DiMasi allowed pension, for now

Can’t be revoked before sentencing

By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / June 30, 2011

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Former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi will be allowed to keep his nearly $5,000-a-month pension, at least for now, after a judge ruled yesterday that state officials could not immediately revoke it.

But prosecutors also filed a memorandum this week in which they argued that federal guidelines call for a sentence of about 12 to 15 years.

Massachusetts law allows the state Retirement Board to suspend payments to public officials convicted of “misappropriation of government funds.’’

But Suffolk Superior Court Justice Janet L. Sanders ruled that DiMasi’s conviction on seven federal counts of public corruption this month will not become final under that law until his sentencing, which is scheduled for Sept. 8.

It may take even longer.

DiMasi argues that his conviction will not be official until he exhausts all his appeals, a process that could take years. The ruling by Sanders yesterday did not answer that question, leaving it open to further court arguments and rulings.

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office, arguing on behalf of the Retirement Board’s chairman, state Treasurer Steven Grossman, said DiMasi’s pension should immediately be set aside in an escrow account while a court decides when it can be permanently revoked.

The state was concerned that it would be difficult to recover pension payments from DiMasi after the checks were issued.

Sanders acknowledged in her ruling yesterday that the pension board’s inability to set aside DiMasi’s pension payments “could be viewed by some as unfortunate [particularly in a case like this one].’’

But it is up to the Legislature, not the courts, to amend the law if they want to change the definition of a conviction, she wrote.

DiMasi’s lawyer, Thomas Kiley, said the pension skirmish has been a distraction from his primary focus, appealing DiMasi’s conviction.

Kiley filed a motion yesterday for a postverdict acquittal or at least a new trial, saying certain testimony and evidence should not have been admitted.

He said he was pleased with Sanders’ swift ruling on the pension matter.

“It accords with the position we took,’’ he said. “It accords with the law.’’

In statements yesterday, Coakley and Grossman said they were fighting to protect taxpayers.

“We are disappointed with this ruling, but also respect the judge’s decision,’’ Coakley said.

Grossman’s office issued a statement from him, saying, “I continue to believe it’s appropriate to act responsibly to prevent individuals from collecting a pension once they’ve been convicted of crimes related to their office.’’

Noah Bierman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.