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Lawyer's Indictment Makes It Three for Three

Salvatore_F._DiMasi With the indictment yesterday of lawyer Salvatore F. DiMasi, the former speaker of the Massachusetts House who resigned in January, the state earns the dubious distinction of being three for three -- the third consecutive Massachusetts speaker to be indicted on federal criminal charges. As Brian Mooney writes today in The Boston Globe, this distinction "propels the Bay State into a class of crooked politics that rivals Illinois and its corrupt governors."

The indictment charges DiMasi with using his power and influence to enable a Canadian software company, Cognos, to obtain a multi-million-dollar state contract. It alleges that DiMasi received $57,000 from Cognos, much of it in the form of $4,000-a-month payments funneled through his law firm under the guise of fees for corporate work done for Cognos by DiMasi's associate, Steven Topazio. Two other DiMasi associates, a lobbyist and an accountant, are also alleged to have received unlawful payments from Cognos.

DiMasi, 64, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on each of the seven counts of mail and wire fraud and up to five years for conspiracy. After an initial appearance yesterday in federal court, he denied any wrongdoing. His legal associate, Topazio, was not indicted and is believed to have cooperated in the government's investigation.

It is a strange turn of events for DiMasi, who continued to practice law out of Boston's North End throughout his 30 years representing that district as a state representative. He was a popular legislator in his neighborhood and well regarded as a lawyer. In 2005, the Massachusetts Bar Association honored him with its Legislator of the Year award -- as it did at least once before. In presenting the award to DiMasi, the MBA's then president praised him as a "lawyer's lawyer." DiMasi responded by encouraging lawyers to run for public office. "It's a great profession to be in. You can make a difference."

Many State House observers are bewildered about why, if these allegations prove to be true, DiMasi would risk his reputation and his career for relatively small money. Time will tell how the case turns out, but for now he joins the two speakers who preceded him, Thomas M. Finneran and Charles F. Flaherty, in facing criminal charges. Both of them ended up pleading guilty and one, Finneran, who is also a lawyer, has been recommended for disbarment by the state Board of Bar Overseers. Ironically, this former speaker now hosts a radio talk show where today's topic is, of course, DiMasi's indictment.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 3, 2009 at 10:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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