Former House Speaker DiMasi sentenced to 8 years
Former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, once one of the most powerful figures in Massachusetts politics, was sentenced Friday to eight years in federal prison for using his influence to steer $17.5 million in state contracts to a software firm in exchange for kickbacks.
At the end of the sentencing, DiMasi and wife, Debbie, shared a lengthy embrace in the courtroom. DiMasi, grim-faced and shaken, hugged other friends and relatives.
U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf also sentenced co-defendant Richard McDonough, a prominent Statehouse lobbyist, to seven years in prison for his role in the scheme.
Wolf said DiMasi’s life story is in many ways typical of the American dream. The son of Italian immigrants worked hard to succeed and become the first Italian-American House Speaker in state history. Wolf noted DiMasi is a family man, loved by his stepchildren and wife, who is battling breast cancer.
“This is a dream that has been corrupted,” Wolf said.
Wolf also lauded DiMasi for always standing up for the disadvantaged in the Statehouse.
“In my opinion, you sold those people out,” he said.
DiMasi was also sentenced to two years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $65,000, the amount of money he’s accused of taking in the kickback scheme.
McDonough was also sentenced to two years of probation, ordered to pay $50,000 in fines and forfeit $250,000.
“You and Mr. DiMasi committed a very serious crime and you were more than just a participant,” Wolf said. “In my view you were an engine of the scheme.”
Wolf said the men wouldn’t have to report to begin serving their sentences until Nov. 16, although he is still considering a defense request to allow DiMasi and McDonough to remain free while they appeal their June 15 convictions. He also recommended that DiMasi be allowed to serve his sentence at a federal prison in Devens.
A federal jury, after a six-week trial, found DiMasi guilty of conspiracy, extortion and honest services fraud, while McDonough was convicted of conspiracy and honest services fraud. DiMasi was the third straight speaker to leave office because of ethics issues.
Federal prosecutors had asked for a 12½-year sentence for the 66-year-old DiMasi, citing the seriousness of the charges and the abuse of one of his office.
Last Thursday, DiMasi delivered an emotional speech to the court, calling himself a “broken man” whose finances had been ruined and his reputation disgraced.
DiMasi begged Wolf for compassion, acknowledging that he made mistakes while not admitting guilt.
“They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” he told the judge. “I don’t want to go to hell, and I certainly don’t want to go to prison.”
Neither DiMasi nor McDonough showed emotion when their sentences were read.
Defense attorneys asked for a sentence of three years, citing DiMasi’s long record of public service and dedication to his family. Their request was accompanied by numerous letters of support for DiMasi from relatives, friends and former colleagues. They cited his service and legislative achievement, including passage of the state’s landmark universal health care law, and his strong family ties.
DiMasi’s wife, Debby, wrote how her husband had been a source of strength through her own battle with breast cancer and other recent family struggles, and of the kindness and patience he had shown to her two children from a troubled previous marriage. She begged Wolf for leniency.
“Sending Sal away for a long period of time, at this stage of his life would be a death sentence for him, for me and the dream nurtured by Sal’s parents,” she wrote.
Prosecutors said DiMasi used the considerable clout of his office to steer two state contracts worth a combined $17.5 million to the software firm Cognos in exchange for payments in 2006 and 2007.
According to testimony, DiMasi received $65,000 in payments funneled through an unwitting law partner, and that McDonough received $300,000 in payments disguised as consulting or lobbying fees, prosecutors said.
Richard Vitale, an accountant and close friend of DiMasi, was acquitted by the jury. Prosecutors said Vitale’s businesses received $600,000 through the scheme, some of which was used to set up a line of credit for DiMasi, who lost considerable income from his law practice after becoming speaker and was struggling with credit card debt.
Prosecutors also alleged that DiMasi was planning for his eventual departure from the Statehouse and wanted seed money for a joint business venture with Vitale after his political career was over. Defense attorneys argued that the allegations involving Vitale should not be considered in sentencing because the jury did not convict Vitale of any crimes.
A fourth defendant in the case, former software salesman Joseph Lally, pleaded guilty before the trial and testified against the other three men.
Lally, who was cast a liar, tax cheat and compulsive gambler by the defense, is scheduled for sentencing in October and could receive a lighter sentence in exchange for his cooperation with the government.
Cognos was not charged and is now a business unit of IBM.
DiMasi, a Boston Democrat who grew up in the close-knit North End neighborhood, was the third consecutive speaker to leave office under an ethics cloud when he resigned in 2009.
His predecessor, Thomas Finneran, was indicted after leaving office for lying during his testimony in a redistricting lawsuit and eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. The previous speaker, Charles Flaherty, was forced from office after pleading guilty to a federal felony tax charge.
Neither Finneran nor Flaherty served any jail time. DiMasi’s trial and conviction dealt another blow to public confidence in Beacon Hill at a time when the Legislature was grappling with budget gaps and other major issues.
Prosecution witnesses included Gov. Deval Patrick and aides who testified that DiMasi applied pressure on the administration to approve the second of the two contracts, a $13 million contract for business intelligence software.
Patrick was the first sitting Massachusetts governor to testify in a criminal trial in more than 15 years. Neither he nor any past or present members of his administration were accused of wrongdoing.
Shortly after the trial, House Republicans filed a series of proposed rules changes, including one that would prohibit lawmakers from contacting state agencies about pending work contracts. The heavily Democratic House has yet to act on the proposals.
Now that he has been formally sentenced, DiMasi also faces the loss of his $4,981.86 a month pension and the suspension of his license to practice law. Both moves could occur within days or weeks.