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DiMasi moves, Beacon Hill quakes

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Last month, the Globe reported that federal prosecutors had “essentially completed their investigation” into rigged hiring at the state’s Probation Department, saying indictments “could be imminent.” Soon after, the Lowell Sun sized up the likely State House targets -- two sitting state reps, two sitting senators, and one former legislator. The indictments have yet to materialize, but this morning, the Globe and the Herald both run with a bombshell update: Both papers say former House Speaker Sal DiMasi is on his way to Worcester, to testify before the Probation grand jury.

The former House Speaker was convicted last year of taking kickbacks in a software bid rigging scheme, and sentenced to eight years in prison. A request to serve his time at the federal medical facility at Devens was rejected, and instead, the Bureau of Prisons assigned DiMasi to a prison in Kentucky. But yesterday, the BOP’s inmate locator listed DiMasi as being in transit. DiMasi checked into a Brooklyn correctional facility last night. The BOP website updates nightly, but CommonWealth confirmed that DiMasi remained in Brooklyn earlier this morning.

The Herald cites “sources” saying DiMasi is returning to Massachusetts to cooperate with the Probation grand jury, which is hearing testimony in Worcester. The Globe cites “a person with direct knowledge of the arrangement” in reporting that DiMasi is heading to Worcester; the paper doesn’t confirm that DiMasi will testify in the grand jury looking into Probation, but notes that Worcester is where the Probation grand jury is sitting. It’s also worth noting that DiMasi’s pending criminal appeal does not appear on this week’s appeals court calendar.

DiMasi’s return marks a dramatic turn for a criminal investigation that has already shaken Beacon Hill. Even before DiMasi’s reported involvement, the investigation was threatening to blow apart Beacon Hill’s power structure.

Probation officials kept detailed records of candidates for patronage jobs that legislators sent their way. Paul Ware, the independent counsel who looked into rigged hiring for the Supreme Judicial Court, said lawmakers essentially traded preferential budget treatment for patronage jobs, and called the arrangement “a pervasive fraud against the Commonwealth.”

Ware’s report named several prominent legislators, including Sens. Mark Montigny, Stephen Brewer, Marc Pacheco, Steven Baddour, Senate President Therese Murray, and Murray’s predecessor, Robert Travaglini, as well as Reps. Eugene O’Flaherty, John Rogers, current House Speaker Robert DeLeo, former House Speaker Thomas Finneran, and Rep. Thomas Petrolati, a former enforcer for both DiMasi and DeLeo. Petrolati and Finneran both invoked their Fifth Amendment rights when called before Ware; CommonWealth previously reported that Finneran and Petrolati’s wife, a Probation employee, had been called to Worcester to testify.

DiMasi figures prominently in Ware’s report. He was one of the most prolific sponsors for patronage jobs at Probation, and was also one of the largest beneficiaries of campaign donations from Probation employees. Probation officials maintained a separate spreadsheet to track job requests from DiMasi.

In today’s Herald, DeLeo’s attorney emphatically denies that his client is a target of the investigation. The speaker has previously admitted to being worried that indictments could “cast a pall” over the State House. That worry now appears to be spreading throughout the building.

“People are in a state of shock that he’s coming back to testify,’’ one Beacon Hill lobbyist tells the Globe today. “There are a lot of nervous people around.’’

                                                                                                                                                            --PAUL MCMORROW

BEACON HILL

Lowell Richards, a major behind-the-scenes force in the Massachusetts public sector for decades, has died at age 64.

Rep. Paul McMurtry floats a plan to tag gang members’ licenses with the letter “G,” then backpedals in the face of a full Herald treatment.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Methuen city councilors criticize the $184,000 salary of the head of the Methuen and Ayer housing authorities, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A Middleborough couple is seeking a permit to open a kennel to breed a line of dogs that dates back to the Roman times but was nearly extinct 30 years ago.

Worcester ranks as the second happiest US city to work in, second only to Miami. The reasons: People like their co-workers, their bosses, and their daily activities. The unhappiest toil in New Haven.

Lunenburg wants tighter controls over where solar energy projects go.

Cambridge still hasn’t picked a mayor. Good thing it has a city manager who actually runs things.

GAMBLING

Competition for the single slot machine parlor authorized in the state’s gambling legislation means it’s back on between longtime rivals George Carney and Gary Piontkowski -- not that it was ever really off.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Catholic leaders, including Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, say they may stop offering health insurance to employees rather than pay for coverage that covers contraception, sterilization, and abortion medications, WBUR reports.

Scott Winship, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues that Mitt Romney has it all wrong: We worry too much about the middle class, while the poor are far more deserving of our sympathy -- and policy attention.

Writing in Time, conservative scholar Charles Murray says the 1 percent isn’t the problem. It’s the new upper class, he says.

The Washington Post investigates public monies that have gone to projects near lawmakers’ homes.

Eliot Spitzer is talking morality on Slate. It’s about the moral imperative of raising the capital gains tax, but still, haha.

ELECTION 2012

Conservatives are up in arms over Chrysler’s Super Bowl “Halftime in America” ad featuring Clint Eastwood, claiming the commercial was thinly-veiled payback to President Obama for the automaker’s bailout. Most ignore that Eastwood, a one-time mayor of Carmel, California, has been a reliable Republican. Also giving Republicans angst: Affordable designer-label Obama reelection gear.

For what it’s worth in early February, President Obama has opened up a 6 point lead nationally over Mitt Romney in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The Obama campaign rethinks its stance against outside money and super PACs, in the face of strong fundraising reports by Karl Rove, Romney surrogates, and others; the president said in 2008 he didn’t want outside groups getting involved in his campaign.

It’s Rick Santorum’s turn to meet the new, aggressive Mitt Romney.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The state Appeals Court upheld a ruling dismissing a suit by a Raynham man who claimed his tooth was chipped by a hard object in a double cheeseburger he bought at a McDonald’s drive-thru.

Caesars Entertainment, a gambling firm involved in a proposed Suffolk Downs casino, isn’t wowing investors as it returns to the public markets, the Wall Street Journal reports. SEC filings show Ceasars carrying a $22.5 billion debt load.

Anybody wanna buy some economy-ruining subprime mortgage bonds? Anybody?

EDUCATION

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with students in Boston at a town hall-style meeting to discuss the skyrocketing cost of college education and what can and is being done about it.

UMass is boosting its financial aid pool by $25 million.

Seton Academy for Girls, the only all-girls school in Fall River, will open its doors to boys beginning in the fall.

The staff of an entire Los Angeles school is replaced after two teachers are accused of lewd acts against students, the Los Angeles Times reports.

TRANSPORTATION

In a Cambridge Chronicle op-ed, state Rep. Alice Wolf calls for an end to financing the MBTA with “magical thinking.”

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

An environmental coalition has retained a Boston law firm to look into alleged mismanagement of an estuaries project run by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, which the coalition says has failed to issue numerous mandated reports in six years despite receiving $5 million in funding..

Power plants in eastern Massachusetts are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, according to the most recent data compiled by the EPA, with the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset the top contributor, followed by the Mystic plant in Charlestown and the Fore River plant in Quincy. Via Patriot Ledger.

Environmentalist Bill McKibben discusses political activism on Radio Boston.

Time reports on a new book that questions whether energy efficiency is doing what we think it’s doing.

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