Former Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi used his office to enrich himself to the tune of $65,000, securing a state contract for Cognos, which paid him on a monthly basis for his efforts. The third House Speaker in a row to be found guilty of crimes related to office, DiMasi was convicted on seven out of nine corruption charges and sentenced to federal prison for eight years. There is no doubt that prison was appropriate, though one could argue that eight years was excessive. But, as first reported by attorney Harvey Silverglate two 1/2 years ago in the Boston Phoenix, that eight years could well be a death sentence, one which we should all be protesting.
Federal Judge Mark Wolf, mindful that DiMasi at the time had a heart condition and his wife, Debbie, was being treated for breast cancer, recommended to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP) that DiMasi serve his sentence in Ayer, Mass. Instead, he was shipped off to Kentucky. WGBH’s Jim Braude and Margery Eagan have provided a platform recently to Debbie DiMasi to explain the subsequent horrors to which her husband has been subjected in his nearly four years of incarceration.
When DiMasi discovered lumps in his neck, he asked repeatedly for medical attention. That took months to happen and still longer to get treatment for his now-confirmed malignancy. In the meanwhile, the cancer metastasized to Stage IV tongue and lymph node cancer. Never a heavy man to begin with, he has lost 60 pounds and reportedly continues to deteriorate. There is reason to believe that the Feds delayed giving him medical attention, shuttling him from one inaccessible prison to another, in order to wring testimony from him that might lead to other convictions.
Former Phoenix editor Peter Kadzis wrote persuasively in an editorial that the Bureau of Prison’s treatment of DiMasi was “far worse than waterboarding.”
So what should happen now? President Obama recently commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders. He said he did it because “America is a nation of second chances,” because their sentences (20 years to life) “didn’t fit the crime,” and they have behaved well while incarcerated. If DiMasi isn’t a case for commutation, the feds could move for “compassionate release,” for prisoners who have terminal illnesses and are not a threat to society. For those who insist on believing there’s a reason to keep DiMasi behind bars (for longer than any other official corruption case in state history), at a minimum the Bureau of Prisons should move him to a facility in Massachusetts (the prison in Ayer, for example, which Judge Wolf recommended four years ago.)
There was a time when Sal DiMasi was the good guy. The story of his rise from a child in a cold water flat in the North End to an attorney, state rep and eventually to become the first Italian-American Speaker of the House was the American success story. And he put his political skills to good use, fighting proposals to overturn gay marriage, thwarting the ill-considered push for casinos, and playing a pivotal role in developing the nation’s first universal health care law, the model for the Affordable Care Act. Given that accomplishment, more than one observer has noted the irony of the Bureau of Prison’s denying him adequate health care and perhaps bringing him closer to death.
State reps, members of the Congressional delegation and other public officials seem to have been silent on the cause of moving DiMasi back to Massachusetts. It appears that no one wants to be seen in the corner of a fellow politician found guilty of corruption. It seems unlikely, however, that an act of mercy at this point would be confused as guilt by association. If they don’t speak out now, they’ll owe him an apology when he is finally released, having served his term. But that would be 2018, and it may well be too late.
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