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Prisoner’s treatment raises questions of federal accountability

Milton J. Valencia’s report on former House speaker, and current federal prisoner, Salvatore DiMasi’s deteriorating health due to advanced cancer does not put into larger context the circumstances that led the Department of Justice and its subsidiary, the Bureau of Prisons, to be so cavalier with a prisoner’s health (“Imprisoned DiMasi weak with cancer, wife says,” Page A1, March 7). The full picture raises questions not just concerning the federal government’s competence, an issue posed by DiMasi’s wife Debbie, but also its good faith.

When DiMasi was sentenced in September 2011 to an eight-year term, Judge Mark Wolf recommended that he be housed at nearby Fort Devens because, even then, DiMasi had a heart condition, and his wife was being treated for cancer. The bureau nonetheless sent him to faraway Kentucky to serve his sentence.

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To make matters worse, after DiMasi arrived in Kentucky, the US attorney’s office in Massachusetts ordered that he be returned to a detention facility in Rhode Island to testify before a federal grand jury in Worcester looking into suspected corruption in the Legislature. DiMasi was forced to make the long and circuitous trip over eight days (one way) while shackled in a prisoners’ van.

Despite DiMasi’s having earlier complained of lumps in his neck in December 2011, followed by a preliminary diagnosis by a prison doctor in January 2012 for which a follow-up was deemed necessary, DiMasi was forced to make this road trip prior to receiving any treatment.

It seems as if federal officials tried to soften up DiMasi in advance of his grand jury appearance by inflicting the discomfort of an arduous journey. This is a picture not of mere incompetence, but of potential criminality. However, one should not bet on the likelihood that the Justice Department will conduct a criminal investigation of itself.

Harvey Silverglate


The writer is a criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer and writer.

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