DiMasi guilty in Beacon Hill bid-pushing scandal

DiMasi guilty in Beacon Hill bid-pushing scandal

By Laurel J. Sweet  |   Wednesday, June 15, 2011  |  http://www.bostonherald.com  |  Local Coverage
Photo by Patrick Whittemore (File)

Fallen and disgraced former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi was found guilty today by a federal jury of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud and extortion in connection with a $17.5 million software deal he tried to shove through Beacon Hill.

In all, the former North End Democrat was found guilty of conspiracy, six of eight counts of honest services mail and wire fraud and one count of extortion.

He will be sentenced on Aug. 18 where he faces up to 25 years in jail.

The jury notified the court it had reached the verdicts shortly before 12:15 p.m. DiMasi glanced back at his wife with a reassuring smile moments before he learned his fate. Once the verdicts were read, the disgraced North End pol stared ahead blankly.

His co-defendant Richard McDonough, 66, was also found guilty of conspiracy and six of eight counts of honest services mail and wire fraud.

A third defendant, Richard Vitale, 66, was cleared of all charges. The judge was told he was free to go. All three men hugged after the verdicts were announced.

“You can’t imagine the emotions that are under the surface when you sit day in and day out with your freedom in peril,” said Vitale’s attorney Martin Weinberg.

Gov. Deval Patrick, who was called to testify in the case, said today: “I hope what it means is the end of a long sad chapter.”

DiMasi breached the public’s trust in his leadership when he exploited a software company’s aggressive pursuit of multimillion-dollar state contracts, a jury of his one-time constituents found today.

On their third day of deliberations at U.S. District Court in Boston, seven women and five men ruled DiMasi was out to line his own pockets.

DiMasi was Massachusetts’ first Italian-American Speaker from 2004 until his pre-indictment resignation in 2009.

DiMasi and McDonough, each potentially facing up to 25 years in federal prison, will be sentenced later by Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf.

Between April 2005 and March 2007, DiMasi was funneled $65,000 in bribes by his unwitting law associate of nearly 20 years, Steven Topazio, through a bogus contract McDonough and Joseph P. Lally Jr., a locally based vice president for a Canadian technology company called Cognos, struck for Topazio to be on call if the firm needed corporate papers reviewed.

Topazio, one of three government witnesses granted court-ordered immunity for their testimony against DiMasi, banked $125,000 never doing a day’s work for Cognos. DiMasi’s cut came from the $4,000 he demanded from Topazio’s monthly $5,000 paycheck and from a $25,000 lump sum he bullied Topazio into handing over.

Prior to becoming Speaker, DiMasi oversaw a $211,000 per-year law practice. But when his attention turned full-time to politics, the cases dried up as he amassed tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt prosecutors said he blew on clothes, fine dining and travel befitting his image as the state’s most powerful politician.

With DiMasi’s help on the Hill, Lally scored millions in commissions selling the state a $4.5 million software license for an education data warehouse for the Department of Education and a $13 million performance management system to permit legislators instant access to agency information.

In return, Lally paid McDonough a total of $300,000 for keeping DiMasi on board with the scheme.

Lally, 50, pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy and honest services fraud in exchange for escaping a money laundering charge and the recommendation of prosecutors that he serve no more than three years behind bars.

Lally, who is still awaiting a sentencing date, was vilified by the defense team as a self-serving liar and generate gambler for turning on the others with his star-witness testimony for the government.

DiMasi, whose annual $59,422 state pension is now in peril, is the Commonwealth’s third consecutive House Speaker to be convicted of criminal wrongdoing, but the first to be headed for the big house.

His predecessor, Thomas M. Finneran, now the host of WRKO’s (680 AM) morning-drive show, pleaded guilty in 2007 in federal court to obstruction of justice for his role in a racially charged redistricting plan. His agreement with the feds enabled him to skate on a perjury charge. Finneran received 18 months’ probation and a $25,000 fine.

Before Finneran, Speaker Charles F. Flaherty Jr. pleaded guilty in 1996 in federal court to tax evasion. Flaherty walked with two years’ probation and a $5,000 fine.

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1345698

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