It’s about time. Federal prosecutors have finally asked for the early release of former Mass. House Speaker Sal DiMasi from a federal prison in Butler, North Carolina. DiMasi was convicted on seven out of nine corruption charges and sentenced to federal prison for eight years. Di Masi used his office to enrich himself to the tune of $65,000, securing $17.5 million in state contracts for Burlington software firm Cognos, which paid him on a monthly basis for his efforts.
DiMasi’s steep eight-year sentence sent home a clear message that this kind of crime would not be tolerated. 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.
As I wrote last year, 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 malignancy. The cancer metastasized to Stage IV tongue and lymph node cancer. His condition continued to deteriorate while the FBP shuttled him from one inaccessible prison to another, supposedly to wring testimony from him that might lead to other convictions. He subsequently developed prostate cancer. His eight-year sentence was not supposed to be a death sentence.
For a long time, Sal DiMasi was one of the good guys on Beacon Hill. He fought proposals to overturn gay marriage, thwarted the ill-considered push for casinos, and played a key role in developing the nation’s first universal health care law, the model for the Affordable Care Act. There’s no little irony that the Bureau of Prison’s denying him adequate health care brought the former Speaker closer to death.
DiMasi has more than two years left, but prosecutors are finally asking for compassionate release. The decision will be up to Judge Wolf. He should waste no time in asking for that.
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