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DiMasi is said to attempt coverup

Prosecutors say he lied, talked of concealing evidence

By Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / February 19, 2011

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Former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi attempted to cover up evidence of his involvement in the Cognos scandal after the controversy was exposed in newspaper articles in 2008, according to a new court filing by prosecutors.

DiMasi told his former law associate that “it would be nice if you could lose your check register,’’ the filings say, after the lawyer confronted him with the fact that the register contained entries showing that funds were funneled to him from the software firm.

In a 68-page trial brief filed yesterday, prosecutors detailed a series of efforts by DiMasi and his codefendants to cover up their actions after the Globe started publishing articles about DiMasi’s connections to the software firm Cognos and his efforts to help the company win multimillion dollar state contracts.

Prosecutors want to introduce the coverup evidence at DiMasi’s upcoming trial, saying the actions “constitute obstruction of justice-type conduct and demonstrate a consciousness of guilt.’’

DiMasi and three associates are accused of conspiring to steer two contracts to Cognos in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars. DiMasi, who resigned as speaker amid criminal investigations, allegedly pocketed $65,000 through the former law associate, Steven Topazio. Topazio is expected to be a key prosecution witness at the trial, scheduled to begin in late April.

Also standing trial are Richard D. Vitale, DiMasi’s former accountant, Richard W. McDonough, DiMasi’s friend and Cognos’s former lobbyist, and Joseph P. Lally Jr., the independent sales agent who sold the state the two software contracts.

The four men say the money they received represented legitimate legal, lobbying, or consulting fees, not kickbacks or bribes, as prosecutors allege. Lally, his lawyer asserts, did not know that any of the money Cognos paid Topazio found its way to DiMasi.

In their filing, prosecutors cite several steps DiMasi and the others took to conceal their role after the stories began to appear.

DiMasi, prosecutors said, lied to his press secretary as he prepared responses to a reporter’s questions. He told his press aide he had done nothing to help Cognos win state contracts. He also said he had no idea that Topazio was paid by Cognos and did not know that Lally was working as Cognos’s independent sales agent. Those statements were all false, prosecutors say.

Lally lied, too, prosecutors said, when incriminating stories began to appear. He tried to explain to Cognos executives why Topazio was on the company’s lobbying payroll when he was not doing any work.

He told one top Cognos official that he had hired Topazio to work on “initiatives related to the National Speakers Association.’’

He told a different Cognos executive that Topazio and Vitale were business partners helping him put together a business plan for his company, Montvale Solutions. Yesterday, Lally’s lawyer, Robert Goldstein, asked the judge in the case, Chief US District Court Judge Mark Wolf, to exclude those two explanations, saying they are not relevant and are highly prejudicial.

Vitale, who received $600,000 from Lally even though he “did no work,’’ also sought to hide his ties to DiMasi and Cognos, prosecutors allege.

After the Globe began asking Vitale about his relationship with DiMasi, Vitale sought to have e-mails deleted from his accounting firm’s server. He also asked his assistant to retrieve a file in which he kept copies of all the documents he had hand-delivered to DiMasi at the State House, including the legislative language that had to be approved before state officials could award a $13 million contract to Cognos in 2007, prosecutors allege. Prosecutors do not say what he did with the file.

In the trial brief, prosecutors describe a group of friends who thought they could exploit DiMasi’s powerful position for their future financial security.

DiMasi had become financially strapped since becoming speaker, unable to practice law on a regular basis. Vitale and DiMasi, prosecutors assert, were finding ways to keep him afloat while still in office and preparing for his eventual departure from the Legislature.

In addition to latching onto Cognos, prosecutors say, Vitale and DiMasi put together Genesis LLC, a building management company that they hoped would trade on DiMasi’s influence to generate income in the future.

Vitale was “extending present and future financial benefits to a cash-strapped DiMasi,’’ prosecutors charged. In June 2006, after DiMasi was turned down for a loan by a commercial lender, Vitale gave him a $250,000 line of credit, which required only that he pay interest at the prime rate.

To make sure the administration awarded Cognos a $13 million performance management software contract, prosecutors allege, DiMasi and the others “leveraged his power as speaker to pressure [the administration], thereby funding Lally’s profits and kickbacks to McDonough and Vitale.’’

The Patrick administration, whose dealings with DiMasi had been difficult, apparently hoped that approving the contract would lead to better relations.

After the contract was signed in August 2007, Administration and Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan e-mailed her undersecretary, Henry Dormitzer: “Everyone seems happy,’’ she wrote. “Hope the big guy down the hall is, too, and we get some credit.’’