Former House Speaker DiMasi sentenced to 8 years

Associated Press | 9/13/2011, 11:13 p.m.

Former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, once one of the most powerful figures in Massachusetts politics, was sentenced Friday to eight years in federal prison for using his influence to steer $17.5 million in state contracts to a software firm in exchange for kickbacks.

At the end of the sentencing, DiMasi and wife, Debbie, shared a lengthy embrace in the courtroom. DiMasi, grim-faced and shaken, hugged other friends and relatives.

U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf also sentenced co-defendant Richard McDonough, a prominent Statehouse lobbyist, to seven years in prison for his role in the scheme.

Wolf said DiMasi’s life story is in many ways typical of the American dream. The son of Italian immigrants worked hard to succeed and become the first Italian-American House Speaker in state history. Wolf noted DiMasi is a family man, loved by his stepchildren and wife, who is battling breast cancer.

“This is a dream that has been corrupted,” Wolf said.

Wolf also lauded DiMasi for always standing up for the disadvantaged in the Statehouse.

“In my opinion, you sold those people out,” he said.

DiMasi was also sentenced to two years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $65,000, the amount of money he’s accused of taking in the kickback scheme.

McDonough was also sentenced to two years of probation, ordered to pay $50,000 in fines and forfeit $250,000.

“You and Mr. DiMasi committed a very serious crime and you were more than just a participant,” Wolf said. “In my view you were an engine of the scheme.”

Wolf said the men wouldn’t have to report to begin serving their sentences until Nov. 16, although he is still considering a defense request to allow DiMasi and McDonough to remain free while they appeal their June 15 convictions. He also recommended that DiMasi be allowed to serve his sentence at a federal prison in Devens.

A federal jury, after a six-week trial, found DiMasi guilty of conspiracy, extortion and honest services fraud, while McDonough was convicted of conspiracy and honest services fraud. DiMasi was the third straight speaker to leave office because of ethics issues.

Federal prosecutors had asked for a 12½-year sentence for the 66-year-old DiMasi, citing the seriousness of the charges and the abuse of one of his office.

Last Thursday, DiMasi delivered an emotional speech to the court, calling himself a “broken man” whose finances had been ruined and his reputation disgraced.

DiMasi begged Wolf for compassion, acknowledging that he made mistakes while not admitting guilt.

“They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” he told the judge. “I don’t want to go to hell, and I certainly don’t want to go to prison.”

Neither DiMasi nor McDonough showed emotion when their sentences were read.

Defense attorneys asked for a sentence of three years, citing DiMasi’s long record of public service and dedication to his family. Their request was accompanied by numerous letters of support for DiMasi from relatives, friends and former colleagues. They cited his service and legislative achievement, including passage of the state’s landmark universal health care law, and his strong family ties.