BOSTON — A key government witness against former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi said he didn’t want to be there. But DiMasi’s longtime law associate didn’t have a choice. Under federal court order, Steven Topazio took the stand Tuesday in the ongoing federal corruption trial of DiMasi and two co-defendants.
So how did Sal DiMasi react when his former associate began testifying as a government witness?
“You should direct your questions to my attorney. Mr. Kiley wants to address the legal issue. Please report on what went on in the courtroom,” DiMasi told reporters outside of the courtroom.
It is, to put it mildly, a sensitive matter, upon which DiMasi’s fate might rest.
In 1986, then-attorney and State Rep. DiMasi hired young Steven Topazio out of New Jersey. With the Jersey accent still in place, Topazio Tuesday called DiMasi his mentor.
“I looked up to him for guidance,” Topazio testified. “I looked up to Sal.”
But in court, he didn’t look out to DiMasi. And his mentor never acknowledged Topazio.
The bump in the road began in 2004, when, Topazio said, he got a call from DiMasi. DiMasi told Topazio he was going to get a call about a new client from a close pal of DiMasi’s: Richard McDonough, the lobbyist. McDonough is also on trial here.
It turned out that new client was Joseph Lally, the hard-charging salesman of Cognos software. Lally and McDonough talked about software with Topazio, who said he was clueless. He did personal injury law and criminal defense.
“I didn’t think I was the right person,” he said he told them.
Yet Topazio was the perfect person, the government alleges. Perfect for the purposes of the alleged conspiracy, which involved funneling bribes to DiMasi in the form of legal payments to Topazio.
Topazio testified that Lally and McDonough told him not to worry about whether he was the right person. “The company will help you,” they said.
They gave him a $5,000 a month consulting contract and renewed it every six months.
Question from the prosecutor: How did DiMasi react?
Answer: “It’s about time we get business like this.”
Topazio testified that he cashed each check, kept $1,000 for himself and sent $4,000 to DiMasi, as DiMasi’s share for the referral.
Outside the court house, after DiMasi deflected questions about his former protege, his attorney responded.
“What Mr. Topazio said today is that he was not happy to be there; that he has looked to him as a mentor and didn’t want to be there. That’s what I heard from today,” Kiley said.
But what others and Mr. Kiley surely heard as well was less helpful to the defense. According to Topazio, DiMasi didn’t tell him that he knew Joseph Lally, the Cognos salesman at that meeting who gave Topazio the contract. Lally was DiMasi’s friend.
When testimony ended for the day, jurors had this picture to think about: A company seeking millions of dollars in contracts with the state, and with a fleet of its own attorneys it hires an outside attorney — an attorney who said he knew nothing about software contracts. That attorney never did, or was never asked, to do any legal work for the company. He’s an attorney hired by a friend of DiMasi’s who wanted DiMasi to use his power to get the state contracts.
Testimony resumes Thursday.