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Federal Officials Seek 'Compassionate Release' For Imprisoned Ex-Speaker DiMasi

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Former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, center, and his wife Debbie arrive at federal court in Boston on Sept. 23, 2011, during his trial on corruption charges. (Steven Senne/AP)
Former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, center, and his wife Debbie arrive at federal court in Boston on Sept. 23, 2011, during his trial on corruption charges. (Steven Senne/AP)
This article is more than 6 years old.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons has filed a motion in federal court in Boston to seek the “compassionate release” of former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi.

The bureau can petition the court for the early release of a prisoner for “extraordinary and compelling reasons."

And in this case, the grounds for compassionate release are straightforward. In 2012, a year after he was convicted and sentenced to prison on corruption charges, DiMasi was diagnosed with Stage 4 tongue cancer. His family says the prison did not provide proper treatment after he reported a lump in his throat. More recently, DiMasi was diagnosed with prostate cancer as well.

According to the motion, DiMasi "has cancer of the tongue and prostate, atrial fibrillation, hyperlipidemia, esophageal stenosis, esophageal reflux, acid reflux, and musculoskeletal pain."

The motion added: "[H]e is a senior who has served 56 months (58%) of his 96-month term of imprisonment and is experiencing deteriorating physical health that substantially diminishes his ability to function in a correctional facility."

The bureau's motion is extraordinary. It rarely approves inmates’ requests for compassionate release and the inmate himself has no ability to appeal. The eligibility requirements are strict.

"It is mostly granted in the cases of people who are dying or near death," said Mary Price, general counsel for the group Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "People who are 65 or older and have a debilitating medical condition, although not terminal, can also apply."

The Bureau of Prisons is represented in federal court by the U.S. attorney’s office, and this motion for compassionate release comes with the support of Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose office prosecuted DiMasi.

Speaking for the family, Sal's wife, Debbie DiMasi, said in a statement: "We are immeasurably grateful for the government’s decision to recommend Sal’s release and, in particular, for the sensitivity, compassion and leadership shown in the process by United States Attorney Carmen Ortiz."

Now the petition will go before Judge Mark Wolf for a ruling. Wolf presided over DiMasi’s trial, in which he was convicted of taking $65,000 in kickbacks in return for steering state contracts worth $17.5 million to a software company.

While sentencing the Democrat DiMasi to eight years of prison, Wolf said he wanted to send a message that corruption in the State House would not be tolerated.

At the time, DiMasi’s attorney asked Wolf to recommend that the Bureau of Prisons send DiMasi to the nearby federal medical hospital in Devens. Wolf recognized that DiMasi had a heart condition, but said that the bureau did not follow his recommendations.

And indeed, in this case, it did not. The bureau sent DiMasi to a federal prison elsewhere.

DiMasi is 71 years old and is currently scheduled to be released in 2018.

If the release motion is granted, DiMasi will reside with his wife and his son in Melrose.

This article was originally published on October 13, 2016.

This segment aired on October 13, 2016.

David Boeri Twitter Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.

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