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Ex-Patrick adviser says DiMasi sped contract

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By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / May 25, 2011

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A former adviser to Governor Deval Patrick testified yesterday that in spring 2007 Salvatore F. DiMasi, then the speaker of the House, tucked language authorizing the purchase of computer software into an emergency spending package, even though the bill was intended to finance only “truly essential’’ services.

Prosecutors say DiMasi had a personal interest in getting the language inserted and approved: It marked the beginning of an alleged conspiracy to steer a multimillion-dollar contract to a Burlington software company in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks.

David M. Simas, a Taunton native who left the State House to work as President Obama’s deputy counsel, told jurors in DiMasi’s public corruption trial that the $1.4 billion emergency bond bill was meant to be minimal, in order to maintain public support. It was intended to fund such projects as general information technology and bridge construction and other transit projects.

“We had some immediate challenges we need to address, and that was our focus with this legislation,’’ Simas said in US District Court in Boston. “Because speed was of the essence, it was essential we not get bogged down in the process.’’

Language for the software, calling for a $15 million allocation, was added only after DiMasi’s office requested it. The speaker’s office also agreed to speed up the legislative process once it was inserted, Simas said.

He said he contacted DiMasi’s chief of staff, Maryann Calia, to announce the agreement to include the language and said “she was very appreciative,’’ citing e-mails he wrote at the time.

“She stated that she will call the clerk’s office and make sure that the bill is immediately referred to Ways and Means,’’ Simas said, quoting the May 2007 e-mail. “. . . This is an important step in ensuring quick action.’’

Cognos eventually won a $13 million contract with the state for performance-management software. It was the second of two deals totaling $17.5 million, allegedly with DiMasi’s help.

Prosecutors say DiMasi’s demand to include language in the legislation authorizing the software purchase shows how he flexed his political muscle to manipulate the legislative process on behalf of the company in exchange for secret payments.

DiMasi and his associates Richard Vitale, a financial adviser, and Richard McDonough, a lobbyist, face federal public corruption charges that they used the power of the speaker’s office to win the contracts for Cognos in exchange for kickbacks.

They have denied any wrongdoing. A fourth codefendant, former Cognos salesman and vice president Joseph P. Lally Jr., has pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution in exchange for a reduced jail sentence. He put DiMasi at the center of the scheme to secretly steer the contracts toward Cognos, and to have money funneled to him through Vitale and McDonough.

Defense lawyers are scheduled to continue questioning Simas today and are trying to show that DiMasi was pushing for a legitimate product that would benefit the state. The lawyers have already depicted Lally as a name-dropper who bragged about his ties to DiMasi, fueling false theories of a conspiracy.

But prosecutors allege that DiMasi, who resigned the speaker’s post in January 2009, used his influence to ensure that Cognos would win the software contract.

Simas’s testimony marked the beginning of the final stage of the prosecution’s case, trying to show how DiMasi allegedly persuaded the administration to approve the second contract, totaling $13 million, for Cognos software. The testimony is expected to spotlight behind-the-scenes deals.

Today, the former head of the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, Leslie A. Kirwan, is expected to testify that she signed the Cognos deal after back-and-forth discussions with the former speaker and that she was “keenly aware of DiMasi’s specific interest in seeing it done,’’ according to a prosecution motion to submit a Kirwan e-mail as evidence.

The documents describe Kirwan’s role as “somewhat comparable to the victim of extortion.’’

Earlier yesterday, a former business partner of Lally told jurors that he questioned the money they were paying to Vitale, suspecting it was being funneled to DiMasi.

Bruce Major, who formed Montvale Solutions with Lally to sell Cognos software at 20 percent commissions, said he questioned why they were giving $500,000 to Vitale for help securing the deal. They had already paid Vitale $100,000 after winning the first contract.

“I made mention of the fact that I assumed a portion of that payment would go to Mr. DiMasi,’’ said Major, an accountant and former professional hockey player.

He added, “Joe got really angry and yelled at me and said I had no idea what was going on with the money. He had no idea what was going on with the money. He said he didn’t care.’’

According to prosecutors, DiMasi planned to retire from public life and work for Vitale’s company, to benefit from the money.

Major said he and Lally also worked closely with Vitale to draft the language for the bond bill, authorizing the software purchase so that it catered to the Cognos product and ensured that the company won the contract.

Under cross examination, Major agreed that he later found Lally to be a liar and that much of his information about the contract, as well as Lally’s purported ties to DiMasi, came from Lally himself. Major, who testified on condition of immunity, acknowledged that he fudged Montvale’s taxes at Lally’s direction.

He also agreed that he and Lally were planning to expand Montvale and that Vitale was going to help with their plan. Defense lawyers sought the testimony to show that Vitale was performing a legitimate service.

They never expanded Montvale, he testified. Lally ended their relationship in October 2007, two months after the state awarded the Cognos contract.

Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.