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The Download: Chuck 'n' Sal

Posted in: Massachusetts Legislature   Ethics   Crime and safety   Current Affairs
Tags: The Download

Today, former Boston city councilor Chuck Turner learns whether he’ll be going to jail for taking a $1,000 bribe, and then mouthing off to the prosecutors trying to punish him for that act. If there’s one person who should be perspiring more heavily than Turner today, it’s former House speaker Sal DiMasi.

The US attorney’s office has made no secret of its desire to make an example out of Turner, the same way it did a few weeks ago, when Judge Douglas Woodlock sent former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson away for more than three years. The feds have already turned up the heat on Turner, alleging he repeatedly lied while testifying at his trial – including when he told the court, “I’m here to tell the truth.”

It’s heavy-handed stuff, meant to send a clear message that the feds are serious about prosecuting political corruption, and the days when a Boston politician could lie while under oath and skate with no jail time are over.

At Wilkerson’s sentencing hearing, prosecutor John McNeil decried the “corrosiveness of public corruption.” McNeil asked Woodlock to hand Wilkerson a sentence that “affects the way politics is practiced in this state for years to come,” and that would “ring in the ears of every elected official on Beacon Hill.”

Woodlock appeared to agree, noting, “The Gordian knot around bribery and political corruption in this state has yet to be cut.”

McNeil also prosecuted former House speaker Thomas Finneran. He has said he regrets cutting Finneran loose without jail time. By seeking more than three years of jail time for Turner, a fire-breathing first-time felon who took a scant $1,000 from an FBI witness, the feds are sending a message that no politician’s dirt is too small to overlook.

That’s where DiMasi comes in. Beyond Turner’s faulty memory defense, his biggest weapon against his prosecution is a racial one. He has repeatedly alleged that the FBI targeted Wilkerson and him because of their race – both are black. Just last week, Turner’s attorney alleged  that his client had been selectively pursued by a racist FBI. Wilkerson also slammed prosecutors for ignoring several other potential targets, and focusing on Turner and herself.

The US attorney’s office is unlikely to back down because Wilkerson and Turner are raising race as an issue. Instead, it’s likely to try to prove its color-blind pursuit of justice by hitting DiMasi, the white former speaker, even harder than Wilkerson or Turner.

DiMasi is the third straight House speaker to fall to a federal felony indictment. He was indicted in 2009 on charges he steered software contracts to an associate’s firm, and in exchange, received tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks. Court documents appear to indicate prosecutors look at the DiMasi case especially seriously because he allegedly used his perch atop the House to enrich himself and a small circle of associates.

McNeil, who is not prosecuting the DiMasi case, has already publicly linked the former speaker’s case to Wilkerson’s and Turner’s. At a hearing earlier this month, he decried DiMasi and Finneran’s recent appearance in the House chamber, as well as the way current House members “welcomed [them] as heroes.”

Turner gets sentenced today. DiMasi’s lawyers will be in court tomorrow morning, trying to get some portions of the ex-speaker’s indictment thrown out. Prosecutors have given every indication they’ll be unsparing on both occasions.

                                                                                                                                                                        --PAUL MCMORROW

BEACON HILL

There’s a new special sheriff in town: “Greater Bostontakes a look at how former state representative and failed congressional candidate Jeff Perry, whose problems during an earlier policing career were well-aired during last year’s run for Congress, landed a $110,000 job with the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department. Perry appears on NECN to defend the appointment. Jim Braude, also on NECN, says too many pols on Beacon Hill know there’s a warm job or a hot handshake for politicians in need of a favor. The Herald’s Margery Eagan is also no fan of Perry’s soft landing. Meanwhile, The Outraged Liberal is beside him/herself that GOP head Jennifer Nassour, who hammers Democrats for every real or perceived foray into cronyism, is missing in action on the Perry deal.

Globe editorial says last week's pension reform plan announced by Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo doesn't go far enough.

Tim Cahill’s lawyer says the former treasurer isn’t the target of the SEC investigation of Neil Morrison, a Goldman Sachs bond banker and former Cahill campaign advisor. Goldman recently fired Morrison for his involvement with the Cahill campaign.

Public defenders doubt Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to replace private with salaried attorneys, the Salem News reports.

David Guarino, of MSL Boston, says the State House Twitter ban is a mistake and will have little impact.

PROBATION AND PAROLE

Newly installed Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland pens an op-ed in the Globe arguing that the Probation Department should be kept in the judicial branch. CommonWealth reported yesterday afternoon on a letter Ireland sent to state leaders laying out his position.

Lawmakers unveil plans to toughen parole parameters.

HEALTH CARE

In a blockbuster development, Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care announced that they are in merger talks. A joining of the state's No. 2 and No. 3 health insurers would create a formidable competitor to insurance behemoth Blue Cross Blue Shield. WBUR’s Martha Bebinger explains the impact of a merger.

Globe business columnist Steven Syre writes that radiology testing, which has been a main driver of health care cost increases, appears to have decreased last year in Massachusetts. Unclear, he says, is how much it is due to controls providers and payers have put on diagnostic imaging or to the generally sluggish economy. CommonWealth's Jack Sullivan wrote about the explosion in imaging costs in this cover story last summer.

The Weekly Standard says “death panels” are indeed a real result of government-run health care, pointing to Arizona where budget cuts eliminated organ transplants for Medicaid recipients. The fact that it was a Republican legislature and governor that approved the cut seems to be immaterial.

TRANSPORTATION

While many commuters were unhappy with the MBTA and commuter rail performance yesterday, one of the coldest days in years, with trains running late or not appearing and few Internet updates, T General Manager Rich Davey tells Keller@Large he has hope, but no guarantees, the problems are fixed. Cold comfort, indeed.

Another reason to like cities: A study by the Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety shows that urban roads are safer than rural ones with Washington, DC, and heavily urbanized Massachusetts having the lowest number of traffic fatalities in the country.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Vertex Pharmaceuticals is leaving Cambridge for the South Boston waterfront, more than two years after the firm’s move to cross the Charles fell apart. The lease is contingent upon FDA approval of Vertex’s new Hepatitis C drug. The move is a big coup for Mayor Tom Menino's effort to remake the South Boston waterfront as an innovation district.

Salisbury’s former police chief allegedly traded money and drugs for sex with known criminals, according to a report released at a town selectmen’s meeting last night.

Salem is exploring bringing in a private company to manage Olde Salem Greens, the city’s nine-hole golf course. The city doesn’t know if it’s currently making or losing money on the course, according to the Salem News. Boston has a similar problem with its two golf courses. As CommonWealth has reported, a nonprofit arm of the city says it makes money running the George Wright and William J. Devine golf courses, but its tax filings indicate the city has lost money on the courses the last two years in a row.

A new General Dynamics contract will bring about 500 engineering and manufacturing jobs to Pittsfield.

Lynn City Council President Timothy Phelan, who has made no secret of his desire to run for mayor, has nearly twice as much money in his campaign account as Mayor Judith Flanagan, the Item reports.

A Springfield Republican editorial praises the state program that allows Chicopee seniors to do volunteer work for the city to "pay" off property tax bills.

LITIGATION

The estate of Rebecca Riley, a 4-year-old Hull girl whose 2006 death from an overdose of Clonidine sparked a national debate on medicating children, settled a suit against the girl’s psychiatrist for $2.5 million. The money will go into a trust for her older brother and sister but because her parents were convicted of murder in her death, they will not receive anything.

WASHINGTON

Sen. John Kerry sits down with WBUR to talk about the challenges ahead with a divided Congress.

The president’s big challenge tonight: Pitching infrastructure projects without having them pilloried as pork.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor pops the state bankruptcy trial balloon, saying, “There will not be a federal bailout of the states.”

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

Falmouth residents grow impatient with town officials as a meeting to deal with problems posed by a town wind turbine is postponed again.

Boston is downright tropical: The Christian Science Monitor spotlights the five coldest places on Earth.

Carol Browner, the White House’s climate change policy director, is leaving after a congressional session in which Democrats failed to advance her ambitious environmental agenda.

EDUCATION

UMass Lowell is planning to buy the former St. Joseph’s Hospital complex for nearly $50 million, the Lowell Sun reports.

Newton  school district officials mull a $6.5 million budget gap.

Hedge funds with big bets against the stocks of for-profit schools are lobbying for new restrictions on the institutions.

CHARITIES

A survey by the Chronicle of Philanthropy finds 62 percent of charities that responded had an increase in contributions during the holiday season over the previous year, giving hope 2011 could see a rebound in overall giving.

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