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Ex-Mass. Rep.: I Sponsored Budget Amendment For DiMasi

By Bob Salsberg, Associated Press
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In this Nov. 12, 2009 file photo, former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi leaves federal court in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

In this Nov. 12, 2009 file photo, former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi leaves federal court in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

420x316-grad-jones Lana Jones
Lana Jones is a general assignment reporter for WBZ Newsradio 1030....
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BOSTON (AP) — A former state representative testified Tuesday that he agreed to sponsor a $4.5 million budget amendment for a software contract in 2006 after being contacted by an aide to former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi.

Robert Coughlin said he was in his second term on Beacon Hill when DiMasi’s legal counsel Daniel Toscano asked him if he would be willing to sponsor the amendment.

Coughlin said he readily agreed, even though he did not write the amendment and knew virtually nothing about it. Coughlin, who is now president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, said he was willing to comply with a request from the powerful House Speaker’s office.

“It was an honor to do it,” Coughlin testified.

Prosecutors in DiMasi’s federal corruption trial said DiMasi pushed for the contract as part of a larger kickback scheme that ultimately netted him about $65,000.

Under cross-examination, Coughlin testified that Toscano never mentioned DiMasi by name when making the request.

Earlier in the day, a top legislative aide testified that notes he made in 2006 indicated DiMasi’s office had shown a special interest in the budget amendment. James Eisenberg said his notes indicated that he had sought the approval of DiMasi’s office before pressing for a vote on the software contract for the state Department of Education.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Lana Jones reports.

In 2006, Eisenberg was a top aide for then-House Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo, who was in charge of writing the House version of the state budget. Eisenberg is now chief of staff for DeLeo, who succeeded DiMasi as Speaker.

Eisenberg said that his amendment booklet from 2006 shows a handwritten notation “check with speaker” beside the $4.5 million amendment. The notation was crossed out, which Eisenberg said would indicate that he had followed up on the note.

“My general practice was to cross out the notation after I checked with the speakers’ office,” Eisenberg said.

On cross-examination, Eisenberg said he had no recollection of talking to DiMasi, didn’t know who he spoke with in DiMasi’s office and didn’t know what level of interest DiMasi had in the amendment.

The amendment was inserted into the House budget in April 2006. In June, as a House-Senate conference committee was negotiating a compromise budget, Eisenberg testified he received a call from Kyle Sullivan, then a spokesman for DiMasi, urging that the software amendment be maintained and that no restrictions be placed on the expenditure of the funds.

Defense attorneys tried to suggest that the discussion about education software was widespread on Beacon Hill at the time and produced a separate letter from Rep. Patricia Haddad, then the House Chairwoman of the Education Committee, which also addressed the issue.

The case focuses on whether DiMasi helped orchestrate a scheme to direct two lucrative state contracts to Cognos, a Canadian firm with U.S. headquarters in Burlington, Mass. The company was not charged and has cooperated with prosecutors.

DiMasi is charged in the alleged scheme along with Richard McDonough, a Beacon Hill lobbyist, and Richard Vitale, an accountant and close DiMasi friend.

A fourth man charged in the scheme, Joseph Lally, a former Cognos salesman, pleaded guilty in a deal that could offer him a lighter prison sentence in exchange for testimony against DiMasi and the others.

Lally is expected to begin his testimony on Wednesday.

Prosecutors have suggested that DiMasi fell into deep credit card debt as a result of losing some of the income from his law practice after becoming speaker.

On Tuesday, an accountant who worked in Vitale’s office and handled DiMasi’s taxes testified that in 2006 she helped arrange for the speaker and his wife a $250,000 line of credit, interest only for five years, on DiMasi’s condo in Boston’s North End neighborhood.

Barbara Martin said Vitale asked for the line of credit to be arranged at the same time he was creating a separate consulting firm that prosecutors said ultimately received $600,000 in fees from a company that Lally established to resell Cognos software.

Martin testified that DiMasi used a retirement fund to pay off the balance of what he owed on the line of credit — some $178,000 — in May 2008. Prosecutors noted that DiMasi paid off the loan following media reports surfaced about his finances.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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