SOMETIMES, LOYALTY is overrated. It is in Sal DiMasi’s case.
DiMasi has good reason to tell a federal grand jury whatever he knows about alleged corruption in the state probation department. It’s called survival of the hideous.
Last year, he was convicted on political corruption charges, and now he’s in federal prison for eight years. That’s an eternity for the 67-year-old ex-speaker of the House. Testimony helpful to prosecutors might lead to a reduction of his sentence, or at least lead him to a prison closer to home than his original assignment in Lexington, Ky. It might also help DiMasi come to grips with the elusiveness of power.
He had it, he lost it, and when it disappeared, so did his friends. He owes them nothing.
DiMasi was convicted largely on the testimony of two supposed members of his inner circle.
“I don’t want to be here,’’ moaned Steven Topazio, at DiMasi’s corruption trial. But in exchange for the safe haven called immunity, Topazio was there, connecting the dots and the checks between a company angling for a state contract and DiMasi, his longtime mentor and law partner.
Joe Lally, a salesman for the company that wanted the contract, also testified against DiMasi, whose wedding he attended. In exchange for that and a guilty plea, Lally got a three-year sentence. At the time, US District Chief Judge Mark Wolf said he wanted to send a message “that such cooperation should be rewarded. I hope it gets the public to conclude the system worked.’’
The federal courtroom where DiMasi’s trial played out was mainly filled with family members and the curious. Robert Travaglini, the ex-Senate president who is now a lobbyist, showed up one day for a surprise visit and told reporters “I’m here to show support for a friend in a time of need.’’ But the Beacon Hill crowd that once laughed at the speaker’s jokes and bent to his will mostly stayed away.
According to testimony given at DiMasi’s trial by Dino Difronzo, a longtime friend and political ally, DiMasi met with Robert DeLeo several times to talk about engineering his succession as the next speaker. The day after the verdict, DeLeo called DiMasi’s conviction a “powerful blow to the public’s trust in government.’’ That must have hurt. DeLeo now has a high-powered lawyer, Robert Popeo, who has said the current speaker cooperated with an independent counsel’s report on probation hiring, but is not a target of any investigation.
DiMasi’s role in any grand jury proceeding is speculative at this point. He was recently moved from Kentucky to the Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island, triggering fear on Beacon Hill about what he might have to say about probation hiring in general and individual lawmakers in particular.
His lawyer, Tom Kiley, is questioning the effort by US Attorney Carmen Ortiz to criminalize efforts by lawmakers to land jobs for constituents. “If you show me an elected person who doesn’t take steps to assist his constituents in getting jobs, I won’t vote for that person,’’ he told CommonWealth Magazine. “I think that’s part and parcel of their job. How did the US attorney get her job?’’
Kiley offered a variation of that theme during DiMasi’s trial - that there was nothing criminal about pushing state officials to award a contract to one specific company. His defense didn’t stop a jury from convicting, not in the face of devastating witness testimony. DiMasi could not have missed the lesson; if he did, Wolf drove it home at sentencing. The system works, said the judge, when people sing.
DiMasi maintains his innocence and is appealing his case. But if the wheels of justice turn slowly, the wheels of appeal turn even more sluggishly. He has plenty of time to think about the heady, old days of being King Sal, as he once was dubbed by Boston Magazine. He knows who his friends are and who they aren’t. He knows what’s important - freedom and family - and what’s not - money and power.
Why not leverage everything he knows about the world he swayed as the royalty he used to be? The only loyalty he now owes is to self and survival.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@Joan_Vennochi.