DiMasi adviser trades testimony for immunity

Strikes deal to cooperate in federal corruption probe

By Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / April 1, 2009
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A longtime aide and political operative who served as chief counsel in Salvatore F. DiMasi's State House office is cooperating under a grant of immunity with federal authorities investigating the former House speaker and several friends and associates, according to two people briefed on the development.

The immunity agreement means that the aide, lawyer Daniel Toscano, must answer questions, without fear of prosecution, before a grand jury about what he knew of alleged efforts by Richard Vitale, lobbyist Richard McDonough, and others to advance their business interests with the help of the speaker's office.

Toscano's cooperation was confirmed by one current and one former state official; both insisted on anonymity because federal grand jury proceedings are secret.

Precisely what Toscano knows about the controversies swirling around the former speaker is unclear. But his involvement in meetings over ticket-broker legislation was cited in court documents related to a state grand jury indictment against Vitale, DiMasi's close friend and former accountant, who is accused of secretly lobbying the speaker on behalf of the brokers.

Toscano did not return phone calls seeking comment, nor did his lawyer, Robert Griffith. DiMasi's lawyer, Thomas Kiley, declined comment for this report.

Toscano, who worked for DiMasi for 15 years, was one of the speaker's closest advisers, a problem-solver and troubleshooter whom other lawmakers would call when they needed political help from the speaker's office.

He doled out House staff positions and pay raises; he moved legislation up on the House schedule; and he helped secure state jobs for DiMasi's constituents, according to interviews with several lawmakers who requested anonymity because they did not want to appear disloyal to DiMasi.

Toscano also worked for DiMasi in his North End district and even helped organize the annual Columbus Day parade. A skilled golfer, he played frequently with DiMasi or in the speaker's place at charity golf tournaments, one lawmaker said.

As much as anyone on DiMasi's staff, Toscano would know about the office's inner workings and its contacts with DiMasi's associates, lobbyists, and other state officials, several lawmakers and aides said.

"He was involved with everything Sal was doing," one legislator said. "My operating assumption is he knew everything that was going on."

Toscano's name has publicly surfaced in the parallel state investigation of Vitale, who has been indicted by Attorney General Martha Coakley on a charge of working behind the scenes with DiMasi and other lawmakers on behalf of the Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers. The brokers were pushing industry legislation in 2006 and 2007, some of which passed the House with DiMasi's blessing but failed in the Senate.

According to documents prosecutors filed in state court, Toscano was the intermediary between Vitale and DiMasi's office as Vitale pressed the ticket brokers' agenda.

He first met with the ticket brokers at Vitale's accounting firm in Charlestown on June 22, 2006, according to the documents. That was the same day that DiMasi and his wife were at Vitale's office to sign papers for a $250,000 third mortgage Vitale gave them on their North End condo, the court documents said.

Toscano also e-mailed Vitale information about ticket resale legislation, sending a spreadsheet of bills that were pending at the time, according to the court records.

And Toscano met with House Speaker Pro Tempore Thomas Petrolati and James Holzman, head of the ticket brokers group, said someone who saw the three meeting in Petrolati's office.

According to a state official, Toscano interceded on behalf of Vitale at least one other time. In 2005, the official said, Toscano called Michael Travaglini, head of the state's Pension Reserves Investment Management Board, and asked Travaglini to meet with Vitale.

The topic, according to the official, was opportunities to invest state pension funds.

Travaglini asked Toscano to have Vitale visit him at the PRIM board office, but Toscano insisted that Travaglini go to Vitale's Charlestown accounting office, the official said. The men discussed how the pension board chooses asset managers. But nothing came of the meeting, said the official.

Federal authorities have been investigating two multimillion-dollar contracts awarded by the state to Cognos, a Burlington software company, in 2006 and 2007. Funding for both contracts, worth $17.5 million, came from the Legislature, and DiMasi expressed interest in the state's purchasing such software.

The Globe reported last year that close friends and allies of DiMasi's - including Vitale, McDonough, and a lawyer who shared an office with him, Steven Topazio - received undisclosed payments from the company or its sales agent, Joseph Lally.

Of DiMasi's staff, only the name of his chief of staff, Maryann Calia, has surfaced in connection with the Cognos contracts, a $13 million technology contract awarded in 2007 and a $4.5 million education contract given out the previous year. Calia worked with the state's Information Technology Division as it moved forward with the $13 million contract for "performance management" software, according to several e-mails obtained by the Globe.

Last week the Globe reported that federal investigators are also reviewing a $1.4 million contract awarded in 2006 to manage the state's Transportation Building. The contract was awarded to a company Vitale and two partners formed just a few months before the selection.

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