Defense lawyers blasted Timothy P. Cahill’s campaign operatives in their closing arguments Tuesday, calling them buffoons and blowhards in a sweeping effort to absolve the former treasurer of any actions they took on his behalf.
Meanwhile, Cahill’s campaign manager, Scott Campbell, who is on trial with his former boss, was described by his own lawyer as a “flunky” who was only passing messages between Cahill and his consultants.
The unflattering portrait of the Cahill political team contrasted sharply with the image conjured by prosecutors of a cunning crew who carefully schemed to use a $1.5 million lottery ad blitz to help the treasurer win the 2010 governor’s race.
As jurors begin deliberations, they will have to weigh 170 exhibits and testimony from 24 witnesses, including Cahill himself, who took the stand during the monthlong trial in Suffolk Superior Court. Cahill and Campbell each face up to five years in prison if convicted.
Attorney General Martha Coakley has charged both men with two counts of conspiracy, using a new state ethics law passed in 2009 in response to the corruption scandal involving former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi.
The trial — which has featured testimony from reporters, political consultants, pollsters, and ad executives — has riveted the Massachusetts political scene. It has also exposed the internal deliberations of Cahill and his aides as they struggled for traction against Republican Charles D. Baker and Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat.
A conviction would send yet another shot across Beacon Hill, which has seen three consecutive House speakers convicted and is bracing for fallout from a patronage scandal in the state Probation Department.
An acquittal would be a blow to Coakley, who has faced criticism that she has failed to zealously pursue political corruption and decided to make an example of Cahill only after he left the Democratic Party to run for governor as an independent.
“Tim Cahill is guilty of nothing more than being a tough Quincy kid following his dreams,” Cahill’s lawyer, Jeffrey Denner, told the jury Tuesday. “His real sin here was underestimating the effect of what it would be to leave an established political party. He gave up the protections that people have in established political parties, and he made himself . . . very easy prey, and that’s why he’s here today.”
Denner said Cahill’s only aim in pushing the lottery ads was to rebuild the lottery’s reputation, which he said had been damaged by attack ads run by the Republican Governors Association.
“He went forward because he felt it was in the absolute best interests of the Massachusetts Lottery, and that was his job,” Denner said, as Cahill, his wife, and relatives looked on.
Jim O’Brien, the prosecutor, urged the jury to pay close attention to a trail of e-mails, text messages, and phone records that show Cahill’s campaign operatives discussed the timing, cost, and potential scripts for the lottery ads with executives at Hill Holliday. The ad agency was being paid public money to handle the lottery account.
O’Brien said the communications make clear that Cahill and Campbell sought to use the state-funded ads for the benefit of Cahill’s political career, not the lottery.
“Mr. Cahill and Mr. Campbell betrayed the official use of the office of the state treasurer of the Commonwealth,” O’Brien said. “We ask you to hold them responsible for a betrayal that involved plotting and planning and scheming to reach into the pocket of the Massachusetts State Lottery and take $1.5 million that Mr. Cahill used as if it was his own.”
The defense lawyers made a particular effort to discredit the potentially damaging e-mails and text messages that lie at the heart of the prosecution’s case.
Denner said Adam Meldrum and Dane Strother, two of Cahill’s top campaign aides who wrote many of the messages, were “buffoons” and “blowhards.”
“It was just talk,” Denner said.
Campbell’s lawyer, Charles Rankin, called his client a “flunky” who was only passing messages between Cahill, his aides, and executives at Hill Holliday.
Rankin said Cahill’s treatment of Campbell “bordered on abuse” and called the charges against his client “downright offensive and a gross miscarriage of justice.”
“Being a messenger is not good enough to convict him,” Rankin said.