Chief US District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf said today in federal court in Boston that he hoped his sentence of eight years in prison for former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi will send a strong message to Beacon Hill that corruption will not be tolerated.
In comments that focused mostly on DiMasi -- and not DiMasi’s co-defendant Richard McDonough -- Wolf said the former speaker was not the first political figure in Massachusetts to tarnish the American dream by acting in a corrupt manner once he gained political power.
Wolf noted from the bench that DiMasi was the third successive speaker of the Massachusetts House to face federal prosecution for breaking the law.
The judge said that he hoped that Dimasi’s prison sentence would end what he called a “culture of arrogance” at the State House.
“You are the third speaker in row that has been in the US District Court in the District of Massachusetts,’’ Wolf said from the bench. “And the letters [from] your former colleagues suggest to me that they still believe you have been unfairly convicted -- and now you are being unfairly punished.’’
Wolf said that was not accurate. He told DiMasi he was convicted for knowingly taking bribes and was sentenced for selling his office in a blatant act of political corruption.
The judge noted that former Taunton state representative James Fagan wrote to complain that DiMasi was convicted for practicing law while in the Legislature.
Fagan was wrong, Wolf said. The jurors were told that DiMasi was legally permitted to be a lawyer and remain in the House. “The jurors were clearly instructed it was permissible for you to practice law,’’ Wolf said. “This is a case of bribes disguised as legitimate attorney referral fees.”
Wolf said other DiMasi allies suggested that DiMasi was prosecuted under an ambiguous law, or that he was “manipulated by business interest’’ into supporting the Cognos contract deal.
The judge also said another letter writer, Brookline State Representative Frank Szmizik, wrote to say that he considered it a shame that DiMasi’s good work as a speaker had been overshadowed by the federal prosecution.
“You were not manipulated by a business interest,’’ Wolf said. “You didn’t get caught up in this. You were essential to creating it. … The people of this Commonwealth and this country have the right to expect legislators who are completely honest.’’
Wolf said McDonough and the late Boston defense attorney Richard Egbert were close friends, and that Egbert discussed the prosecution of former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci, who was sentenced to five years imprisonment on federal corruption charges, with McDonough. Egbert represented Cianci.
Instead of choosing not to engage in corrupt acts, Wolf said DiMasi and McDermott used the knowledge gleaned from Egbert about the Cianci case when they fashioned their own kickback scheme.
“You and Mr. DiMasi committed a very serious crime,’’ Wolf told McDonough. “You did more than participate in it. In my view, you were the engine on this.’’
“Mr. DiMasi could not have sold his office without your energetic assistance and if you weren’t so available,” Wolf added.
Wolf said that he learned many positive things about DiMasi through letters written by family, friends and former co-workers that they sent to the judge on DiMasi’s behalf.
“Your history includes advocating for clients who couldn’t pay you. You did it because you were moved by the merits of their claims,’’ Wolf said. “In my view, you sold these people out.’’
Wolf said he considered the entire DiMasi prosecution “very dispiriting [because] it demonstrated corruption in state government.’’
He said that it will “undoubtedly heighten public cynicism regarding public officials in the short run. However, I would like to think that this case shows, I believe, that the system can work. And the system does work. And something can be done about corruption.’’John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.