BOSTON — In what prosecutors called a major victory against a corrupt political system, a federal jury on Wednesday convicted former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi in a scheme to steer two state contracts worth $17.5 million to a software firm in exchange for payments to the powerful lawmaker and two of his close friends.
A visibly distraught DiMasi — who became the third consecutive speaker convicted in federal court — turned to hug his crying wife and stepdaughter after the verdict was read.
He was convicted of conspiracy, extortion and theft of honest services by fraud — seven of the nine charges leveled against him.
“I still believe that they’ve never had enough evidence at the beginning or at the end of that case with respect to a jury — a reasonable juror coming to a conclusion — that there could be a guilty finding in this,” DiMasi said to reporters outside the courthouse. “I believe that they didn’t prove their case.
“I was a legislator who did the best I could and I made a lot of good decisions. And I helped a lot of people.”
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz says jurors realized DiMasi was seduced by his power.
“You get that kind of power, you start to believe you’re above the law,” Ortiz said. “But clearly he is not.”
Also convicted of conspiracy and fraud was lobbyist Richard McDonough, on six of eight charges. Accountant Richard Vitale was acquitted on all charges. Both are close associates of DiMasi.
The jurors came back surprisingly quickly. They began deliberations Monday, after being given jurors’ instructions that were 65 pages long.
A fourth man, former software salesman Joseph Lally, pleaded guilty before trial and testified against the others.
Following the verdicts, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf brought the guilty back in the courthouse. He tentatively set sentencing for Aug. 18. Wolf will also restrict DiMasi’s travel to New England.
After clearing his court, Wolf said, “This is perhaps the best tried criminal case I’ve ever conducted.”
Defense attorneys are certain to appeal the verdicts, and the appeals process could be lengthy. One possible avenue of appeal could be to revisit the federal “theft of honest services” statute, which has been criticized as overly broad by some defense attorneys.
Thomas Kiley, DiMasi’s attorney, says the government misrepresented the payments that his client received as a lawyer.
“It involves the practice of law and one’s entitlements to work,” Kiley said. “It presents, as the court said, novel issues, and we will be pursuing those issues until everybody gets it right.”
David Frank, of Massachusetts Lawyers’ Weekly, says Wolf’s lengthy instructions to the jury will be one of the main points the defense will raise.
“In particular, on this honest services fraud charge that was so central to the case, that’s a live issue,” Frank said. “That is going to be one of the critical issues on appeal.”
DiMasi, a Democrat, resigned in January 2009, becoming the third consecutive House speaker to leave office under an ethics cloud. Now, he’s been convicted.
The chamber’s current speaker, Robert DeLeo, released a statement immediately after the verdicts.
“Today’s news delivers a powerful blow to the public’s trust in government,” DeLeo said in the statement. “This was definitely not business as usual — and it is a slur on every hardworking public servant to suggest otherwise.”
Senate President Therese Murray echoed DeLeo in a statement of her own.
“This is not how we do business in the Commonwealth and in this institution,” she said in the statement. “The actions of one person should not cast a shadow on the dedicated public servants in the legislature and all their good work.”
Gov. Deval Patrick called it a sad day.
“I’m disappointed in the whole thing, as I think everybody is,” the governor said. “But as I say, I think most of us, and certainly I can speak for myself and my team, we are focused on doing the people’s business and doing that with the highest level of integrity. And I think it is right that when someone steps out of line that the process runs its course, and it has.”
With reporting from the WBUR Newsroom, The Associated Press and State House News Service; compiled by Benjamin Swasey