BOSTON — Two years after he was indicted on corruption charges, former Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi and his two co-defendants went on trial in federal court in Boston Thursday.
The prosecution laid out new details about DiMasi while the defense hammered the government’s case and one of its key witnesses.
With his wife and his 21-year-old stepdaughter on his arms, DiMasi walked toward the courthouse, where a conviction could send him to prison for 20 years.
“Mr. Speaker, do you have any thoughts as it all starts today?”
“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. So I’m looking forward to it,” DiMasi replied.
Inside, DiMasi worked the the first two rows of the courtroom with kisses, handshakes and hugs for family and friends. Here was the longstanding public persona of “My Pal Sal” about to clash with the prosecution’s portrayal of “Sal the Thief.”
“He and his friends used that public office for their private gain,” federal prosecutor Theodore Merritt told the jurors.
For DiMasi, “the bad news” on becoming speaker of the House was losing most of his income from his law practice, the prosecutor said. He was desperate for money, carrying a credit card debt of $50,000 a month.
“He found a way to cash in on that office,” though, Merritt said, by steering state contracts for close to $20 million to a Burlington software company named Cognos and disguising the bribes as referral fees.
Now comes the defense.
“Sal DiMasi performed no official act, did nothing, in order to get funding for Cognos or anybody else in return for anything,” said William Cintolo, speaking outside of the courtroom.
It’s a pale version of the finger-jabbing, pacing, roaring open he delivered inside the courtroom.
“Not one word is evidence in this case,” he said. “Not one word, not one paragraph, not one sentence, not one syllable.”
The stunned judge, Mark Wolf, broke into a grin, reminding Cintolo that this was an opening, not a closing argument.
Cintolo was not to be denied.
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“The government has not one piece of evidence, not one crumb that Sal DiMasi even mentioned the word Cognos,” Cintolo said. “The name or the word Cognos, the ‘cog’ didn’t even come out of his mouth.”
The prosecutor promised that one of its witnesses, Gov. Deval Patrick, will provide compelling testimony. But perhaps the most damaging witness for the government is DiMasi’s alleged co-conspirator and Cognos salesman, Joseph Lally, who was once a co-defendant.
The prosecutor said DiMasi told his co-conspirators, “If we stick together, we’re OK. If one breaks, we fall.” One did break.
But all three defense attorneys will try to break Lally by carpet-bombing his credibility.
Cintolo called Lally “a liar, a cheat, a manipulator, a quintessential name dropper.”
“Just pay close attention to what you hear today,” DiMasi had said on the way into court.
And the defense revealed that Lally owes $75,000 to a casino, blew $50,000 on a trip to Las Vegas, and is jammed up with the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Revenue.
“He’s a degenerate gambler,” attorney Tom Drechsler exclaimed. He made millions and “he blew it all.”
Then he became a government witness and a lot of his financial problems have disappeared.
“Knock, knock. Who’s there? It’s Joe Lally. Can I become a government witness?” Drechsler said with scorn.
Grinning once more, Wolf reminded the jurors that what the lawyers say in opening statements is not evidence. But it sure was interesting.