A federal judge on Tuesday questioned lawyers for Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi on the severity of DiMasi’s health problems as the once-powerful Democrat seeks an early end to his eight-year prison sentence on public corruption charges.
During a court hearing, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf said a request from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and prosecutors for compassionate release for DiMasi “does not make it automatic” that he will grant it.
DiMasi, 71, has served nearly five years of his sentence for steering state contracts to a software firm in exchange for $65,000. Since he went to prison, DiMasi has been diagnosed and treated for both throat and prostate cancer.
Wolf said he needs to consider whether DiMasi’s health problems are severe enough to make it difficult for him to live in prison and whether releasing him early could be viewed as preferential treatment for a once-influential politician.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb told Wolf that while prison doctors have said DiMasi’s cancer is in remission, his throat cancer treatments caused such a narrowing of his esophagus that he now can’t eat or drink without a risk of choking.
Weinreb said the problem has resulted in DiMasi requiring a pureed diet and numerous medical procedures to expand his esophagus to prevent choking. One of his lawyers said his weight has dropped from 240 pounds to about 170 pounds.
“It substantially diminishes his ability to function normally in prison,” Weinreb said.
Wolf said DiMasi’s cancer had not been diagnosed when he sentenced him to eight years in prison in 2011.
“I intended to give him a long sentence. I did not intend to give him a life sentence,” Wolf said.
But Wolf also said he needs to decide if DiMasi’s health problems make it difficult for him to live in prison.
“I have to decide whether there are extraordinary and compelling circumstances and whether they justify release,” he said.
Wolf said if he does grant compassionate release, he may order special conditions, including home confinement for DiMasi.
Charles Rankin, one of DiMasi’s attorneys, said he does not think home confinement is necessary because DiMasi just wants to be at home with his family and get the best medical care. Rankin said DiMasi’s family will monitor him while he eats because of the choking risk.
Rankin said one doctor described DiMasi as frail, thin and chronically ill.
Wolf did not immediately rule.
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