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DiMasi warned, ‘Don’t forget that contract’

Patrick testifies former speaker asked him to deny involvement

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By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / May 28, 2011

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In a historic appearance on the witness stand, Governor Deval Patrick told a federal jury yesterday that former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi aggressively lobbied him for a multimillion-dollar software contract in 2007, then asked Patrick to publicly deny his involvement when a scandal over the deal erupted the next year.

“I said we couldn’t do that, because it wasn’t accurate,’’ Patrick testified in DiMasi’s corruption trial.

But during his highly anticipated testimony in US District Court in Boston, Patrick acknowledged his administration’s willingness to go along with the contract as a political compro mise when it was first proposed, telling his staff, “if we could do it within the rules, go ahead.’’

Patrick’s nearly two hours of testimony, in which he described political negotiations and compromises, played to prosecutors’ assertions that DiMasi used his leverage as speaker to help a Burlington company, Cognos, win a $13 million contract with the state in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks.

It was the second of two contracts the company won, allegedly with DiMasi’s help.

In his dramatic testimony, Patrick said DiMasi appeared angry after a Globe series exposed the then-speaker’s connections to Cognos in spring 2008, accusing the governor of leaking damaging information to the newspaper.

Asked whether he would have supported the contract had he known, as prosecutors charge, that DiMasi and his associates were being paid by Cognos, Patrick responded, “I think we wouldn’t have proceeded, or at least got advice from the Ethics Commission.’’

Patrick was the first sitting governor to testify in a criminal trial since William F. Weld appeared on the stand in the influence-peddling case of former state senator Henri Rauschenbach in 1995.

Patrick’s appearance came with the political theater expected with such a high-profile witness.

Even before the governor arrived at the Moakley courthouse at the Fan Pier, armed US marshals stood guard outside and searched the courtroom with a bomb-sniffing dog.

Patrick was whisked to a back door in a tinted-window sport utility vehicle, escaping a swarm of reporters.

Inside the courtroom, the governor seemed collected as he answered questions from prosecutors and defense lawyers. He put on reading glasses to see evidentiary documents, holding the glasses by the tip of their frames.

At one point, he and DiMasi smiled at each other.

DiMasi and associates Richard McDonough and Richard Vitale are charged with conspiracy, honest services fraud, and mail and wire fraud for allegedly using the speaker’s office to steer contracts totaling $17.5 million toward Cognos.

DiMasi, who resigned in January 2009 and was indicted five months later, is also charged with extortion.

They have denied any wrongdoing. A fourth codefendant, Joseph P. Lally Jr., a former Cognos salesman, pleaded guilty and cooperated with authorities in return for a lesser jail sentence.

Lally testified that DiMasi was at the center of the scheme. Lally said he took part because he could cash in on more than $1 million.

The defense team has painted Lally as a liar who concocted ties to DiMasi to feed his own ego, helping to create a false theory of a conspiracy.

The lawyers acknowledge that DiMasi pushed for performance management software for the state, but called it a legitimate endeavor. They also say DiMasi never mentioned Cognos by name while lobbying for the contract.

Calling lobbying a part of the Beacon Hill process, the lawyers pointed out that when Patrick was a Coca-Cola executive, he had the soft-drink company spend millions of dollars on lobbyists.

Ultimately, the lawyers argued, it was the Patrick administration’s decision to sign the contract with Cognos, a $13 million deal allowing for open access to software.

Earlier yesterday, Leslie A. Kirwan, Patrick’s former head of administration and finance, said that she found the contract to be legitimate after initially opposing it, and that she thought it could help mend the administration’s rocky relations with the speaker. The contract was signed in August 2007.

Kirwan and Patrick said yesterday that they had been open to eventually purchasing performance management software, and that DiMasi began publicly pushing for the product to be included in an emergency bond bill in spring 2007.

Patrick said that the bond bill was meant to allow his new administration to borrow money for emergency projects, adding that the spending could help the state get millions of dollars in matching federal grants. He acknowledged asking legislators to propose projects they thought were emergencies, calling it a negotiation tactic that could help speed up the legislative process. DiMasi wanted the software.

“We said we would work with him, we would talk with him about it,’’ Patrick said, adding that DiMasi was “very important and influential in the leadership, and a key partner in moving forward the legislation.’’

Prosecutors say that DiMasi was at the time secretly drafting the legislative language in a way that would ensure the contract went to Cognos. Once the bill was approved, with the appropriation for software, the speaker started pushing for a contract to be signed, Patrick said.

The governor testified that DiMasi’s interest in the contract was obvious when the two met for a reconciliation breakfast that was arranged in July 2007 by US Representative Michael Capuano.

At the time, Patrick testified, he and DiMasi had been at odds over such issues as the location of a data center in Springfield, funding for community police, and a life-sciences initiative.

At the breakfast, Patrick said, he told DiMasi his priority was the multibillion-dollar life sciences initiative. DiMasi, he said, told him one of two priorities was the software contract.

“Don’t forget that contract, it’s important,’’ Patrick said the speaker told him.

After the meeting, Patrick wrote an e-mail to Kirwan listing the software in the subject line, and adding, in abbreviated language: “Spkr’s interest. Please call me.’’

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