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Surprise Announcement In DiMasi Case As Trial Nears End

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In the federal corruption trial of former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, the defense is now expected to call its last witness by Wednesday, even though it called its first witness only Monday. The surprise announcement means that the jury is likely to begin deliberations on Thursday.

Defense attorneys had listed 117 witnesses they might call to build their case for acquittal. But no sooner had their first witness left the stand Monday than Judge Mark Wolf told jurors that he was expecting the defense to rest Wednesday and deliberations to begin on Thursday.

Outside the courthouse on the harbor, where yachts and tall ships played in the breeze, DiMasi's lead attorney Tom Kiley was asked why the wind seemed to have gone out of the sails of the defense.

"The government has the burden of proving the case. We don't have to put on any case," Kiley said.

Don't have to, and it would appear, they're not going to put on more than a little one. Their main case will be to argue that the government hasn't proven its case. Yet the defense started out promisingly enough, with its first and only witness Monday.

David Driscoll was the commissioner of the state Department of Education in 2006, when Cognos Software was awarded the first of two state contracts that totaled $17.5 million. The first one — for $4.5 million — was with Driscoll and the Department of Education.

Question from DiMasi's attorney, Kiley to Driscoll: "At any time in the process, did Speaker DiMasi advocate with you for the selection of Cognos?"

"No," Driscoll replied.

In fact, Driscoll testified, he had only two conversations with DiMasi in all of 2006 about the contract with Cognos. Moreover, Driscoll said the Education Department had initiated negotiations with Cognos back in 2005, before he ever had a conversation with DiMasi. And it was Driscoll who initiated contact with DiMasi.

"I brought it up," Driscoll said. "The speaker said, 'If we can help, let us know.' "

"No input from the speaker?" came the question over and over from the defense.

"No, no input," came the response.

Driscoll's testimony undercut the prosecution's portrayal of DiMasi as King Schemer, the powerful speaker and puppeteer pulling the strings and making threats in order to steer the state contracts to Cognos in return for kickbacks.

Then came the prosecution's short cross-examination, and Driscoll, who evidently didn't think much of the government's case, was done. And the speculation was, who else would follow him on the stand in this new scaled down witness list? And would DiMasi and either of his two co-defendants step forward?

"No, it's not the kind of thing we would ever talk about," Kiley said.

Kiley wouldn't say, but it now seems highly unlikely that the former speaker will testify. Cross-examination has long been called the lawyer's best friend. Were DiMasi to take the stand, the prosecution might keep him there for days.

The judge did reveal in court that one witness for the defense will be DiMasi's former chief of staff. Another witness who may be called is a FBI agent.

And soon enough, the jury in the courthouse on the harbor will get to decide if the tide goes out on DiMasi and his co-defendants.

This program aired on June 7, 2011.

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



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