BOSTON — Former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi was convicted by a federal jury Wednesday in a scheme to steer two state contracts worth $17.5 million to a software firm in exchange for payments to the powerful lawmaker and two of his friends.
A visibly distraught DiMasi turned to hug his crying wife and stepdaughter after the verdict was read. He was convicted of conspiracy, extortion and theft of honest services by fraud.
DiMasi, a Democrat who resigned in January 2009, was the third consecutive House Speaker to leave office under an ethics cloud.
Also convicted of conspiracy and fraud was lobbyist Richard McDonough, a close DiMasi friend. But the jury acquitted Richard Vitale, another DiMasi friend and associate.
A fourth man, former software salesman Joseph Lally, pleaded guilty before trial and testified against the others.
Outside court, DiMasi maintained his innocence and defended his record.
“I never made any decision unless it was based on what I thought was the best interests of the citizens of the Commonwealth, my constituents,” he told reporters.
“I don’t think that there was a full story told about my record and what I accomplished as a speaker or legislator. I think that was all lost in this case.”
Attorneys for DiMasi and McDonough promised appeals.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf scheduled sentencing for Aug. 18, and allowed DiMasi and McDonough to remain free until then, with the provision that they cannot leave New England.
DiMasi, 65, and McDonough, 66, face up to 20 years in prison on each of six counts of mail and wire fraud, and five years on the conspiracy charge. In addition, DiMasi faces up to 20 years for extortion.
U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz said she’d seek “significant jail time” for DiMasi.
Ortiz said the verdicts dealt another blow to the “culture of corruption” at the Statehouse, and dismissed a notion that DiMasi’s actions amounted to little more than politics as usual.
“It isn’t just politics when you take kickbacks, when you take a bribe, when you use your position and it influences you in making certain decisions,” Ortiz said. “That’s corruption.”
Prosecutors said DiMasi used his position as one of the state’s most powerful politicians to assure that the Cognos firm received the software contracts. In exchange, prosecutors said, DiMasi received $65,000 in payments funneled through a law associate, while McDonough and Vitale received hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments disguised as lobbying or consulting fees.
Defense attorneys said the payments were legitimate and were not made in exchange for official actions by DiMasi, a key element of the federal “theft of honest services” statute, which has faced recent court challenges.
The six-week trial cast a dark cloud over the Statehouse as the Legislature grappled with the state’s fiscal crisis and other pressing issues. Government watchdogs said the case spotlighted a far-too-cozy relationship that often exists among lawmakers, lobbyists and outside interests seeking to win favor.
“What came out at trial was deeply troubling,” said DiMasi’s successor, House Speaker Robert DeLeo. “I feel angry and disappointed.”
“Given the cumulative effect of recent cases of public corruption, I understand the negative feelings many have for public officials right now,” he said. “That is something we are working to change.”
Associated Press writers Johanna Kaiser and Jay Lindsay contributed to this report.