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Brian McGrory

He’s not quite sorry

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / September 9, 2011

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When the moment finally arrived, Salvatore DiMasi rose slowly and tentatively. He had sat through weeks of testimony portraying him as a corrupt politician. He had stood before a jury that convicted him on multiple charges. He had watched his lawyer plead for a merciful prison term, which could stretch as long as 20 years. And now, a federal judge, Mark Wolf, politely asked if he had anything to say.

DiMasi took a drink of water. He fumbled with the microphone. He softly asked if he should speak from his defense table or if there was somewhere else he should go. In the course of thousands of events attended over four decades in public life, never did Sal DiMasi have a more vital, more personal speech than the one he delivered yesterday.

But when he began to speak, it was quickly, surprisingly, and sadly obvious that in his plea for leniency, he fell woefully short.

DiMasi did sound many of the right notes. He said, “I appear before you today a broken man.’’ He said he was “unable to fully comprehend what has happened.’’ He said, “My family is devastated.’’ He said, “I have caused the institution I love to suffer disgrace.’’

Gone, he said, was his law license, his pension, his savings, his standing in the community. His house is in foreclosure and his wife has fought cancer.

But it’s what he didn’t say in his address to the judge that stands out the most: Sal DiMasi never said he was sorry.

He came close. After saying that he wished people could look inside his heart, assumedly to see the good intentions he’s always had, he added, “That does not mean I am not contrite or do not accept responsibility for my actions.’’

One sentence, negatives on top of negatives, but is he sorry?

If he is, it’s with an asterisk. At one point, he said that as House speaker, “I should have set an example.’’ The example he thinks he should have set: “I should have addressed these issues more clearly.’’ I’m not exactly sure what that means, either.

He said he spent so much energy focusing on the specifics of the laws around earning an outside income as speaker that he failed to see the larger picture. “I thought I knew what I could or couldn’t do as a loyal legislator,’’ he said. He added, “My blueprint for compliance became a roadmap for evasion.’’

And that seemed to be the closest he came to admitting any wrongdoing.

Not for the first time in this case, DiMasi may have misjudged his audience, just as he did the Globe, which broke the stories that led to his indictment, and the jury, which convicted him. Judge Wolf, who will reveal the prison sentence today, looked loaded for bear yesterday. He shot down virtually every defense objection to the sentencing memoranda, to the point where esteemed DiMasi lawyer Tom Kiley uttered aloud, “I’m not doing so well.’’

In a discussion about DiMasi’s somewhat defiant news conference outside the courthouse after his June conviction, when he indicated that federal and state law diverged, Wolf said icily, “Show me the state law that says a legislator is allowed to take a bribe.’’ When Kiley pointed out that DiMasi worked for the poor and underprivileged throughout his legislative career, Wolf responded, “It seems to me that in this case, Mr. DiMasi sold those people out.’’

Against this backdrop, DiMasi concluded by saying to Wolf, “I hope you will find I am a man of honor, a caring and compassionate man, a champion of the downtrodden.’’

What he didn’t say is that he’s also a contrite man, someone who truly understands the authority he was given and the gravity of his crimes. It’s the one thing he should have been saying all along.

Brian McGrory can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.