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Ex-Mass. speaker’s friend wants charges dismissed


A longtime friend and accountant for former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi asked a Superior Court judge last Thursday to dismiss charges that he violated state lobbying and campaign finance rules, arguing the law is too vague.

Prosecutors say Richard Vitale was paid $60,000 in lobbying fees by ticket brokers interested in changing the state’s scalping laws. But he failed to register as a lobbyist, which would have required him to limit his campaign donations and meet extra reporting requirements.

At a hearing in Suffolk Superior Court, prosecutors said Vitale met directly with the former speaker and top DiMasi lieutenant Thomas Petrolati, a Ludlow Democrat, before the bill passed the House in 2007. It died in the Senate.

Vitale’s lawyer, Martin Weinberg, called the laws governing who must register as a lobbyist in Massachusetts “unconstitutionally vague” and said that the criminal charges against his client should be thrown out.

Under state law, registered lobbyists can donate no more than $200 to a lawmaker’s campaign fund each year. The limit for other individuals is $500.

An individual is deemed not to be a lobbyist under state law if they spend less than 50 hours lobbying lawmakers or receive less than $5,000 in fees during each six-month reporting period.

Weinberg said that because the definition of what constitutes lobbying is so vague, the state would be unable to prove that Vitale met the threshold of 50 hours.

Weinberg also said it would be unfair to expect Vitale to understand whether he’d exceeded that minimum, given the “impermissibly imprecise” language in the law.

“Mr. Vitale could have spent a thousand hours looking at that statute … and come away believing that he didn’t have to register,” Weinberg said.

Specifically, Weinberg said, the law fails to adequately explain what constitutes “incidental” lobbying, which does not count toward the 50 hour threshold.

“He is the quintessential incidental legislative consultant,” Weinberg said.

Trying to portray Vitale as a businessman with only tangential lobbying ties doesn’t square with the fact that Vitale is a close friend of DiMasi, who was one of the most powerful lawmakers on Beacon Hill, said Assistant Attorney General Andrew Rainer.

Rainer said Vitale used those close ties with the Boston Democrat to push the proposed changes in the ticket scalping law.

Rainer said Vitale met once with Petrolati in the cafeteria of the Dana-Farber Cancer Center in Boston and on another occasion set up a meeting between DiMasi and James Holzman, CEO of Ace Tickets and founding member of the Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers.

After Vitale recommended changes to the bill, those changes appeared in the version of the legislation supported by DiMasi, according to Rainer.

At another point in the negotiations, Vitale sent an e-mail to Holzman recommending he give a $500 donation to another lawmaker and told him to “hang in there.” In other e-mails, Rainer said, Vitale referred to DiMasi only as “him,” sometimes using an uppercase “H.”

“He knew perfectly well he was trying to influence the speaker,” Rainer said. “The research in this case was calling up Sal.”

The lobbying grew so apparent, Rainer said, that partners in Vitale’s firm asked him not to continue the efforts. Vitale eventually formed WN Advisors LLC, expressly to continue his lobbying, Rainer said.

Vitale, DiMasi and two other associates are also facing separate federal charges of conspiracy and wire and mail fraud in connection with an alleged bid-rigging scheme for a state software contract that prosecutors say netted DiMasi $57,000.

All four have pleaded not guilty.

Also last year, The Boston Globe reported Vitale gave DiMasi an unusual $250,000 third mortgage on his North End condominium in 2006. While not illegal, it indicated the close relationship between the men.

(Associated Press)

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