BOSTON (AP) — A federal prosecutor told members of a jury Friday they need only use their common sense in considering evidence against former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and two associates to conclude the defendants are guilty of accepting bribes and kickbacks in exchange for the speaker’s clout in steering two state contracts to a favored software firm.
But a defense attorney for one of DiMasi’s co-defendants said in closing arguments that the government’s case was “built on a foundation of quicksand,” because it relies heavily on the testimony of former software salesman Joseph Lally, an admitted liar who pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors that could net him a lighter prison sentence.
The arguments were delivered after more than five weeks of testimony in one of the state’s most closely watched political corruption cases in decades.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations after receiving final instructions from U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf on Monday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Fuller spent about 90 minutes Friday reviewing the evidence against DiMasi, Richard McDonough and Richard Vitale.
The prosecutor said DiMasi, as a powerful lawmaker, performed “official acts … resulting in kickbacks to his partners in crime.”
Fuller said DiMasi used his clout to assure that the software firm Cognos received two state contracts worth a combined $17.5 million in exchange for payments, with DiMasi pocketing $65,000 funneled through what Fuller called a “sham contract” with the speaker’s law associate.
Fuller said hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to McDonough, a Statehouse lobbyist, and Vitale, an accountant, also were part of the scheme, and not legitimate consulting or lobbying fees, as the defense claims.
“Don’t be fooled. Keep your eyes on the ball. Use your common sense,” Fuller told the jurors.
Weinberg, who represents Vitale, was the first of three defense attorneys to speak after Fuller.
He said the case against his client was unproven because there was no evidence that any money paid to Vitale was caused by DiMasi or that the then-speaker benefited from the money Vitale received.
In keeping with a strategy that the defense has employed since the start of the trial, Weinberg quickly sought to discredit Lally, calling him a “self-admitted perjurer,” who cheated on his taxes and gambled away his hefty sales commissions.
“Lally is the lynchpin witness in this case,” he said. “Without Lally, the government has surmise and conjecture … but not a criminal case.”
Weinberg said Lally had a motive to lie because he stood to get less time in prison and hold onto some of his assets under the plea agreement with prosecutors.
Anticipating the attack on Lally, Fuller in his closing argument readily conceded Lally was a distasteful character, but then asked jurors to consider why Lally had the cell phone number of DiMasi — arguably the most powerful figure in Massachusetts government — and frequently talked to the speaker and even played golf with him as the alleged scheme unfolded.
Fuller also told the jury that the defendants on several occasions demonstrated a “consciousness of guilt,” as details of the contracts became public, and that when asked about the allegations DiMasi lied even to members of his own staff.
“He lied because he knew if he told the truth, his goose was cooked,” Fuller said.
Weinberg said Vitale never tried to conceal payments received from Lally, nor did he try to cover up a $250,000 line of credit he extended to DiMasi, who prosecutors said was in debt as a result of losing income from his law practice after becoming speaker.
Lawyers for DiMasi and McDonough were scheduled to make their closings later Friday, with Fuller allowed about 20 minutes for rebuttal at the end of the defense arguments.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)