The Devil in Sal DiMasi

sal dimasi

Illustration by Gluekit

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.

 

It was spelled out in the indictment but known long before then, mostly by the few poor souls who dared oppose him: DiMasi could push through any bill he wanted. The understanding that he would get his way was so complete in the House, it actually predated DiMasi’s reign as speaker. He in fact attained the seat through the tyrant’s oldest trick. He stole it.

By 2004, then-Speaker Tom Finneran was in trouble. After each federal census, legislative districts are redrawn down to the state district level. Two lawsuits alleged that following the 2000 count, Finneran had drawn the lines in a manner that deprived minority neighborhoods of fair representation. Finneran, under oath, had pleaded ignorance; few had bought that, and many members were calling for a new leader. That September 24, DiMasi, Finneran, and John Rogers, chair of Ways and Means at the time, met at DiMasi’s North End home in secret to decide on one. The three kept the secret well; this is the first full accounting of what happened that night.

Finneran, out of character, was 20 minutes late: As he was putting on his jacket back home in Mattapan, his wife, Donna, told him to wait, see if DiMasi and Rogers, friendly enough with each other, could work things out on their own. But when Finneran finally walked into DiMasi’s condo on Commercial Street, past the kitchen and into the dining room, he saw the two struggling at small talk.

Where the hell have you been? Rogers thought. He and Finneran had the most peculiar relationship in the House, an almost familial bond. In 2002 Finneran had taken to the House rostrum to discuss the state budget and instead delivered a weepy soliloquy about Rogers, “the son I never had.” Years later, a former House member still remembers the scene vividly. “One lobbyist told me that she was so grossed out by the speech,” the former member says, “that if she had been the wife of Finneran or Rogers she would have hired a private detective to follow them.”

DiMasi and Finneran had been close, too, but never to the point of it becoming unseemly. Both from Boston, they sat next to each other as freshmen in the House chamber, where DiMasi realized when he was in law school, he’d kicked Finneran’s older brothers out of the bar where he’d worked as a bouncer. The ties he and Finneran forged helped them orchestrate the coup that placed George Keverian in the speaker’s chair in 1985. In the 1990s, they grabbed their own power. By 2004, DiMasi was Finneran’s majority leader.

Finneran took a seat at the head of the dining room table. But then Finneran, in another un-Finneran move, chose not to direct the meeting. He was too close to these two men to pick a favorite. Besides, if Finneran were to eventually set up that lobbying practice, he would need a good working relationship with his successor. So the three men instead talked about the institution, how they were all institutional men, and how the institution of the Massachusetts House of Representatives must not debase itself with a rancorous (if democratic) battle for speaker. What the institution needed was an orderly transfer of power, they decided. People close to Rogers and Finneran say the agreement was as follows:

DiMasi was 59, Rogers 39. DiMasi would have his shot at speaker and serve until he got tired, or bored—or, given the ultimate fate of Finneran and his predecessor, indicted—at which point the mantle would pass to Rogers, who in the interim would be second-in-command, as majority leader.

But when the committee appointments came out in January 2005, Rogers was not second-in-command. That position was one DiMasi created overnight, speaker pro tempore; he’d assigned it to Tom Petrolati of Ludlow. DiMasi gave Petrolati the spot to serve as a buffer between him and Rogers. For Rogers, the move meant he was effectively out of House leadership. It meant the agreement was off. It meant DiMasi would have what he wanted most, what Rogers, because of his own ambitions, could never hand him. More power.

 

DiMasi never had any qualms about his decision to oust Rogers from leadership. He and his staff swear there was no deal, only an informal understanding that DiMasi would be speaker first. Still, the move to put in Petrolati was part of a larger strategy.

DiMasi picked his lieutenants for their loyalty. Petrolati, or Petro, as he is commonly known, may have been the best example. A short man with slicked-back hair and a closet full of natty suits, he was a purely political animal under DiMasi, not at all keen on policy. He whispered about DiMasi’s omnipotence to fellow members, and what folly it would be to challenge that before the full House, or in a caucus, or ever, really. Notice would be paid, and perhaps, as in the case of former Arlington state Representative Jim Marzilli, who dared to author an energy bill without DiMasi’s approval, a title of vice chairman stripped.

Other members expressed their loyalty in other ways. Take Bob DeLeo, the current speaker. He was chairman of Third Reading, the committee charged with ensuring proper grammar in every bill, when DiMasi assigned him in 2005 to be head of Ways and Means, the most important chair in the House. “Those of us who have watched him as a friend,” says Josh Resnek of the Winthrop Transcript, who’s known DeLeo for 30 years, “can’t help but say he was the quintessential backbencher.” Before DiMasi tapped him, DeLeo was mulling a departure from the legislature to become a district or state judge, a person close to him says. But DiMasi saw an ally who would live by old codes: The two men came from nearby, clannish Italian neighborhoods, places where fealty was valued.

As Ways and Means chair, DeLeo was the rep who introduced a bond bill in March 2007 that contained a provision for one of the now-infamous software contracts that have DiMasi in all this trouble. The opaquely worded amendment required the state to find a firm that would provide a “performance management system” for $15 million. The firm DiMasi wanted, the federal indictment alleges, was the Canadian company Cognos. The indictment further alleges DiMasi wanted Cognos to get this contract because he had been paid—through the help of a Cognos lobbyist, a Cognos consultant, a Cognos sales agent, and a lawyer on Cognos’s payroll—an average of $4,000 a month by the company between 2005 and early 2007.

Bob DeLeo was the unquestioning conduit who would push the contract through the House. Three days before he introduced the bill, DiMasi’s chief of staff, Maryann Calia, said she would be referring the software contract to DeLeo because his committee would give “quick action” to the bill, according to an e-mail cited in the indictment. It did. One week after DeLeo’s Ways and Means Committee took it, the bill had been signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick.

To be clear, acting U.S. Attorney Michael Loucks says he doesn’t believe any other public official is implicated in DiMasi’s alleged wrongdoing. But for DeLeo, the Cognos amendment isn’t the worst of it. There’s a far more egregious example of him acquiescing to his old boss.

It came during the drafting of a piece of legislation that ultimately became the Massachusetts Oceans Act of 2008. The bill sought to provide comprehensive environmental management of the state’s coastal waters. One of the potentially affected development proposals was from DiMasi’s friend, construction magnate Jay Cashman, who was looking to build some 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay, a project hotly opposed by environmental groups and local activists. In March 2007, DiMasi publicly disclosed to the House clerk his close friendship with Cashman, also mentioning his wife, Debbie’s, friendship with Cashman’s wife, Christy. (The two women hosted a show about books on NECN, a program the Cashmans paid the cable station to air. NECN dropped the program after the indictment.) DiMasi didn’t recuse himself outright from the ocean bill. He just said he could be trusted not to sully the state’s interests with his friend’s business. “I make this disclosure to dispel the impression that the Cashmans…could unduly enjoy my favor in any matters that come before the House,” he wrote in his letter of disclosure.

The ocean legislation moved along, without any mention of Cashman. But after the House’s second reading of the bill on November 15, 2007, minutes before the gavel fell a final time and the bill was sent to the Senate, DeLeo slipped in an 11-page single-spaced amendment, one paragraph of which allowed for Cashman’s wind turbines on Buzzards Bay.

The bill passed the House overwhelmingly. Only the next day did legislators and environmental activists realize what had happened. “It was really something that seemed to be orchestrated by the speaker,” says Sue Reid, a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. Indeed, the Boston Herald reported that Jim Eisenberg, DeLeo’s chief of staff, said the amendment had been added after consulting with DiMasi’s office. People close to DeLeo today, though, tell Boston that DiMasi didn’t pressure him to put it in. In any case, once it reached the Senate, the amendment was immediately pulled from the bill. It was so shady that state senators felt compelled to give the entire piece of legislation, all 86 pages of it, a thorough scrubbing, one of them says.

It wasn’t enough for DiMasi to have unquestioned loyalty from just his inner circle, though. He had House secretaries report back to him the names of reporters who called and asked to speak with certain members; that way, his staff could better track negative blind quotes. (It became common for some legislators to ask reporters to call their personal cell phones to discuss state business, numerous legislators and journalists say.) Ultimately, for all Tom Finneran’s micromanagement and bullying, backbenchers feared DiMasi more. “Voting off”—voting opposite the speaker—became for many Democratic politicians a nightmare on par with finding oneself naked in a calculus class at exam time. In Finneran’s last two years as speaker, House Democrats voted opposite their leader 5,334 times, according to House roll calls. When you consider that the 136 Democratic members under Finneran often cast between 700 and 900 votes in a legislative session, that’s a paltry total. But in DiMasi’s final two years, those dissenting votes got paltrier. His fellow Democrats, 141 in all, voted off 2,375 times. That’s less than half as often as under Finneran, and with five more Democrats than he had. On many votes, Democratic opposition could be counted on one hand.

It’s no wonder, then, that in June 2007, two months before the $13 million contract went to Cognos, DiMasi allegedly met with two of the company reps at a Democratic fundraiser, and assured them that all would be fine. According to an e-mail cited in the indictment, the Cognos sales agent, Joseph Lally, summed up DiMasi’s position to his boss the next day. “Sal said when he wants something done within his domain,” Lally wrote, “he is ultimately going to get what he wants.”

 

The corruption, as the prosecutors tell it, was there nearly from the beginning. Two months after ascending to the speaker’s chair, DiMasi made arrangements for his first alleged payment. He received the checks for the next two years, they say. All the while, and indeed right up until he left office, he staked out enlightened, humane positions on the House floor, often rooting his stance in moral grounds. Say this of DiMasi: He was a man who knew how to compartmentalize.

DiMasi, a defense attorney by trade, shared a law office near Downtown Crossing with another defense attorney named Steven Topazio. In December 2004, the indictment alleges, DiMasi called his officemate. He said Richard “Dickie” McDonough, a well-known lobbyist on Beacon Hill, would be calling Topazio with a new client. A few days later, McDonough met with Topazio and Joseph Lally, who was a vice president of Cognos in the company’s Burlington outpost. McDonough and Lally allegedly said they’d pay Topazio a $5,000-a-month retainer to serve as Cognos’s local counsel. Topazio said he wasn’t qualified. This was apparently not a problem, however, because McDonough and Lally never asked him to do legal work, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Instead, the indictment says, Topazio would just take the $5,000, and give $4,000 of it to DiMasi.

That’s what Topazio allegedly did: From April 2005 until the end of 2006, he took the $5,000 payment, and wrote DiMasi a $4,000 check. This happened almost every month, except for a stretch in 2006. DiMasi allegedly asked Topazio to see what had happened to the payments. A bookkeeping error at Cognos, it turned out. In December of that year, Cognos cut Topazio a check for $25,000. DiMasi said he wanted “all of it,” according to the indictment. DiMasi got what he wanted then, too.

(DiMasi says in a statement, “Every decision I made as speaker…was made in the best interests of my constituents and the people of the commonwealth.” As for Topazio, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has not charged him with any wrongdoing.)

While DiMasi allegedly was receiving these “referral fees,” he carried out an ambitious legislative agenda that highlighted, of all things, compassion for the dispossessed. He passed the universal healthcare bill and killed an effort to ban gay marriage, arguably the biggest legislative acts since the state’s abolition of slavery in 1783, in his first three years as speaker. Here again, he proved he would always get his way, even if it meant meeting with every dissenting vote until the state rep emerged with a changed mind (gay marriage), or aligning the interests of unions, hospitals, insurers, and politicians in DC and promising each party that nothing would pass until everyone agreed on the particulars (universal healthcare). Yes, DiMasi worked this hard to confirm his stature and delight his ego as one of the commonwealth’s greats. But he seemed to genuinely care, too. DiMasi had tears in his eyes when the healthcare bill passed, thinking of all the people it would help. In 2007—not long after, the indictment alleges, he pushed Patrick’s staff to award the state contract to Cognos—he squashed the governor’s play for casinos by citing how blackjack tables and slot machines prey on the poor. He kept asking, “Do we need this casino culture?” What DiMasi never said publicly during the gambling debate was that, according to multiple sources close to him, his own father had been a bookie in the North End, and a decent one. Though DiMasi denies this, these sources say that, as a kid, DiMasi saw what the other side of his dad’s relative comfort wrought. He never forgot that.

This benevolence appeared in more than his legislative record, too. It was DiMasi inviting his jittery 26-year-old aide, Aaron Michelwitz, into his office, time and again in 2005, to tell him he would make a great politician once he believed in himself—and Michelwitz four years later, after DiMasi’s resignation, attaining DiMasi’s district seat as verification of his boss’s faith. It was DiMasi’s detractors begrudgingly admitting it was impossible not to enjoy the company of the big, backslapping, bullshitting North Ender. DiMasi had as many enemies as Finneran, but he will never be as despised as his predecessor, even now. Despite the bullying and all his alleged sins, “the simple truth is that he was well liked by a lot of members,” says Dan Bosley, a North Adams state rep who was one of those fans.

 


Even stranger than the righteous positions DiMasi took on social issues while allegedly accepting graft is the fact that the graft didn’t add up to that much. Not when you consider the kinds of bills he had to pay while speaker.

DiMasi’s responsibilities left little time for his law practice. In 2004, the year he ascended to the speakership, he made over $100,000 a year from his practice, but by the end of his reign, in 2008, he only pocketed between $5,000 and $10,000 annually as a lawyer, according to his statements of financial interests filed with the state. Meanwhile, his expenses were increasing. In spring 2006, DiMasi’s stepdaughter was headed for her first year at UMass and DiMasi’s stepson his first at Boston College High. Each school costs $15,000 to $20,000 a year. DiMasi was also a member of Ipswich Country Club, where new members must now pay about $8,000 in dues, according to internal club documents obtained by Boston. He had a $500,000 mortgage in the North End with second wife Debbie, a woman 19 years his junior who “had expensive tastes,” says someone who’s known DiMasi for years. On top of that, Debbie’s parents were struggling financially, as her father battled a debilitating disease from which he would die two years later. According to public records from Norfolk County, Debbie first loaned her parents $80,000 in the form of a mortgage in 2001, then bought their place in Needham outright three years later for $550,000, assuming $350,000 in outstanding debt. (In filings with the state, Debbie is listed as working at her mother’s wine shop in Newton Highlands, though it’s unknown how much she was paid.) In April 2006, Debbie refinanced the Needham house with a $417,000 adjustable-rate mortgage, according to Norfolk County records.

By mid-2006, DiMasi had allegedly received $32,000 from his Cognos friends. But that Cognos bookkeeping error kept DiMasi from receiving any more payments until December of that year, according to the indictment. That’s important. It meant that at a time when DiMasi would need more money, he would be bringing in less: The combined $153,000 in income he would report that year from his post as speaker and his law practice was nearly $20,000 less than what he’d once made as a House member and a busy attorney. Meanwhile, the big mortgage on Debbie’s parents’ house in Needham seemed to become a burden for the DiMasis. Debbie would sell it in 2007, in the last throes of the housing boom, for $50,000 less than what she paid.

Calculating his obligations against the money he had coming in and finding things uncomfortably tight, DiMasi turned to his longtime friend, golf buddy, personal accountant, and recently retained Cognos consultant, Richard Vitale. DiMasi needed a loan. Vitale, then the head of a Charlestown accounting firm, established a company called Washington North Realty Corporation, and through it on June 22, 2006, extended a $250,000 line of credit to DiMasi, which appeared in public records as a third mortgage.

Vitale would ultimately be indicted alongside DiMasi for wire and mail fraud. But the $250,000 loan seems to have nothing to do with that. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is clear on how money to DiMasi allegedly influenced legislation. But it hasn’t specified what role, if any, Vitale’s loan to DiMasi played in the Cognos deals. Indeed, a person close to DiMasi says he just needed the cash. This means that the one apparently aboveboard transaction in this whole mess—showing up in real estate records and DiMasi’s 2006 statement of financial interests and completed for the presumed purpose of putting his kids through school and helping his wife with some family debts—this one is the transaction that ends up bringing DiMasi down.

 

To understand why, forget everything you know about Cognos for a moment. Now, picture the boyish grin and curly brown hair of Matt Viser, a 29-year-old State House reporter for the Globe, sitting in a tree above a prison courtyard in Florida.

This was in January 2008. The Globe had received a call from a trusted source who said Donald Trump had scheduled a round of golf with DiMasi at Trump International in West Palm Beach. The implication: During Beacon Hill’s white-hot casino debate, DiMasi, gambling’s arch-opponent, was for some reason about to spend quality time with one of its biggest beneficiaries. Viser bought a ticket for Florida that night.

But he didn’t know where DiMasi was staying. Worse, he couldn’t just watch from the road to see who was teeing off on any given hole: A perimeter of greenery guarded the course, making peeping difficult. Hence his perch by the penitentiary. It was located behind the course, at a remove from the road. Viser climbed a tree on the other side of the prison courtyard and from that vantage point could see the course. Well, part of the course. Actually more like a tee box. Definitely a tee box.

Viser stayed there for the next day and a half, waiting, with a freelance photographer, for Trump and DiMasi to appear in their tiny window of parted foliage. They never did. The source later told the Globe that DiMasi had been tipped off. Dave Guarino, DiMasi’s spokesman, says DiMasi was never scheduled to play. Either way, this was how vigorously the Globe pursued its leads on DiMasi: to a tree above a prison courtyard in West Palm Beach, waiting for the speaker to appear alongside a reality-show star.

And that’s instructive. Because none of what’s happened in the past 16 months, not the eight counts in the federal indictment; or the State Ethics Commission investigation of DiMasi; or the exhortations of Secretary of State Bill Galvin, demanding the power to subpoena Richard Vitale for failing to register as a lobbyist; not Attorney General Martha Coakley’s indictment of Vitale for the same reason; or her claim that Vitale, in another instance, promoted legislation on behalf of his ticket-broker-association clients that the House then adopted; and certainly none of DiMasi’s denials of wrongdoing during all this time—none of it would have happened had the Globe not found out about DiMasi’s $250,000 loan from Vitale. Because to the paper, that looked an awful lot like quid pro quo.

Before the Globe published the loan story, the public knew that Inspector General Greg Sullivan had written a scathing report saying the state hadn’t proved Cognos to be the best value for its money. The report didn’t name DiMasi, Vitale, McDonough, or Lally; the IG just said something about the contract looked funky. A few days later, the Globe reported that DiMasi seemed to have his fingerprints on the Cognos deal, but the loan story itself, published April 27, 2008, widened the inquiry. It said that DiMasi had a friend named Richard Vitale who was blabbing to ticket brokers in Massachusetts, telling them that if they met his fee, he could “do things a registered lobbyist couldn’t do—behind the scenes.” The man had, as the reporters noted, loaned his friend Sal DiMasi $250,000.

With that, the Globe had a motive: DiMasi seemed to be personally benefiting from an associate whose name was linked to legislation under scrutiny. “That’s when I said, ‘Let’s go with a double-barreled gun,'” says Globe deputy managing editor Brian McGrory.

On the piece about the Vitale loan, Globe State House reporter Andrea Estes shared a byline with Stephen Kurkjian, a semiretired reporter from the paper’s famed Spotlight team who had won Pulitzers in three decades. The two took different approaches. Kurkjian is of the old school, banging on as many doors as he can, more or less demanding information. He is chummy with McGrory, and several in the Globe newsroom believe the lead character in McGrory’s novels, reporter Jack Flynn, is Kurkjian: a hard-nosed, take-no-BS excavator of buried truths. Older politicians and political consultants saw Kurkjian’s name on the loan story and thought, as one such consultant put it, “The Globe isn’t fucking around anymore.”

But that disparages Estes. She was just as tenacious as Kurkjian but far more methodical. She thought of the implications of every call she made: not only what that person knew, but also who, in the era of DiMasi’s House secretaries, that person might discuss their conversation with afterward. As the stories progressed, 36 in all, Estes, a 20-year Hub newsroom veteran, lost sleep at night thinking about DiMasi, as she took more of a lead and came to own the story. The irony is that the loan led the Globe everywhere but to irrefutable evidence that the loan itself was dirty. Of course, the paper hardly needs that anymore.

 


The coverage bothered him. DiMasi tried not to let on in the halls of the State House, but on at least one occasion last summer, back in his office, he pulled aside staff members and asked, “Why is the Globe picking on me?”

It was more than just the Globe by that point. The men whose political careers he made, DeLeo and Petrolati, betrayed him, openly orchestrating his succession, even as DiMasi was saying he wasn’t giving up his seat. In his 30 years in office, he had never seen anything like the corrosive battle DeLeo and DiMasi’s old foe John Rogers were waging, with Petrolati serving as DeLeo’s chief campaigner. As time progressed, the two grew only more brazen. From July on, Petrolati quit showing up to the regular leadership meetings in the speaker’s office, two people close to DiMasi say. In November, DeLeo hosted a fundraiser at a steakhouse in Worcester, trumpeting to the media that he had the votes to become the next speaker.

By this point, a graceful exit did not exist for DiMasi. But he wasn’t seeking one. DiMasi wanted to show his reputation could withstand any attack, from all quarters: from assistant attorneys general, the media, his own leadership team. He wanted to accomplish more, too, put his name all over transportation reform, just as he had with universal healthcare and gay marriage. Last fall, he proposed a gas tax to do it, which the governor championed and, in the end, and far more improbably, a group of business leaders as well. DiMasi wanted it known—he wanted the record to reflect—that he was still the man. It did. He was reelected 135–25 this January.

But perhaps DiMasi also stayed in because he’d evaded other scrapes before. In 1993, the Globe blasted him for questionable interactions with lobbyists after he had traveled to Puerto Rico, ostensibly for a legislative conference, but really, according to the paper, so lobbyists could pay for his meals and greens fees. (DiMasi wasn’t the only one fingered: Eight politicians were down there, including Senate President Billy Bulger, and House Speaker Charlie Flaherty.) The State Ethics Commission launched an investigation of DiMasi, requesting records of the Puerto Rico trip and other times he’d hobnobbed with lobbyists going back to 1987, the Herald reported. DiMasi refused to cooperate. A court battle ensued, and Superior Court Judge Regina Quinlan ruled in 1993 to limit the commission’s subpoena power. The case eventually went away. If DiMasi’s actions last year are any indication, he thought the same thing would happen this time around.

 

[sidebar]On January 22, 2009, he realized he was wrong. The Globe that day published its latest scoop, saying Vitale had paid off a $7,500 legal debt for Debbie DiMasi’s parents in September 2007.

People close to DiMasi say that certainly weighed on him, to have his widowed mother-in-law dragged into his battle. The next afternoon, around 1 p.m., DiMasi, his wife, and his core staff met in the office of DiMasi’s political action committee, which looks out on Tremont Street near the Common. Maryann Calia, his chief of staff, told DiMasi he must stick it out. Guarino, his press secretary, agreed but said if DiMasi were to stay in, the stories would not cease, at least not in the short term; it might take three to four years of spotless governance for him to clear his name. Jason Aluia, his legislative director, looked to Debbie DiMasi to see how she’d respond. He had long thought that if Debbie were fed up with the headlines, then that would be it for Sal. But Debbie turned to her husband and said, “Don’t let those bastards win.”

The meeting went on for a couple of hours. DiMasi’s glances around the room seemed to look past the people in it. It was the same look a Rogers supporter had seen a few weeks earlier in the House chamber. DiMasi appeared defeated then—his shoulders slumped, his pace slow—and didn’t look any better off now. He had been sick the past couple of weeks. He hadn’t slept well in months.
It wasn’t fun anymore. There was his legal team, always telling DiMasi that the longer he stayed in, the more interested the AG and feds became in his indictment. There were the dozens of House committee chairs and vice chairs he had to appoint for his new term. If he stayed on through the budget, and then left, his successor would banish to the back benches most if not all of DiMasi’s people for their fealty to the old boss. DiMasi had certainly done the same.

Two days later, the word went out: “I’m resigning.”

After his resignation speech on January 27, DiMasi and three dozen close friends rented out the second floor of Abe & Louie’s on Boylston Street. The idea was to throw a roast. That’s what happened when someone left DiMasi’s staff. Instead, the dinner broke out into desperate sobs and purple speeches. DiMasi—you could see it in his eyes, that same distant stare—looked as if he wanted to be somewhere else.

Over the next five months, in what can be viewed as DiMasi’s time in purgatory, he told people that he was practicing law, though he’d long since stopped showing up to the office he shared with Steven Topazio at 10 Winthrop Square, according to a secretary there. Guarino says DiMasi started a consulting business, taking on healthcare and green-energy clients across the country. But DiMasi hasn’t registered as a lobbyist with either the U.S. House or U.S. Senate, according to clerks in those chambers. Over the spring, DiMasi mostly stayed home.

You could ring his doorbell on a random Tuesday at noon, and DiMasi would answer. He wouldn’t invite you in: He was a private citizen now, far more private than Tom Finneran had been when he was forced to resign as speaker. DiMasi would just say over the intercom that he was “doing fine.” Maybe he was. Despite all the trouble his friend had caused, DiMasi still called Dick Vitale often. They talked about their families. They talked about golf. They both had their memberships at Ipswich County Club. They planned to play a lot this summer.

 

Paul Kix is a senior editor at Boston.

ADVERTISMENT

  • Rick

    Perhaps if the state employee pension system was a bit less generous, employees would have to exhibit the same frugality the rest of us have to endure? If one knows money will never be a real problem, extreme financial leverage is probably easier to get used to.

  • Michael

    Globe did a great job, but everyone knows this was handed to the Globe with a big red bow.