s law associate.
Fuller said hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to McDonough, a Statehouse lobbyist, and Vitale, an accountant, also were part of the scheme, and not legitimate consulting or lobbying fees, as the defense claims.
“Don’t be fooled. Keep your eyes on the ball. Use your common sense,” Fuller told the jurors.
William Cintolo, representing DiMasi, said prosecutors failed to provide proof beyond reasonable doubt of a “quid pro quo” - a definitive link between the payments and the speaker’s official actions on behalf of Cognos, or provide “one scintilla of evidence” that DiMasi himself ever ordered payments made to his friends.
“The government is asking you to pile inference upon inference upon inference, to go from the payment, to the bribe,” Cintolo said, often gesturing and raising his voice as he appealed to the jury.
In keeping with a strategy that the defense has employed since the start of the trial, attorneys sought to discredit Lally, calling him a “self-admitted perjurer,” who lied repeatedly, cheated on his taxes and gambled away his hefty sales commissions.
“Without Lally, the government has surmise and conjecture ... but not a criminal case,” said Martin Weinberg, Vitale’s lawyer. “With Lally, the government’s case is built on a foundation of quicksand, that sinks into that quicksand.”
“Greed pervades Lally’s soul and everything he does is about money, money, money,” argued Thomas Dreschler, who represents McDonough.
Defense attorneys contend Lally was motivated to lie on the witness stand because under his plea agreement, his cooperation with the government could result in a recommendation that he spend less time in prison and retain some of his assets.
Lally “wants to saunter out of the courthouse without handcuffs on,” Dreschler said.
Cintolo mocked Lally’s testimony that the speaker, who grew up in the inner city North End neighborhood of Boston, told him he was only going to be in political office a short time longer and wanted to “make hay” while he was there.
“Can you imagine a North End kid, a North End lifer, saying ‘let's make hay,’” asked Cintolo.
Anticipating the attack on Lally, Fuller in his closing argument readily conceded Lally was a distasteful character, but then asked jurors to consider why Lally had the cell phone number of DiMasi -- arguably the most powerful figure in Massachusetts government -- and frequently talked to the speaker and even played golf with him as the alleged scheme unfolded.
Prosecutors also said the plea agreement required Lally to testify truthfully at the trial.
Fuller also told the jury that the defendants on several occasions demonstrated a “consciousness of guilt,” as details of the contracts became public, and that when asked about the allegations DiMasi lied even to members of his own staff.
“He lied because he knew if he told the truth, his goose was cooked,” Fuller said.
Weinberg said Vitale never tried to conceal payments received from Lally, nor did he try to cover up a $250,000 line of credit he extended to DiMasi, who prosecutors said was in debt as a result of losing income from his law practice after becoming speaker.
In a rebuttal argument following the defense closings, prosecutor Theodore Merritt said jurors do not need DiMasi’s words to prove a conspiracy.
“Actions speak louder than words, and Sal DiMasi as speaker took plenty of actions, official actions, to make sure this scheme paid off for him and his co-conspirators,” Merritt said.
Jurors have enough evidence to see an “ugly picture of corruption,” he added.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations after receiving final instructions from U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf on Monday.