Vitale, state discuss a deal
Still faces charges after US acquittal
Richard Vitale, the accountant who was acquitted in the federal corruption case against his friend, former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, is looking to negotiate a plea next week to three pending state charges, his lawyer confirmed yesterday.
The judge in the case has scheduled a change of plea hearing for Sept. 7, when Vitale’s lawyer and state prosecutors are expected to report whether an agreement has been reached.
“There have been ongoing discussions,’’ said Vitale’s lawyer, Martin Weinberg. “Whether they result in finality will be determined on Sept. 7.’’
Attorney General Martha Coakley indicted Vitale for lobbying and campaign finance violations in December 2008, six months before Vitale, DiMasi, and two others were charged by a federal grand jury with conspiring to steer state contracts to the software firm
In the state case, Vitale is accused of secretly lobbying DiMasi and other legislators in 2007 on behalf of the Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers, a group that paid Vitale to push legislation that would have legalized ticket scalping by lifting the state’s cap on ticket prices. Coakley brought the charges after the Globe examined Vitale’s relationship to the group.
Vitale and his consulting firm WN Advisers are charged with failing to register as a lobbyist and making political donations beyond the $200 limit for lobbyists. In addition, Vitale, who was paid $60,000 in the form of a $5,000-a-month retainer, was accused of breaking the law by signing a contract that included an illegal success fee - a bonus that would have been paid if the legislation had been signed into law.
The bill passed the House - with the help of DiMasi and his Speaker Pro Tempore Thomas Petrolati - but stalled in the Senate, where Vitale had little influence.
He faces maximum penalties of $30,000 in fines for the lobbying violations, as well as up to two years in jail or additional fines of up to $2,000 for the campaign violations.
The charges are misdemeanors, and Vitale probably would not serve jail time even if the case went to trial and he was convicted on all counts.
Coakley’s chief of staff, Corey Welford, would not comment on the negotiations and said prosecutors are “preparing for trial’’ in October.
Vitale was the only one of four codefendants to be cleared of corruption charges in the federal Cognos case. DiMasi and his friend, Cognos lobbyist Richard McDonough, were convicted of honest services fraud and are scheduled to be sentenced next month. Prosecutors will seek more than 12 years in prison for DiMasi and 10 years for McDonough when they are sentenced Sept. 8.
Prosecutors are also asking that DiMasi forfeit $65,000 and McDonough $250,000 - amounts they say they directly received as a result of the scheme.
Another defendant, Joseph P. Lally Jr., the salesman who put together the software deals with the state, agreed to plead guilty and will go to prison for up to three years .
Though Vitale was acquitted in June, prosecutors argued that the evidence against Vitale was so strong that the judge should consider the allegations against him when determining DiMasi’s sentence. Vitale received $600,000 for helping to secure the contracts for Cognos, though there was no evidence he performed any work.
Since his acquittal, Weinberg said, Vitale has been trying to “put his life back together.
“He’s obviously enormously relieved that the system worked,’’ said Weinberg. “He consistently said he was not guilty and the jury affirmed his representations of innocence. He’s back to being a successful professional consultant. He’ll be an enormous success in the future as he has been all his life.’’
Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com.