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DiMasi finances discussed in corruption trial

By Bob Salsberg
Associated Press / June 1, 2011

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BOSTON—Former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi told his press spokesman that he had no links to the software firm Cognos and was unaware of payments the company had made to an associate when questions first began to swirl about the awarding of a lucrative state contract, according to testimony at a federal corruption trial.

David Guarino, DiMasi's former communications director, said Wednesday that he went to the speaker in March 2008 to gather information for a response to inquiries being made by The Boston Globe about the $13 million contract for performance-management software.

DiMasi said he had not been in contact with Cognos officials and was not involved in the awarding of the contract to the firm in August 2007, Guarino testified.

DiMasi, lobbyist Richard McDonough and Richard Vitale, an accountant and close DiMasi friend, are charged in an alleged scheme to use the speaker's clout to steer two lucrative state contracts to Cognos in exchange for kickbacks, with DiMasi pocketing $65,000.

Federal prosecutors have suggested that DiMasi was motivated in part by deepening personal debt. Earlier Wednesday, an auditor working for the U.S. attorney's office said DiMasi and his wife, Debby, ran up as much as $275,000 in consumer debt, not including mortgages the couple held on a condominium in Boston's North End and a house in suburban Needham.

As the controversy over the $13 million contract -- which by then had been canceled -- continued later in 2008, Guarino testified that the speaker told him he had no knowledge of Cognos paying Steven Topazio, a DiMasi law associate.

A large portion of the money Cognos paid Topazio was funneled to DiMasi, prosecutors allege. The defense says the payments were referral fees.

In response to media inquiries about DiMasi's relationship with Joseph Lally, Guarino said the speaker downplayed his connection to the one-time Cognos salesman.

"He said they were acquaintances. He knew of him, but not much more," Guarino said.

DiMasi attended Lally's wedding and served as his lawyer in a previous criminal case, according to previous trial testimony. Prosecutors have also presented evidence that DiMasi and Lally played golf together and spoke numerous times as the alleged scheme unfolded.

Lally pleaded guilty in the case and testified against the remaining defendants.

During Guarino's cross-examination Wednesday, DiMasi lawyer Thomas Kiley sought to show that his client's answers to questions from his press spokesman pertained only to contract procurement, a process handled by the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick.

Prosecutor Theodore Merritt had referred Guarino to his earlier grand jury testimony, showing that he had not mentioned anything about procurement when answering questions at that time. Kiley said that since defense attorneys are not allowed during grand jury proceedings, there was no opportunity for Guarino put any of the answers into context.

The governor and several former officials in his administration have testified that DiMasi repeatedly pressured them about the contract, though all have said that the speaker never mentioned Cognos by name.

Prosecutors hope to convince the jury that his alleged attempts to conceal involvement showed consciousness of guilt.

Patrick testified last Friday that after an article appeared in the Globe, DiMasi asked the governor to instruct his office to release a press statement denying the speaker had an interest in the contract. Patrick said he refused because it would not have been accurate.

The auditor, Andrea Roller, testified and presented charts Wednesday showing that income from DiMasi's law practice, which exceeded $200,000 in 2002, plummeted after he assumed the speakership in 2004. Meanwhile, his debts soared, from about $20,000 in January 2005 to $275,000 in September 2007.

The debt consisted of credit card payments -- mostly for "recreational" purposes such as travel, restaurants and clothing -- and funds taken from a home equity loan and a $250,000 line of credit set up for DiMasi by Vitale, said Roller. DiMasi was eventually able to pay down some of the debt by selling the Needham home and cashing out retirement accounts.

The government on Thursday is expected to call its final witness, Richard Caturano, a former business partner of Vitale.

The defense could begin calling witnesses on Monday.