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After DiMasi sentence, does Beacon Hill get it?

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  September 9, 2011 05:04 PM

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When the sentence came, it seemed almost like an after-thought to the long months of courtroom drama that preceeded it. Flanked by counsel, the two defendants sat stoically, as their stiletto-clad wives looked on.

It could have been worse. Judge Mark Wolf sentenced former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi to 8 years in prison, instead of the 12 years requested by federal prosecutors. Co-defendant Richard McDonough got 7 years.

But the lighter sentence is probably small comfort to the once powerful speaker, who had to stand before Wolf and endure a 20-minute lecture detailing the seriousness of his crime and personal fall from grace.

DiMasi, the judge said, corrupted what had been a “great American story”: This grandson of immigrants, who was as raised on love and little money, worked hard, and succeeded to the point of becoming the first Italian-American speaker of the House. Then, he sold his office for personal gain. In doing so, he sold out the very people whose causes he had championed, taking public money for the poor and elderly and redirecting it to his own pockets and those of his friends.

Wolf expressed some compassion for DiMasi, and his family. But what is important, he said, is sending a strong message to Beacon Hill that public corruption is serious business and will be punished. Did Beacon Hill — and DiMasi — get it?

DiMasi listened without expression to the judge’s word. His plea yesterday for leniency drew poor reviews for a perceived lack of genuine contrition. His co-defendant, McDonough, showed more repentance, said Wolf, during sentencing. DiMasi’s wife, Debbie, had tears in eyes as she entered the courtroom Friday morning. But during Wolf’s remarks, she was still shaking her head “no” as the judge was telling a courtroom filled with family and press that “public corruption is a very serious crime.”

Meanwhile, the next Massachusetts politician found guilty of wrongdoing might want to skip letters from Beacon Hill colleagues seeking mercy for their friend. Wolf noted several that really irked him — including one from state Representative Frank Smizik of Brookline — saying it bothered him that some lawmakers still believe DiMasi did nothing wrong.

Noting that DiMasi was the third Massachusetts House speaker in a row to be convicted in federal court, Wolf said the case showed that corruption occurs regularly on Beacon Hill.

During sentencing, the judge showed more emotion than the defendants, choking up and wiping away tears as he talked about the “honest, able people” — including a court clerk who is leaving his job — who make “great contributions to government and never get recognized. “

DiMasi had no comment after the hearing. He stood by as his lawyer, Thomas Kiley, said, “A chapter is closed. We’re happy to be past it. The next chapter in this judicial proceeding will be in the First Circuit [federal appeals court in Boston]. That’s all we have to say.”

Then, DiMasi, surrounded by wife and stepchildren, walked to the car that swept them away from the media crush. For now, he’s scheduled to turn himself in to federal marshalls at noon on Nov. 16. That’s when he will really need to draw upon whatever stoicism he has left.

Globe photo/John Tlumacki: Sal DiMasi arrived at the Moakley Federal Court with stepdaughter Ashley yesterday for the first day of a two-day sentencing hearing.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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