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State Pressing Court To Suspend DiMasi’s Pension

By Johanna Kaiser, Associated Press
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Former Mass. House Speaker Sal DiMasi outside court on Wednesday, June 15, 2011.

Former Mass. House Speaker Sal DiMasi outside court on Wednesday, June 15, 2011.

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BOSTON (AP) — Lawyers for former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi are set to return to court for a hearing that will determine whether the ex-lawmaker loses his state pension following his conviction on federal corruption charges.

The state’s Retirement Board plans to ask a Suffolk Superior Court judge to allow it to vote to suspend DiMasi’s $4,981.86 a month pension until a federal appeals court rules on his challenge to the jury’s verdict earlier this month. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

The board attempted to suspend DiMasi’s pension in October 2009 after he was indicted, but a judicial review initiated by DiMasi forced the board to continue payments.

DiMasi was convicted on June 15 on charges that he used his power as speaker to steer two state contracts worth a combined $17.5 million in exchange for payments. The conviction, state officials say, is a significant enough development to suspend payment.

“We believe it is appropriate to suspend his pension benefits and move forward with forfeiture,” Treasurer Steven Grossman said in an interview.

Grossman, who also is the chairman of the Retirement Board, said the board plans to vote to suspend DiMasi’s pension at its next meeting if the court rules in its favor.

The board is scheduled to meet June 30, the same day DiMasi’s next pension check is due to be mailed.

If the board approves suspension, all scheduled payments will be put in escrow.

According to the motion filed by the attorney general’s office, once DiMasi is sentenced, he will stop receiving his state pension. DiMasi’s sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 8.

The board hopes to place the funds in escrow until the conviction is final to ensure DiMasi does not receive payments he is not entitled to because the law is not clear if he can receive payments between the jury verdict and final conviction, according to the motion.

DiMasi’s attorney, Thomas Kiley, said a final conviction does not occur at sentencing, but rather when all appeals are exhausted.

Kiley contends the board cannot suspend or stop pension payments before then.

“The word final means final,” he said.

But Grossman said holding the payments would protect taxpayer money since DiMasi’s pension payments have already exceeded the amount he put in the system by more than $12,000.

Since 2009, DiMasi has received a total of $139,621.03 in pension payments. He had contributed $127,010.05 to the retirement fund before leaving office in January 2009. That money collected an additional $28,145.15 in interest as of 2008.

Although it is common for pension payments to exceed what an employee contributed, Grossman said, he does not feel it is appropriate for DiMasi to continue collecting payments since he has been convicted of abusing the power of his office.

“There is an even greater sense of urgency since he has exceeded that amount,” he said. “My No. 1 job as treasurer and as chair of the Retirement Board is to protect hard-earned taxpayer money.”

Grossman said that if DiMasi had not exceeded his contribution to the system, he would receive the remainder of what he contributed but no further payments.

He also noted that because the funds would be put in a separate account, DiMasi would be able to reclaim the money if his conviction is overturned.

DiMasi is not required to appear in court for Tuesday’s hearing.

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

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