Feds seek early release for ex-speaker DiMasi

BOSTON (AP) — Federal officials are recommending early release from prison for former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi as he battles cancer.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons and federal prosecutors filed a court notice requesting that DiMasi’s sentence be reduced to time already served so he can be released immediately. The once-powerful Democrat has served almost five years of an eight-year prison term for corruption.

Since his 2011 conviction, DiMasi, 71, was diagnosed with tongue cancer and later prostate cancer.

Thursday’s compassionate release recommendation for DiMasi is intended for inmates with terminal illnesses as well as elderly inmates who have served a significant portion of their sentences. A judge must approve the request.

DiMasi was convicted of steering state contracts to a software firm in exchange for $65,000 in payments funneled through his private law firm.

DiMasi’s age, the length of time he has served and his medical condition were cited in the court filing, submitted by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, as constituting the extraordinary and compelling reasons that warrant the reduction in sentence.

“He is a senior who has served 56 months (58%) of his 96-month term of imprisonment and is experiencing deteriorating physical health that substantially diminishes his ability to function in a correctional facility,” lawyers wrote, explaining that he had required a feeding tube for one year and continued to suffer from choking episodes and other symptoms.

DiMasi’s wife, Debbie, has publicly criticized federal prison officials, saying they took too long to diagnose his cancer. She has said that some of his suffering could have been avoided if prison doctors had examined him when he first reported suspicious swelling in his throat and neck. Instead, his cancer was not diagnosed until months later — April 2012 — giving the disease time to grow and spread, she contended.

DiMasi was convicted of conspiracy, extortion and theft of honest services by fraud and a bribery charge. The sentence was the longest ever given in Massachusetts for crimes in office by an elected official.

Former Statehouse lobbyist Richard McDonough also was convicted of conspiracy and fraud, and software salesman Joseph Lally pleaded guilty before the trial and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. A third defendant, businessman Richard Vitale, was acquitted.

During sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf credited DiMasi for working on behalf of the disadvantaged as a legislator and said his life story was, in many ways, typical of the American dream, noting that he was the son of Italian immigrants who worked hard to succeed and became the first Italian-American House Speaker in state history.

But Wolf added the dream had been “corrupted.”

DiMasi maintained his innocence throughout.

Defense attorneys argued the payments were legitimate and were not made in exchange for official actions by the lawmaker.

If granted release, he would live with his wife and son in Melrose, according to the court filing.

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