June 15, 2011
BOSTON — A federal jury has convicted former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi of conspiracy and other charges in a scheme to steer two state contracts worth $17.5 million to a software firm in exchange for payments to the powerful lawmaker and two friends.
A visibly distraught DiMasi turned to hug his crying wife and stepdaughter after the verdict was read Wednesday. He was convicted of conspiracy, fraud and extortion. The jury returned the verdict after deliberating over three days, following a five-week trial that brought prominent political figures like Gov. Patrick to the witness stand.
Also convicted was lobbyist Richard McDonough. Accountant Richard Vitale was acquitted.
Outside the courtroom, DiMasi defended his work as Speaker. "I never made any decision unless it was based on what I thought was in the best interest of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, my constituents. I never, ever made a decision other than that," DiMasi said.
DiMasi said his actions were not driven by criminal intent — and the jury hadn't proved otherwise. "I believe now and I still believe that they never had enough evidence at the beginning or end of their case with respect to a reasonable juror coming to a conclusion," DiMasi said.
DiMasi's lawyer, Thomas Kiley, said they would appeal the verdict. "The case against Mr. Dimasi involves the intersection of politics and law, and it presents, as the court said, novel issues. And we will be pursuing those issues until everyone gets it right," Kiley said.
Among DiMasi's convictions was that of theft of honest services by fraud. During his trial, that was one of the more confusing charges levied against DiMasi; Jurors asked Judge Mark Wolf to clarify it by repeating his instructions to them earlier this week. “This is applied in cases – like DiMasi’s – where prosecutors feel they can prove that a politician has deprived his constituents of his honest services,” said Sarah Kelly, an attorney who specializes in white-collar crime at Boston law firm Nutter McClennen & Fish.
DiMasi is the third House Speaker in a row to be convicted on federal charges. Shortly after DiMasi's conviction, the current House Speaker, Robert DeLeo, released a statement condemning DiMasi's actions.
"This was definitely not business as usual," DeLeo wrote, referring to elements of DiMasi's defense case, "And it is a slur on every hardworking public servant to suggest otherwise."
DeLeo continued, "One of the things that I find most disturbing – and the thing I am most committed to changing – is the public's view of politicians and public sector employees. This conviction makes that job no easier. What came out at trial was deeply troubling. I feel angry and disappointed."
A fourth man, former software salesman Joseph Lally, pleaded guilty before trial and testified against the others.
A sentencing hearing for DiMasi has been tentatively set for Aug. 18. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz told reporters she intended to seek significant jail time for DiMasi, saying, "The culture of corruption on the Hill has been dealt another blow."
Read the full statement from DeLeo:
Today's news delivers a powerful blow to the public's trust in government. I don?t think I can imagine anything more damaging than the idea that the defendant's conduct was nothing other than 'business as usual' on Beacon Hill. This was definitely not business as usual – and it is a slur on every hardworking public servant to suggest otherwise.
One of the things that I find most disturbing – and the thing I am most committed to changing – is the public's view of politicians and public sector employees. This conviction makes that job no easier.
What came out at trial was deeply troubling. I feel angry and disappointed.
Given the cumulative effect of recent cases of public corruption, I understand the negative feelings many have for public officials right now. That is something we are working to change. Our efforts over the past couple of years have been focused on government reforms that make our work and our decisions more transparent and ensure that we can be held accountable for what we do on behalf of the taxpaying public.
As we move away from this verdict – in our actions and in our deeds – we will work to restore the public's faith that public servants can be counted on to work for the greater good. I intend to lead by example.
The Associated Press and WGBH's Adam Reilly, Frannie Carr and Sarah Birnbaum contributed to this report, which was compiled by Jess Bidgood.