BOSTON — By Friday’s end, convicted former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi will find out just how many years he’s going to spend in a federal penitentiary.
Thursday, during the first day of a two-day hearing, DiMasi’s attorneys tried to convince Judge Mark Wolf that three years is enough. And, with a breaking voice, DiMasi delivered an emotional plea for compassion.
But the judge’s comments foretell a harsh outcome.
“At his heart he’s still a prosecutor,” commented one of the many attorneys who watched Wolf’s proceeding that went four hours before it ended for the day Thursday.
The judge read from one of his earlier rulings — as he often does — that the government had persuaded both him and the jury that DiMasi and co-defendant Richard McDonough had “participated in a classic scheme to sell DiMasi’s official powers as speaker.”
“It is very clear to me they knew that what they were doing was unlawful,” Wolf said. “And that’s why what they did was structured to keep their fingerprints off it.”
The hearing was to determine the proper sentencing guidelines to punish DiMasi’s crime. And the judge was showing every signal he was leaning toward a heavy sentence. Not only did he reject each defense objection to going higher, he even told the government it had underestimated the cost of DiMasi’s crime.
By Wolf’s calculation, the cost should include not just the bribes that DiMasi received ($65,000), but all the money his co-conspirators made as well ($915,000). By that accounting, according to the guidelines, the sentence for DiMasi would be at least 12 years and seven months.
A ‘Broken Man’s’ Emotional Plea
When DiMasi was given the opportunity to address the court he managed one line: “I appear before you today a broken man.” And then he had to pause to regain his composure.
“I have lost everything I worked for all my life,” he said.
Tall but stooped, with his family bowing their heads, tears streaming down his wife’s face, and his family from the North End trembling, DiMasi delivered 15 minutes of a plea with pain that transfixed the courtroom.
“I have brought dishonor to the office I held,” DiMasi said. “This is a pain I will never be able to soothe.”
About to be sent to prison with his home in foreclosure and his wife requiring more cancer surgery without insurance — “at a time when they need me most” — DiMasi told the judge, “I am a downtrodden man who deserves your compassion.”
What was missing were two words DiMasi’s co-defendant McDonough would invoke when he addressed the judge: “I’m sorry.”
While he was listening to DiMasi, the judge betrayed one moment of displeasure when DiMasi seemed to evade responsibility. Wolf wrote DiMasi’s comment down. It was another signal that had some observers speculating that Wolf might go beyond even the government’s recommendation of 12 1/2 years when he sentences DiMasi Friday.