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State House Roundup: 'Virtually Unemployable'

On the last day of Salvatore DiMasi’s 30-year tenure in public office – Jan. 27, 2009 – he boasted with pride about becoming the first Italian-American speaker of the Massachusetts House and regretted only that his parents and grandparents had died before witnessing his rise.

It was their dream, he told colleagues, for their children and grandchildren to “make a better life” in America, and he described his ascension as the fulfillment of that dream.

On Thursday – a day before he would be sentenced to an eight-year prison term for trading unrivaled influence for $65,000 in bribes from a software company – DiMasi reprised that story, nearly verbatim, to U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mark Wolf, in a plea for leniency. But this time he added a new line.

“That dream and goal has been lost forever. Instead, I have caused the institution I love disgrace,” he said, fighting tears and speaking in a barely audible whimper that belied his once-booming baritone.

DiMasi’s words fell on the skeptical ears of Judge Wolf who delivered a memorable line on the scourge of white collar crime in America: “One of the things I think about in connection with this case, which person is more dangerous in our country? Somebody who is doing what everybody he knows does, selling crack on the corner for maybe 75 or 50 bucks, or people who are undermining our democracy by successfully, or up to a point, conspiring to sell public office?”

Through his sentence, the harshest ever handed down in a Massachusetts public corruption case involving an elected official, Wolf answered his own question.

“This case has been very dispiriting. It demonstrates recurrence of corruption in state government … it will undoubtedly heighten cynicism of public officials in the short-run,” he said.

Beacon Hill leaders hope that DiMasi’s sentence closes the book on the seamy, sordid era he presided over, his crimes forever tainting years that also included the passage of groundbreaking health care access legislation and the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts. But it was to them who Judge Wolf delivered his most stinging indictment, accusing a segment of the political class of remaining in denial.

“The letters from some of your former colleagues suggests to me that they still believe that you’ve been unfairly convicted and now that you’re being unfairly punished … [Rep. Frank Smizik] said, the day you were convicted, in the Boston Herald, ‘I’ve never seen a better speaker. It’s a shame that somebody who did a good job gets caught up in something like this,’” Wolf said.

“Well, you didn’t get caught up in this,” he blared at DiMasi. “You were essential to creating it. It seems to be an attitude that if somebody supports causes that you care about, some corruption is to be expected. And I think that’s a pernicious paradigm.”

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz echoed Wolf, suggesting that Beacon Hill officials have developed “a tolerance” for corruption from public officials who share their ideals.

In his request for mercy, DiMasi described himself as “virtually unemployable,” his life a financial shambles, his home in foreclosure and his family crushed. His words could have applied equally to millions of Americans muddling through continued economic turmoil.

It was to those residents who President Barack Obama spoke to Thursday in a State-of-the-Union-length address to Congress in which he announced a plan to put the unemployed back to work. And he used the bully pulpit to demand that Congress act immediately.

Obama laid out the $447 billion proposal – built primarily on a payroll tax cut for American workers, tax credits for small businesses who hire workers or raise wages, and funding for public infrastructure programs – two days after Massachusetts businesses registered eroding confidence in the stability of the economy.

On Wednesday, the Bay state’s financial leadership delivered a message of their own to the nation’s three most prominent credit rating agencies, laying out a case for a credit upgrade sometime within the next two weeks. Gov. Deval Patrick, Treasurer Steven Grossman and legislative leaders pulled out all the stops to impress officials from the credit agencies, providing a full spread of hors d’oeuvres and hosting them in the most ostentatious room in the State House, the Senate president’s office.

While they were talking up the Bay State’s solid fundamentals, across the common, newly minted transportation secretary Rich Davey painted a bleak picture for the cash-strapped MBTA, which he said faces a difficult path to financial stability without fare hikes or service cuts.

One hour after DiMasi slinked out of the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse, contemplating a prison term that could span two presidencies, his former colleagues in the House reached a 3 p.m. deadline to file amendments to an expanded gambling plan that DiMasi once took pride in scuttling. House members filed about 150 amendments in advance of a debate scheduled for next Wednesday.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Denouement of DiMasi saga continues to cast a shadow on Beacon Hill.

This program aired on September 9, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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