Ex-Speaker DiMasi Sentenced To 8 Years In Prison

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Former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, center, as his sentence is handed down (Margaret Small for WBUR)
Former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, center, as his sentence is handed down (Margaret Small for WBUR)

Former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, once one of Massachusetts' most powerful political figures, was sentenced Friday to eight years in federal prison for using his influence to steer millions in state contracts to a software firm in exchange for kickbacks.

During Friday's sentencing hearing, voluble U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf had a lot to say and his lecture to DiMasi was harsh.

"You became speaker and you and Mr. [Richard] McDonough" — the lobbyist who was convicted alongside DiMasi — "quickly devised a scheme to sell your office."

The scheme was to swing two state contracts worth $17.5 million to the software company Cognos, whose agent funneled $65,000 to DiMasi and hundreds of thousands to DiMasi's conspirators.

"You also knew that taking bribes was unlawful and that's what you were doing," Wolf said.

Former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, accompanied by his wife Debbie, arrives for his sentencing hearing Friday in Boston federal court. (AP)
Former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, accompanied by his wife Debbie, arrives for his sentencing hearing Friday in Boston federal court. (AP)

Standing before the judge, DiMasi was somber, stoic. His family had braced for the worst, which seemed likely after Thursday's hearing, during which Wolf sent numerous signals he was leaning toward the 12-year sentence recommended by the government.

"The recommendation the government made, we believe, is fair, reasonable, and it was appropriate," said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz after DiMasi's sentencing.

Quoting long-dead justices as prophets, Wolf spoke wrath in the tone of the Old Testament.

"This kind of corruption betrays the promise of America," he said. And, reminding DiMasi of his own words, of his pride in becoming the first Italian-American elected speaker of the House, Wolf pronounced, "This is a dream that has been corrupted."

Though Wolf's words were harsh, his lash was lighter. The sentence would be eight years.

Frozen in a long-embrace with his wife, stepchildren and family, DiMasi, who described himself as a "broken man" (read his remarks) the day before, emerged from Boston's federal courthouse collected, but mute.

"A chapter is closed," said Thomas Kiley, DiMasi's attorney. "We're happy to be past it. The next chapter of this judicial proceeding will be in the First Circuit. That's all we have to say. Thank you."

Appeal they will, but Wolf set Nov. 16 for DiMasi and McDonough to report to prison. That's subject to change should Wolf rule in another hearing to let DiMasi stay home pending appeal.

As DiMasi left, some federal prosecutors were privately seething that Wolf had promised hellfire, but sentenced downward at eight years. But Ortiz said otherwise.

"I wouldn't say I'm disappointed because quite frankly, eight years is a substantial sentence and it's the highest a public official has received in this state," she said.

In fact, Wolf told DiMasi that he had benefited by the fact that so many other corrupt public officials had gotten so much undeservedly lower sentences. Wolf said that disparity influenced him to drop the sentence from the 12 years he had been contemplating.

Wolf made clear his contempt for what the U.S. attorney called the culture of arrogance on Beacon Hill. He emphasized that DiMasi was the third speaker in a row to be convicted of a felony. And he derided the attitude of some state representatives who had written on DiMasi's behalf, like one who lamented that DiMasi had gotten into this mess.

"You didn't get into this mess," Wolf told DiMasi. "You were essential to creating this mess."

Outside, lead prosecutor Theodore Merritt said he did feel compassion for DiMasi on a personal level.

"On the other hand, I did not see him recognize he had committed bribery or ever acknowledge criminal conduct, so I was not moved in that regard," Merritt said.

With short dispatch, Wolf also sentenced convicted co-conspirator and lobbyist McDonough to seven years, telling him, "You were an engine of it, you were the hub of it. Mr. DiMasi could not have sold his office without your energetic assistance."

It is over, for now, and the question is whether the sentence will be as well remembered on Beacon Hill as the thunderous applause for DiMasi when last re-elected speaker, even as the scandal of alleged corruption washed over him.

-- Here's DiMasi's sentencing statement from Thursday (on Scribd):

The Big Story: Ex-Speaker DiMasi Convicted On Fraud, Extortion Charges

This program aired on September 9, 2011.

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



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