BOSTON — When the federal corruption trial began last week for former House Speaker Sal DiMasi and his co-defendants, defense attorneys promised jurors that they were going to get a real lesson on how things work in state government. On Monday, they delivered their first lesson on lobbyists.
“You want people who can open doors” to the top decision-makers, government witness Christopher Quinter testified. He once worked for the Cognos software company under Joseph Lally, the hard charging salesman the government says secretly funneled bribes to DiMasi to win state contracts.
Quinter was under deft cross-examination that helped the defense portray the Cognos lobbying and deals as the norm and not the crime the prosecution charges.
Quinter testified that companies competing with Cognos were doing the same thing. He said Oracle hired top lobbyist Tom O’Neill, the son of the legendary Tip O’Neill. The defense suggested Oracle wanted O’Neill to set up a meeting between Gov. Deval Patrick and a company executive.
Judge Mark Wolf stopped the proceedings at one point to instruct jurors, saying, “It is not unlawful for a company like Cognos to hire a lobbyist…It is not illegal to receive a payment [someone] genuinely believes is for lobbying.”
For the defense, it was a small victory in what’s going to be a long trial.
In contrast to what the defense tried to portray as the norm was the extreme character they portrayed of the Cognos salesman, Joseph Lally. Lally, who was at the center of the alleged scheme, is the government’s star witness.
Under defense questioning Lally’s former subordinate — Quinter — said Lally routinely located quarterly sales meetings at casinos where he was known as a high roller. At Foxwoods, Quinter testified, he watched Lally bet $10,000 on just one roll of the Roulette wheel.
Quinter told the defense he’d complained to federal prosecutors before trial that Lally’s honesty was tantamount to throwing bull excrement.
Wolf determined the prosecution had not disclosed this impeachment of Lally’s honesty to the defense.
Next on the stand will be Steven Topazio, DiMasi’s former law associate and perhaps DiMasi’s biggest problem of all in this trial.
DiMasi faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.