The Devil in Sal DiMasi
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.