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Vitale pivotal to Cognos deal, secretary says

Testifies she was told to bring deal to State House

ACCUSED OF CORRUPTION Salvatore F. DiMasi was planning to retire and work with Richard Vitale so he could cash in on the $600,000 from the Cognos deals, prosecutors argue. ACCUSED OF CORRUPTION
Salvatore F. DiMasi was planning to retire and work with Richard Vitale so he could cash in on the $600,000 from the Cognos deals, prosecutors argue.
By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / June 1, 2011

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An associate of Salvatore F. DiMasi, the former House speaker, played such a key role in securing a software contract with the state that he had his secretary deliver specially crafted legislation for the project directly to the State House, the secretary testified yesterday.

According to prosecutors in DiMasi’s corruption trial, the language in the measure was secretly written by Cognos officials to ensure that the company would win the multimillion-dollar deal.

Vera Copeland, a secretary for Richard Vitale, a longtime friend of DiMasi’s, said the legislation was provided to her by Bruce Major, who formed a sales company with a former Cognos vice president, Joseph P. Lally Jr. Major, according to Copeland, told her in January 2007, “Thank you for your help.’’

“It was something I needed to have delivered to Sal DiMasi,’’ she testified.

Four months after the legislation was sent to Beacon Hill, state lawmakers approved it in a measure allocating $15 million for performance management software. Three months later, in August 2007, the state approved a $13 million contract with Cognos.

Copeland, who is not accused of wrongdoing, testified for the prosecution in the trial of DiMasi, Vitale, and a lobbyist, Richard McDonough, who are accused of a conspiring to steer two contracts totaling $17.5 million toward Cognos in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks.

Lally, a codefendant, pleaded guilty and has cooperated with authorities in exchange for a sharply reduced jail sentence. He testified earlier in the trial that DiMasi was at the center of a scheme to cash in on the power of the speaker’s office before retiring. And Major, who is not charged, testified that he was an unwitting participant who suspected DiMasi was getting paid for his help in winning the Cognos contracts.

The three defendants have denied any wrongdoing and have sought to portray Lally as a liar and fraud who bragged about false connections to DiMasi to feed his own ego. They say Lally’s bragging wrongly fueled theories of the conspiracy.

Under cross-examination yesterday, Copeland acknowledged that DiMasi and Vitale are longtime friends and that Vitale also served as the former speaker’s financial adviser. She said Vitale regularly had items, such as requests from charities, delivered to DiMasi, who did not use e-mail.

Martin Weinberg, Vitale’s lawyer, has also argued that any communication among Vitale and Lally and Major — and the $600,000 Vitale received from them — was for legitimate consultant work for their company, Montvale Solutions, which they were trying to expand nationally.

The high-profile trial has entered its second month, and jurors have already heard from a who’s who of witnesses including Governor Deval Patrick and many of his top aides.

The prosecution could rest its case today. Defense lawyers say their case could last more than a week.

Earlier yesterday, a former partner in Vitale’s accounting firm testified that Vitale told him in December 2007 that Vitale was planning DiMasi’s retirement from the speaker’s office and his transition to the private sector, “where he would make more money.’’

Thomas Dimino, who said he knew Vitale for 30 years, testified that he and Vitale were on a private jet returning from Las Vegas when Vitale told him they were grooming state Representative Robert DeLeo, then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to become the next speaker. DiMasi had been denying his retirement at the time. DeLeo went on to become speaker in January 2009, when DiMasi resigned amid a scandal.

Prosecutors argue that DiMasi was planning to retire and work with Vitale’s company so he could cash in on the $600,000 from the Cognos deals.

Also yesterday, a former top aide for Patrick told jurors that he was approached in March 2007 by McDonough, reporting DiMasi’s interest in having provisions for the software included in an emergency bond bill the administration was considering.

David Morales, Patrick’s deputy chief of staff at the time, said that McDonough told him the legislation for the software could help mend what had been a rocky start between DiMasi and the new administration.

“It would be important, from his perspective, to improve relations between the speaker and the governor,’’ said Morales, who added that he passed the information on to Leslie A. Kirwan, former secretary of administration and finance.

Under cross-examination by McDonough’s lawyer, Thomas Drechsler, Morales said he found McDonough’s actions at the time to be typical of a lobbyist. He also agreed that it was Kirwan’s ultimate decision to sign the contract with Cognos.

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