The Devil in Sal DiMasi
There was always golf to play—and now there is only that. Sal DiMasi can still lose himself in the game, a whole day out here under the sun, roasting away. His colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives laughed when he said that by the time Bob DeLeo was sworn in as speaker he’d be on a golf course in Florida. He wasn’t kidding. The sky over the Palm Beach area breaks wide and blue and sunny; one of the driest Januarys on record may yet threaten to set the whole state ablaze with wildfires, but out on the tee box it only means DiMasi can push his ball even deeper into the warm afternoon.
He loves the tan he brings back to Boston, friends say. But the game also satisfies a visceral need to compete, to win. He took it up as a teenager, when a tackle into a concrete wall during a touch football match in 1961 or ’62 effectively ended his otherwise promising gridiron career at Christopher Columbus High. Almost 50 years later he still has an athlete’s grace—a lolling, confident, full stride—and an athlete’s intensity. Most lobbyists, dignitaries, and fellow politicians know that if you’re playing with DiMasi, you’re not to discuss business on the course.
But apparently not every playing partner kept as quiet. A federal indictment released last month, accusing DiMasi and three associates of wire and mail fraud, depicts the then speaker receiving $57,000 in exchange for two software contracts’ passage through the House and into law. At least one of the alleged conversations about how best to do this—between DiMasi and a consultant acting on behalf of the Canadian software company—happened on a golfing trip in Naples, Florida. They happened elsewhere, too. Over e-mail and by fax and courier, according to the indictment. These alleged conversations—"It’s about time we got business like this"—portray DiMasi as a greedy louse, trading on a 30-year career that was as outsize as the man himself for checks from a lobbyist named Dickie, funneled through a DUI lawyer in a mangy downtown office.
What the indictment doesn’t show, what no one knows, is the personal financial strain DiMasi was under when he allegedly accepted the payments. In fact, if DiMasi hadn’t taken out a loan in 2006 from one of his codefendants, for the most prosaic of reasons, the whole chain of events would likely not have happened: no scandalous headlines in the Globe, no resigning under pressure, no stunning indictment. The man would have stood a great chance of still sitting in the speaker’s chair, of enjoying his golf without distraction.
But he got sloppy, the sort of slovenly corruption that attends absolute authority. With Salvatore F. DiMasi, that was the kind of authority he loved.