|FACING CHARGES Richard Vitale, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi's accontant and friend, was indicted on 10 counts by a state grand jury.|
DiMasi ally indicted in lobbying case
Vitale alleged to trade on his ties to speaker
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi's personal accountant and close friend, Richard Vitale, was indicted by a state grand jury yesterday in an investigation of allegations that he used his connections to repeatedly lobby DiMasi on behalf of Massachusetts ticket brokers without disclosing his activities.
The 10-count indictment brought by Attorney General Martha Coakley was the strongest public action to date in an influence-peddling controversy that has dogged DiMasi, whose associates are the subject of state and federal investigations over their roles in helping businesses to secure favors on Beacon Hill.
"Failure to comply with the lobbying laws can result in a corruption of the system," Coakley said yesterday as she announced the indictment during a Beacon Hill press conference. She said the investigation was ongoing and would not comment on other possible targets.
Vitale's lawyer, Martin Weinberg, described the charges as regulatory offenses and maintained that his client had done nothing wrong. Vitale "engaged in no classically criminal wrongdoing," Weinberg said.
DiMasi, in a statement issued by his office, did not comment on the indictment directly. He said that the ticket brokers legislation benefited consumers and that all his actions were in the best interests of his constituents and the state.
"I have addressed all of these issues repeatedly in the past," he said. "The House of Representatives has many important matters before us heading into the new session, and we cannot be distracted from the work ahead."
The investigation had its roots in a Globe report in April that described how Vitale, without registering as a lobbyist, pushed legislation in 2007 to gut antiscalping laws; the article also said Vitale had extended a $250,000 third mortgage to DiMasi on the speaker's North End condo at below-market interest rates.
The misdemeanor indictments handed down yesterday did not include any reference to the unusual mortgage, and Coakley said yesterday it was "beyond the scope of this investigation and the findings."
The narrative underlying the indictment directly contradicts DiMasi's previous statements that he was unaware of Vitale's work on behalf of the Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers.
In an April interview with the Globe, DiMasi strongly denied speaking with Vitale about the group's bill. "I had no idea that he was working for them or what his relationship was," DiMasi said. "He's never talked to me about any legislation at all."
But Coakley's office said Vitale had repeated contact about the ticket brokers' legislation with both DiMasi and a key lieutenant, House Speaker Pro Tempore Thomas M. Petrolati. Vitale was paid $60,000 by the ticket brokers association, while attempting to keep his work on their behalf secret, authorities said.
"Investigators found that Vitale arranged for and attended meetings with those representatives and a member of [the ticket brokers' group] and that Vitale also allegedly met privately with the representatives to discuss proposed legislation," said a statement Coakley's office issued with the indictment.
The investigators said Vitale "deliberately concealed his role in promoting legislation by arranging for meetings with the representatives in his accounting office and other private locations," the statement said. He also specifically instructed a member of the ticket broker's association not to disclose the role of Vitale's company, WN Advisors, Coakley said.
In another instance, Vitale forwarded e-mails from the ticket brokers to a personal e-mail address of DiMasi, according to Coakley. Investigators also allege that Vitale used a courier service to deliver printed copies of e-mails from the ticket brokers to Petrolati's office.
"On at least one occasion, Vitale delivered an e-mail which requested specific changes to the bill, which the House of Representatives made before passing the bill," the attorney general's office said. The statement did not disclose if that message was a printed or electronic e-mail, and Coakley refused in the press conference yesterday to say whether DiMasi or Petrolati had received it.
Vitale is to be arraigned on the charges Jan.5 in Suffolk Superior Court. Coakley began investigating the case after a referral by Secretary of State William F. Galvin, whose office regulates lobbyists.
The Globe reported Wednesday that US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan has convened a federal grand jury to investigate the state's awarding of a pair of multimillion-dollar contracts to
Vitale, 63, and WN Advisors, were indicted on 10 counts. The charges include failing to register as a lobbyist, as well as giving campaign contributions beyond the $200 limit for lobbyists. In addition, Vitale, who was paid the $60,000 through a $5,000-a-month retainer, was also accused of signing a contract that included an illegal success fee, a bonus that would have been paid if the legislation had been signed into law.
The bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate. If convicted, Vitale faces maximum penalties of $30,000 in fines for the lobbying violations, as well as up to two years in jail or additional fines of up to $2,000 for the campaign violations.
Vitale has declined all interview requests. Previously, through a spokesman, he had referred to himself as a "strategist" and not a lobbyist for the group. His lawyer, Weinberg, said yesterday that he did not register as a lobbyist for a different reason. He said state law requires people to register as lobbyists only if they work 50 hours or more in a sixth-month period and earn more than $5,000.
"His involvement did not meet those criteria," said Weinberg, who asserted Vitale did not work the requisite 50 hours. "He's entitled to follow the law, which I have continually represented he did."
The charges yesterday were the first time Petrolati has been publicly drawn into the expanding controversy. Coakley's statement portrays Petrolati as being among those most involved with the legislation. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Petrolati's alleged involvement also directly contradicts statements made by the speaker. In the April interview with the Globe, DiMasi said he doubted that Petrolati or any other member of his leadership team met with Vitale or the ticket brokers, led by Ace Ticket owner James Holzman, to discuss the bill.
"I doubt it. I'd be shocked if that happened," said DiMasi at the time.
In total, Vitale donated $2,000 to state elected officials over the past two years. Four of the donations exceeded the $200 limit, Coakley said. Vitale donated $500 to House Ways and Means chairman Robert A. DeLeo; $500 to Senate whip Joan M. Menard; $250 to Petrolati and $250 to Representative David M. Torrisi of North Andover.