Sal, Dianne and Chuck

Salvatore DeMasi is the third Massachusetts Speaker of the House in a row to end up a felon.  Charles Flaherty didn’t pay his taxes and Thomas Finneran lied to a grand jury.  Charlie and Tom took pleas and didn’t go to jail.  Tom lost his law license.  Sal went to trial, was found guilty and still thinks he is innocent.  Even my 93 year old mother who followed the trial avidly knew he was guilty.


I think it is inevitable that DiMasi is going to jail.  He was just greedy.  As Speaker he hung around with men who were a lot wealthier than he was and he needed to keep up. 

Scott Leigh wrote yesterday in the Boston Globe

Outside the courthouse, Beacon Hill’s newest felon seemed in denial about what had just happened. Either that or his mental teleprompter had mistakenly loaded the “I’ve just been vindicated’’ speech rather than remarks better toned for a guilty verdict.

DiMasi thanked his family for standing by him “through this terrible ordeal,’’ then added: “All of the people in my community that every day supported me, encouraged me, and knew that I was not guilty of this crime, I thank them . . . I told all of you when I was indicted that I never made any decision unless it was based on what I thought was in the best interest of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [and] my constituents.’’

The jury, of course, felt otherwise, and with good reason. No less credible a source than Steven Topazio, DiMasi’s former law associate, had testified about the way he had funneled $65,000 in Cognos money to DiMasi. And how, when the Globe — through the tenacious reporting of Andrea Estes — started to unravel the scheme, DiMasi had suggested that he fudge or lose the relevant part of his check register.

Asked in her post-trial press conference why she thought DiMasi had committed the crime, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz cited greed and high living. “People live beyond their means,’’ she said. “People get into financial trouble and unfortunately think that the resolution or how to solve that problem is by committing a crime that can put money in their pockets.’’

DiMasi did do a lot of good things.  We owe gay marriage and health care in part to him.  But that still does not mean he can break the law.

Chuck Turner, my neighbor and City Councilor, and Dianne Wilkerson, my State Senator and one time political ally are both currently serving time.  Both are African American.  No one would ever accuse Chuck of living a lavish lifestyle, but he still took illegal money.  Dianne’s Achilles Heel all along was finances:  personal and campaign.  Somehow her inability to find someone who could manage the money ended with the videotape of her stuffing money in her bra.  Neither of them actually did anything for their money, but at the very least they violated campaign finance laws.  I was worried at the beginning of the prosecution that DiMasi would some how escape.

This time, as Adrian Walker wrote, justice is colorblind.

Sal DiMasi had barely been convicted when a friend called to relate what she, like a sizable portion of the city’s population, feels about the verdict: relief.

“I was worried that he wouldn’t get convicted,’’ she said. “The black community would have gone crazy, after what happened to Chuck and Dianne.’’

That would be Chuck Turner and Dianne Wilkerson, the two Roxbury pols serving time for accepting bribes in exchange for helping a federal informant get a liquor license. They are in prison, and appropriately so.

Part of the backdrop of the DiMasi affair had been a sense that white politicians skate or at least face less harsh punishment. The wrist slaps handed out to former speakers Charlie Flaherty and Tom Finneran were often cited to me as evidence that justice is not necessarily blind.

It didn’t help matters that DiMasi was treated with kid gloves when he was arraigned, driven away from the federal courthouse in a fancy sports car. Wilkerson’s house was ransacked by federal agents, supposedly looking for the money she had taken, and Turner was led away from his City Hall office in disgrace on the morning he was arrested.

My point is not that Turner and Wilkerson were somehow mistreated. They weren’t. But the notion that justice has been evenly applied is good news for everybody.

In sheer financial terms, DiMasi’s crimes were in a different league from the other two. Wilkerson got $23,500, Turner accepted $1,000. DiMasi took close to $60,000 in cash and had access to hundreds of thousands more that was funneled to his close associates. Though he will not be sentenced until September, his sentence is very likely to exceed those of the other former elected officials.

“There was no way these nickel-and-dime crooks were going down, but DiMasi wasn’t,’’ said the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III of the Ella J. Baker House. “You have to give DiMasi credit: He knew how to really steal.’’

People on Beacon Hill like to talk about “ethics reform,’’ a cause that is clearly a work in progress. Not only does government need to be transparent and free of taint, but lapses must be treated equitably, too. Frankly, that hasn’t always been the case.

So maybe this is a watershed moment for clean government, in a way that DiMasi’s jury probably never contemplated. Justice prevailed. The cynics have been routed. The verdict is in, and it says that corrupt white politicians go to jail, too.

Maybe Adrian Walker is right, but I don’t have a lot of hope that this will change things. We are now watching the current speaker, Robert Deleo, negotiating for slot machines at race tracks.  He just happens to have one in his district.

We don’t need new laws or regulations.  We don’t need ethics reform.  We need politicians that understand the current laws and follow them.  My job is covered by the same laws.  The other day, a homeowner who had been assisted by several co-workers brought in a couple of loaves of home-baked bread.  After he was thanked and he left, we started asked if the value might be over the limit as a gift.  We knew it wasn’t, but we were still thinking about it.  Our elected officials need to think about these things also.

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