BOSTON — The judge in the corruption trial of former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and two associates instructed the jury Monday to convict them only if they believe the government has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the men intended to defraud the public.
The jury began deliberations Monday in a case that has seen the testimony of Gov. Deval Patrick and other former top Beacon Hill officials as prosecutors sought to build a kickback case against DiMasi and associates Richard McDonough and Richard Vitale.
The government has accused DiMasi of using his clout as the powerful Democratic speaker to assure that the private software firm Cognos received two state contracts worth a combined $17.5 million in exchange for payments, with DiMasi pocketing $65,000. The second, larger contract was eventually canceled.
Prosecutors also accused McDonough, a State House lobbyist, and Vitale, an accountant, of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of the scheme and not as a result of legitimate consulting or lobbying fees, as the defense claims.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf said jurors should give particular scrutiny to the testimony of one of the prosecution’s star witnesses, former software salesman Joseph Lally.
Lally was initially charged along with DiMasi, Vitale and McDonough but decided to cooperate with prosecutors in a deal that could net him a lighter prison sentence.
Wolf told jurors that while the government had a right to offer a plea deal to Lally, jurors should take that fact into account when trying to assess the truth of Lally’s testimony.
“You should scrutinize it closely because a witness hoping to get his sentence reduced has a motive to testify falsely,” Wolf said.
The defense has argued that the government’s case is “built on a foundation of quicksand” because it relies too heavily on Lally’s testimony.
Wolf said jurors must decide whether the government has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that payments were given to DiMasi in exchange for official acts he made for Cognos with the intent of defrauding the public. He said an official act doesn’t simply mean a vote in favor or against a piece of legislation. In DiMasi’s case, Wolf said, it can also include actions that intentionally exploited his influence over the legislative process as speaker.
The government also doesn’t have to link a specific payment to a specific act but should show that payments were made for DiMasi to pursue an overall goal, Wolf said. Similarly, the government doesn’t have to prove that a scheme succeeded, he said.
Whether DiMasi would have pushed for the contracts without receiving the payments — or whether the state would have agreed to the contracts anyway — also doesn’t diminish the act of participating in a scheme to defraud the public of DiMasi’s honest services as a state representative, Wolf said.
At the same time, Wolf said, it’s not illegal for a lawmaker who is also a lawyer — like DiMasi — to receive payments for professional services, such as legal referrals.
DiMasi is the third Massachusetts speaker in a row to quit under an ethics cloud. He became speaker in 2004 after Thomas Finneran resigned during a federal investigation. Finneran pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for lying during a redistricting lawsuit.
The trial included five weeks of testimony that concluded with closing statements last week.