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Coakley, Sullivan Differ Over DiMasi Probe

This article is more than 5 years old.

Candidate for governor Martha Coakley is vehemently denying allegations made by former Inspector General Greg Sullivan that as attorney general her office showed a lack of interest in pursuing an investigation into former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who was subsequently convicted, and urged him to back off.

With just over a week until election day, Coakley on Monday said Sullivan’s recollection of a meeting in her office about the investigation into DiMasi receiving kickbacks in exchange for a state software contract was “absolutely wrong,” while Sullivan doubled down on his side of the story, first told Sunday in The Boston Globe, with a lengthy rebuttal to her campaign’s critiques.

“That conversation didn’t occur the way he said it did,” Coakley said Monday morning, campaigning in Chinatown with union workers on the site of a housing construction project. “I don’t know why he’s saying it, but he’s just wrong and all of the documentation and the results show that we cooperated with that investigation.”

Coakley’s campaign produced court documents intended to rebut the notion that the attorney general was reluctant to investigate the speaker for political reasons.

DiMasi, a North End Democrat, was convicted in 2011 on corruption charges in a federal case that involved state contracts steered towards the software company Cognos in exchange for kickbacks. DiMasi is currently serving an eight-year federal prison sentence while battling cancer.

According to Sullivan, a whistleblower approached the inspector general’s office in September 2007, alleging that a $13 million software contract was given to a company, Cognos, potentially in violation of state procurement regulations.

The whistleblower told Sullivan’s investigators that “he or she had brought the matter previously to the attorney general’s office and had been told by a representative of that office that in their opinion, ‘there is nothing there,'” Sullivan wrote in an email Monday.

Sullivan said Coakley summoned him to a meeting in October 2008 and asked him to “discontinue” his investigation and turn the matter over to her office.

“She told me that her office had not [seen] a ‘bright line of criminality’ in the facts and circumstances that it had reviewed and said that the attorney general’s office was considering a report similar to one that had been written by her predecessor, Thomas Reilly, concerning the Catholic church sex abuse scandal that did not include indictments but instead identified potential changes in law to improve future enforcement and identify ‘lessons learned,'” according to Sullivan.

Coakley on Monday said federal prosecutors had more tools at their disposal to pursue charges against DiMasi, and pointed to her separate work to prosecute one of DiMasi’s alleged co-conspirators Richard Vitale on a separate matter involving illegal lobbying over ticket resales. Vitale was acquitted in the case brought by federal prosecutors against DiMasi, but pled guilty to state lobbying law violations.

“We worked cooperatively with the federal government on the case against the former speaker, so I’ll stand on not only my record in what we did in those cases. Greg Sullivan is absolutely incorrect,” Coakley said.

Asked specifically about the “bright line” comment, Coakley said, “Absolutely untrue. Never said that. I wouldn’t have said that.”

The Coakley camp on Sunday had called Sullivan’s allegations “demonstrably false” and then trained its fire on Sullivan’s current employer, the Pioneer Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank.

Tim Foley, the campaign manager for the Democratic nominee, claimed the Pioneer Institute is a “tool of Charlie Baker supporters” and national Republicans.

“These close ties raise serious questions about the motivations behind the false allegations by Greg Sullivan,” Foley said in his statement. “All you have to do is follow the money.”

On Monday, Sullivan hit back in a statement almost 2,000 words long, laying out a timeline of events and saying the Coakley campaign’s claims “do not make sense for several reasons.”

Sullivan said he made the comments to the Globe in response to a reporter’s questions and the events were confirmed by his former staffers. “None of these individuals works for Pioneer Institute,” said Sullivan, who works there as a research director. Coakley’s aides present for the meeting in question similarly dispute Sullivan’s recollection of the meeting.

Sullivan added that he served for 17 years as a Democrat in the Massachusetts House, supported President Obama, voted for Gov. Deval Patrick twice, and was appointed inspector general by Democrats, including Patrick, Attorney General Coakley and former Auditor Joseph DeNucci. He said that he managed Paul Tsongas’s U.S. Senate campaign in Norwood and held a sign for Democratic candidate for attorney general Maura Healey at a Norwood polling place in the Sept. 24 primary.

Sullivan then recounted a conversation in an Ashburton Place office building stairwell with the first assistant attorney general at the time. “The first assistant attorney general asked me if the inspector general’s office, rather than the attorney general’s office, would conduct an investigation because, according to him, it was a politically sensitive matter that involved ‘friends across the street,'” Sullivan said.

Coakley’s campaign pushed back against the allegation that the attorney general was reluctant to investigate the Democratic House speaker, releasing discovery documents from her probe into Vitale that proved a grand jury was active in September 2008 considering evidence that included subpoenas of DiMasi.

In 2008, Sullivan told Patrick’s finance secretary that the Cognos procurement should be voided, prompting the governor’s office to rescind the procurement and recover the $13 million.

Later that year, after a Globe story about $1.8 million in payments by a Cognos salesman to associates of DiMasi and a previously unreported $125,000 payment in lobbying fees to a DiMasi law associate, the attorney general’s office asked to meet with Sullivan.

Sullivan said Coakley asked him at that meeting to “discontinue” his investigation and turn the matter over to her office. She denied the charge.

“All I can say is that we would have only had a conversation about what we were doing and why it would be important for him not to make statement to the press that would impair the integrity of the criminal investigation,” Coakley said.

Sullivan said he would discontinue the investigation, but turn it over to the U.S. Attorney’s office instead, leading to Coakley and her staff to express “dismay,” since the U.S. Attorney’s office, they said, was focused on anti-terrorism efforts, according to Sullivan.

After Sullivan’s Monday morning statement, Foley, the campaign manager, maintained that connections between the Pioneer Institute and the Baker campaign are “publicly documented and obvious for anyone to see.”

“Greg Sullivan’s version of the meeting is disputed by on the record statements from the three other people in the room,” Foley added in a statement. “In addition, emails and documents provided to the Globe clearly show the AG was conducting a criminal investigation of Cognos and the ticket broker issue as early as March of 2008, including issuing subpoenas and empaneling a Grand Jury prior to the meeting with Sullivan in October.”

Foley also criticized the timing of Sullivan’s comments, coming so close to the Nov. 4 election “that if Charlie Baker were to win, would clearly benefit Sullivan and the Pioneer Institute.”

“It’s clear from the overwhelming evidence that Attorney General Coakley was aggressively pursuing these cases before and after the meeting with Greg Sullivan, and in fact the record shows she ultimately secured a conviction against Richard Vitale,” Foley said, referring to DiMasi’s longtime financial adviser.

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