There's sad irony in the fact that the name of former House speaker Sal DiMasi is once again being used by those seeking to keep casinos out of Massachusetts.
As chief presiding officer of the House of Representatives, DiMasi's distaste for gambling was a major impediment to casino backers. Today, it's his conviction on charges of illegally securing state contracts for a Canadian software firm that's being cited by casino opponents as reason to reject a bill that would authorize three casinos and one racetrack slot parlor within the Bay State. The legislation, which has the support of current House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Therese Murray and Gov. Patrick, is scheduled for debate in the House next week.
According to the State House News Service, opponents of the casino bill "say the gambling industry — and its deep-pocketed patrons — are a minefield of potential corruption and graft opportunities." Those opponents cite a pending case in Alabama in which 11 people, including four legislators, are charged with conspiring to influence gambling legislation in exchange for money.
That's not a reason, in our view, to scuttle similar legislation here. But we believe it does reinforce U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz' request for a stiff sentence — certainly more than the three years suggested by defense counsel — when DiMasi is sentenced in U.S. District Court in Boston tomorrow.
It's important that the court send a message on behalf of all citizens of the commonwealth that the misuse of elective office for personal gain will not be tolerated.
DiMasi's lawyers, in arguing for a three-year sentence, claim that such a term would be consistent with the punishment in similar cases handled by the court. But the prosecution properly noted in its sentencing memorandum that "whatever apparent disparity may exist only serves to emphasize that previous sentences have not had the general deterrent effect in political corruption cases, which is a recognized goal of sentencing."
As for DiMasi's request that any jail term be put off until he has exhausted all avenues of appeal, the prosecution rightly observed that "to permit DiMasi to remain free while he pursues a meritless appeal ... would only slow the process of trying to repair the public disillusionment in government institutions exacerbated by DiMasi's corrupt conduct."
We trust those currently sitting in the state Senate and House of Representative have learned well the lessons conveyed by the downfall of their once powerful peers like DiMasi and state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson. But a sentence closer to the prosecution's request for immediate imprisonment and 151 months' incarceration would send a powerful message to those who might fall prey to the temptations of the casino industry and other well-funded special interests.