BOSTON — Goal accomplished, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz proclaimed. She and the three federal prosecutors behind her claimed a trophy for justice six hours before Wednesday night’s contest for another trophy. One was named Stanley, the other was named DiMasi.
“Today, justice has been served and the culture of corruption on Beacon Hill has been dealt another blow,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz was referring to the verdict in the federal corruption trial of former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and two associates.
A federal jury convicted DiMasi and one of his two co-defendants, after finding that they had engaged in conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud, and that DiMasi had committed extortion as well.
The five-week trial centered on allegations that DiMasi and fellow defendants used his official power to steer state software contracts to the Burlington-based company Cognos in return for kickbacks and bribes.
For his part, DiMasi sounded like the defense lawyer he is outside the courthouse, compartmentalizing the emotional shock and pain that had just been dealt him inside and upstairs on the fifth floor. He said that he planned to appeal.
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“This is an intent crime,” DiMasi said. “And I knew that I did not have the requisite intent to commit this crime. I told all of you when I was indicted that I never made any decision unless it was based on what was the best interests of the citizens of the commonwealth of Massachusetts and my constituents. I said I never ever made a decision other than that.”
DiMasi, his dear lobbyist friends Richard McDonough and accountant Richard Vitale faced eight counts together and DiMasi faced a ninth count of extortion.
On count one, conspiracy, the verdicts came back. DiMasi: guilty. McDonough: guilty. Vitale: not guilty. That was pretty much the pattern that followed.
DiMasi was convicted on seven counts, McDonough on six and Vitale was acquitted on all counts.
“It is a complex scheme that involved a number of individuals that are close,” Ortiz said. “In terms of accepting money, an intermediary was set up, sham businesses were set up. And they all stood together.”
As the guilty verdicts rolled on, DiMasi’s wife Debby broke down. Her daughter Ashley, who had been there to support her stepfather every day of the trial, arrived and clutched her mother. While court was still in session, Debby’s son arrived, walked to the front row, embraced his mother and cried as well. DiMasi sat motionless, staring at the table, in a state of shock, he would later say.
Still, DiMasi maintained he had no second thoughts.
“Second thoughts on what?” DiMasi asked reporters. “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. I would never have any second thoughts on running for office again.”
You don’t get to become House speaker without a realist’s ability to count hard votes and know if you have enough to win. DiMasi couldn’t have been surprised about what he was up against. The Moakley Courthouse is known as a “House of Pain” for good reason. It’s “where the city meets the sea,” says its Web page, and the rate of convictions of those who go to trial makes a defendant’s odds only slightly better than lemmings’.
One of DiMasi’s attorneys, Tom Kiley, sounded almost Kennedy-esque after the trial.
“The fight is not over, the fight will continue,” Kiley said. “We will be seeking to appeal today’s verdict.”
But the torch may not be passed from DiMasi’s era and generation. Earlier in the day, and before the call to a verdict, he talked nostalgically of his childhood — growing up in a cold water tenement with his parents and Italian immigrant grandparents. A poor kid, playing stickball in city streets, he had climbed the ladder, educationally, professionally, politically. He’d broken the ceiling. Pushed through health care, renewable energy and protected gay marriage.
“At the end of the day, there’s greed,” Ortiz said. “People live beyond their means, people get into financial trouble, and unfortunately the resolution, the way to solve that problem, is to commit a crime that can put money in their pockets.”
That was the motive the prosecutors had provided to jurors along with a trail of circumstantial evidence, emails, phone records and 24 witnesses tightly woven into a narrative that convinced the jurors in the span of only 10-or-so hours.
The two star witnesses in the trial were DiMasi’s former law associate and one-time defendant Joseph Lally. Lally, the sales agent of Cognos software, was acknowledged by the government to have been a cheater, a gambler and a liar before becoming a truth witness at trial.
Lawyers said Lally provided substantial assistance. That’s the legal phrase for cooperating witnesses proving they deserve short prison time in return for their testimony for the government. It would be a recommendation for a prison sentence of two to three years in Lally’s case.
“We signed an agreement, we’ll live up to our end of it,” said federal prosecutor Ted Merritt.
Wednesday, DiMasi became the third House speaker in a row to become a felon.
“It’s not like it used to be,” DiMasi had said ruefully before the verdict came in, reflecting on his past in politics. A past he said was better than the present. A past to which federal prosecutors and a jury were now saying good riddance.
He was at a wake that turned out to be his own.
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