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Ethics panel files motion to force his compliance

House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi (left) stood with Governor Deval Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray in March. (Suzanne Kreiter/ Globe Staff)

By Andrea Estes and Stephen Kurkjian

Globe Staff And Globe Correspondent / November 3, 2008

House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi is refusing to comply with a demand for records from the state Ethics Commission in its conflict-of-interest investigation, leading to a secretive legal showdown that has yet to be resolved, according to officials familiar with the matter.

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After DiMasi rebuffed the Ethics Commission and refused to furnish requested documents, lawyers representing the panel filed a motion on Oct. 21 in Suffolk Superior Court to force him to comply, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The motion, which is pending before Judge Geraldine Hines, was filed under DiMasi's name but was later changed to John Doe, a court official said. Specifically what records the commission's investigators are seeking from DiMasi and his reasons for not complying could not be learned. All of the court documents have been shielded from public view by court orders.
DiMasi spokesman David Guarino declined to comment on the speaker's refusal to cooperate, saying, "The law is very clear: Anything that may or may not be before the Ethics Commission is confidential and there are penalties for anyone who violates that, so we have no comment."
As DiMasi was spurning the ethics panel, his personal accountant, Richard Vitale, unsuccessfully attempted to quash a state grand jury subpoena last week for e-mail records, according to another court official briefed on the matter. The rejection of his motion by a Suffolk Superior Court judge means he will be required to comply with the subpoena and produce the e-mails. Those court proceedings also are not public because of grand jury secrecy rules.
The dual investigations - the Ethics Commission and state Attorney General Martha Coakley's grand jury - are attempting to detail variations on a similar theme: the circumstances of payments made to a close cadre of DiMasi friends from entities seeking to win state contracts or influence legislation on Beacon Hill.
The private legal maneuvering continued last week even as Beacon Hill was publicly rocked by separate allegations in the Legislature, with the arrest of state Senator Dianne Wilkerson on federal bribery charges.
This is not the first time DiMasi has tried to fend off an Ethics Commission inquiry. In 1994, when he was House chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he won a Supreme Judicial Court case in which he challenged the legality of the commission's demand for his records relating to $700 worth of meals, golfing, and entertainment he had accepted from a lobbyist over the two previous years.
This time around, the political stakes are much higher for DiMasi, who is the highest-ranking member of the House and one of the most powerful elected officials in state government. The demand for records from the Ethics Commission came in the form of a summons, which has the same legal effect as a subpoena. If he loses his challenge of the summons, and still refuses to comply, he could be held in contempt of court, according to state law.
"It would be a cause for concern," said House minority leader Brad Jones, of North Reading, when asked to comment on DiMasi's refusal to cooperate.
One DiMasi backer expressed similar sentiments, but insisted on anonymity because the representative remains a loyal DiMasi ally.
"I do believe it will raise questions among the members about why he isn't cooperating," the representative said.
The Ethics Commission is looking into multimillion-dollar state contracts awarded to a software company, Cognos ULC, in 2006 and 2007. Cognos and an independent sales agent paid some of DiMasi's friends and business associates more than $2 million while the software firm was pressing for lucrative state business. DiMasi had been actively pushing other state officials for the exact kind of performance management software that Cognos produces.
One of those friends was Vitale, who was given payments totaling $600,000 by the Cognos sales agent - in two lump sums after Cognos won state contracts. As he was working for Cognos, Vitale had extended DiMasi a highly unusual $250,000 revolving line of credit, secured by a third mortgage on DiMasi's North End condominium. After the Globe reported the existence of the loan in May, DiMasi paid it back, Vitale was dismissed from the Charlestown accounting firm that bore his name, and the Ethics Commission launched its probe.
Vitale is also a central figure in the grand jury investigation headed by the attorney general, officials have previously told the Globe. That inquiry has begun by reviewing Vitale's work on behalf of an association of ticket brokers pushing to gut antiscalping laws on Beacon Hill. Vitale was secretly paid $60,000 by the association a year after Vitale was extending DiMasi the loan.
The scalping measure easily passed the House, though it was bottled up in the Senate.
Vitale's lawyer, Martin Weinberg, filed a motion in Suffolk Superior Court to quash a subpoena that asked for all of Vitale's business e-mail records, according to a court official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The sealed motion went before Judge Carol Ball, who recused herself because she lives in DiMasi's North End district, a court source said. It was shipped to Judge Charles Spurlock, who initially took the request under advisement, then ruled in favor of the attorney general on Friday, the court official said.
Weinberg refused to discuss the case, but issued the following statement: "Innocent people get investigated by law enforcement. Richard Vitale violated no laws. He is a successful businessman, consultant, and professional with a wide range of prominent clients. Any payments he has ever received from any client were received in full conformity with all ethical, regulatory and legal standards."
Richard Nicolazzo, a spokesman for the accounting firm Vitale Caturano, where Vitale worked before he was forced to resign this year amid the ticket-broker controversy, said the company is cooperating with investigators but declined to say what documents, if any, had been provided
In addition, two State Police officers visited the company's Charlestown headquarters last week in search of tapes from the security cameras in the building's underground garage, according to an executive familiar with the company. But the troopers left empty-handed after being told the cameras had been installed earlier this year and the tapes were maintained for only short periods of time before being reused, the executive said.
The Globe previously reported that the Ethics Commission and Coakley's office are two of the five agencies looking into the money that some of DiMasi's friends and business associates received from groups with business interests on Beacon Hill. The FBI has also made initial inquiries, according to state and federal sources. And Secretary of State William F. Galvin has been investigating whether Vitale and two other friends of DiMasi's received lobbying fees without reporting them, as required by state law.
Inspector General Gregory Sullivan has been investigating the circumstances surrounding the awarding of two major Cognos contracts - a $4.5 million contract with the education department in 2006 and a $13 million technology contract with the state's Executive Office for Administration & Finance. The latter contract was revoked after a scathing inspector general report, and the money was returned to the state.
DiMasi has denied steering any contracts to Cognos, and said he didn't know his friends were receiving any payments.
Though the contracts were awarded by executive agencies, they required special funding from the Legislature. Former Cognos employees and state officials have said that Joseph Lally, a former company vice president turned independent sales broker, bragged that he was friends with DiMasi and could have money added to the budget for the software.
Vitale and Lally were not the only ones who benefited from the Cognos deals. Steven J. Topazio, a criminal defense lawyer who shares office space with DiMasi, received a $5,000-a-month retainer from Cognos for two years. Topazio has not responded to requests for comments. And lobbyist Richard McDonough, a longtime DiMasi associate and Cognos's lobbyist, received $1.45 million from Cognos and Lally, $1.1 million of which he failed to report to state regulators, according to the Inspector General. McDonough has denied violating any lobbying laws.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/11/03/dimasi_refuses_to_provide_records/
 
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