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Jury in DiMasi corruption case takes shape

Trial expected to last 6 weeks

SECRET PAYMENTS ALLEGED Salvatore F. DiMasi and two codefendants are charged with conspiracy, honest services fraud, and mail and wire fraud. SECRET PAYMENTS ALLEGED
Salvatore F. DiMasi and two codefendants are charged with conspiracy, honest services fraud, and mail and wire fraud.
By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / May 4, 2011

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The jurors include a Staples copier, a young man whose mother told him he was about to be selected for a big case, and the director of recruitment at a local hospital.

One of the jurors in the corruption trial of former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi told the judge she could remain impartial, “knowing I don’t know anything about politics, knowing I don’t know anything about lobbyists.’’

Another, an engineer, said he had only scanned headlines when DiMasi was first indicted nearly two years ago. He knew DiMasi is the third consecutive House speaker to resign under scandal. But he told US District Court Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf that he could remain fair and impartial.

“I think I’m a reasonable person,’’ he told the judge during jury selection over the last several days.

They are the jurors, eight men and eight women, empaneled yesterday in one of the highest-profile political corruption trials. Four of those jurors will serve as alternates.

DiMasi and codefendants Richard Vitale and Richard McDonough are charged with conspiracy, honest services fraud, and mail and wire fraud in allegedly steering $17.5 million in state contracts to computer software company Cognos in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret payments. They have said that any payments they received were legal.

A fourth defendant, Joseph P. Lally Jr., agreed two months ago to plead guilty and cooperate with authorities in exchange for a sharply reduced jail sentence.

Lally was the salesman who sold the state the two contracts with Cognos and allegedly paid the defendants hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret payments. Defense lawyers plan to portray him as a desperate man, in debt and willing to do anything to save himself and his finances, including testifying in the case.

The trial is expected to last more than six weeks.

The jurors, who have not been identified by name, were selected yesterday from a pool of 250 after a thorough examination over the last several days of their suitability to remain impartial by Wolf, prosecutors, and defense lawyers in the case.

But it did not come easy. The examination included a review of a 43-question survey that jurors filled out asking them about their knowledge of the case and their opinion on it. Based on those responses, Wolf immediately dismissed 87 potential jurors.

Others were dismissed during live questioning because of their opinions about politics or their connection to the case. Just yesterday, days after Wolf had declared a juror suitable, she was excluded after she told the judge she realized her family was close with family members of DiMasi’s wife, Debbie.

“We grew up with them,’’ the prospective juror said.

Wolf told jurors to return to the courthouse tomorrow to hear opening statements, which will be made by a prosecutor and lawyers for each of the three defendants. Witness testimony could begin Friday.

Today, the judge plans to finalize rules of the trial, such as what exhibits can be introduced, and settle last-minute requests by lawyers in the case.

Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.