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Vitale paid off legal debts for DiMasi relatives

By Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / January 22, 2009
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Richard Vitale, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi's friend and former accountant, paid off $7,500 in legal debts accumulated by DiMasi's in-laws at a time when Vitale was working for clients seeking to win contracts and influence legislation on Beacon Hill.

Vitale paid the two-year-old bills accumulated by Bruce and Mollie Kinlin, parents of DiMasi's wife, Deborah, in September 2007, according to documents filed in court by the attorney general's office.

The payments were made around the same time that prosecutors say Vitale secretly and illegally lobbied DiMasi on behalf of a group of Massachusetts ticket brokers, who paid him $60,000. Also in 2006 and 2007, Vitale worked on behalf of Burlington software company Cognos ULC as it was winning large state contracts; he was paid $600,000 in unreported fees for that work.

The Globe reported last year that Vitale had loaned DiMasi $250,000 in an unusual third mortgage on DiMasi's North End condominium. DiMasi has since paid back the loan.

Vitale's lawyer, Martin Weinberg, would not discuss the details of the payments by Vitale's consulting firm, WN Advisors, on behalf of the Kinlins but insisted his client did nothing wrong. State ethics laws prohibit payments or gifts to public officials or their immediate family members by people with interests before the state, but in-laws are not included in the definition of immediate family.

"Unconditionally, Richard Vitale never made an illegal, improper or unethical gift or payment to his longtime friend and financial client Salvatore DiMasi of any kind," Weinberg said.

David Guarino, DiMasi's spokesman, said DiMasi, his wife, and Mollie Kinlin had no comment.

It was unclear from the court documents what the legal bills were for. But land records show that the law firm, Berluti & McLaughlin, handled the sale of a Needham house from the Kinlins to Debbie DiMasi. Other bills are described by the attorney general as business-related. Kinlin, who died last year, owned a package store in Newton, Mr. K's Discount Wines & Spirits. Deborah DiMasi is secretary and director of the company, according to records of the secretary of state. Her mother is listed as treasurer and director.

John McLaughlin, a partner at Berluti & McLaughlin, could not be reached.

At Vitale's arraignment earlier this month on alleged lobbying and campaign law violations, prosecutors sought to file a lengthy statement of the case, but the judge would not accept it. They did, however, file a list of the materials they collected during their investigation, including bank and phone records, e-mails, electronic calendars, checks, invoices, and other written and electronic documents. Number 83 on the list is, "Copies of WN Advisors LLC checks payable to Berluti & McLaughlin for $7,500 re: Kinlin, MBK."

Emily LaGrassa, Coakley's spokeswoman, would not comment on Vitale's payment of the legal bills or anything else included in the list because, she said, it is a pending criminal case. But she added, "We have said repeatedly that this is an ongoing investigation."

The list of documents filed by prosecutors offers clues to other events uncovered by investigators.

The list shows that Vitale met with Daniel Toscano, a DiMasi aide, and James Holzman, owner of Ace Tickets and the head of the Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers, at Vitale's office in Charlestown on June 22, 2006 - the same day that DiMasi and his wife were at the office signing their third mortgage.

Weinberg would not say why Vitale appeared to invite an alleged lobbying client, Holzman, and DiMasi's aide to his office when he knew DiMasi would be there on the same day. There is no indication in the documents whether DiMasi met Holzman there, of if they were there at the same hour of the day.

In an interview with the Globe in April, DiMasi repeatedly denied ever discussing the ticket brokers bill with Vitale, or even knowing that Vitale was working for the ticket brokers. He denied that Toscano was involved in any discussions. Those assertions have been disputed by Coakley and her investigators in the case against Vitale.

When Vitale was indicted, Coakley accused him of trading on his friendship with DiMasi to help the ticket brokers, holding secret meetings with lawmakers at his office to conceal his role. She said Vitale, who was paid $60,000 by the ticket brokers to help push legislation that would remove price caps, had repeated contacts with DiMasi and Speaker Pro-Tempore Thomas M. Petrolati.

Weinberg called the charges minor regulatory offenses and insisted that Vitale did not work enough hours to be required to register as a lobbyist.

Vitale is also under scrutiny by a federal grand jury that is looking at why Vitale and other friends of DiMasi received large payments from Cognos, the software firm that won $17.5 million in state contracts in 2006 and 2007.

Vitale received $600,000 from Cognos's sales agent in those years, according to an investigation by Inspector General Gregory Sullivan.

Formulating his responses to the various investigations is proving costly to the speaker's political account. According to records of the state's Office of Campaign & Political Finance, DiMasi last year spent more than $61,000 of campaign funds on legal fees.

Andrea Estes can be reached at estes@globe.com

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