BOSTON—A close associate of former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi pleaded guilty Friday to state lobbying and campaign finance violations but maintained that he did not intentionally break the law.
Richard Vitale, who in June was acquitted in an unrelated federal corruption case involving DiMasi, is accused of failing to register as a lobbyist for ticket brokers trying to change the state's anti-scalping laws, and of making campaign contributions to legislators that exceeded the $200 limit for lobbyists. Prosecutors also said Vitale negotiated an illegal "contingency" fee to be paid by the brokers if the legislation they were seeking was passed.
Vitale pleaded guilty to seven misdemeanor charges in Suffolk Superior Court. His consulting firm, WN Advisors, also pleaded guilty to three lobbying violations.
Vitale, 66, will not serve any jail time but was fined the maximum $32,000 and given two years' probation by Judge Carol Ball. The sentence also prohibits him from lobbying for the next three years. A separate agreement with prosecutors requires him to give up the $60,000 he received from the Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers in 2007 and 2008.
Under the so-called Alford doctrine, Vitale did not contest the charges against him, but insisted that he did not deliberately break the law. He has argued that he was hired as a consultant by the brokers group, not as a lobbyist, and defense attorney Martin Weinberg said his client believed that he was exempt from the registration requirement under state law at the time.
"He wishes the law was clearer. He wishes he got better advice," said Weinberg. "He wishes he had registered."
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Rainer asked Ball not to accept the Alford plea because Vitale had not acknowledged intent.
Ball said she rarely accepts such pleas, but was willing to do so in this case because she believed a trial would produce the same outcome.
A trial, Ball said, would be "a waste of precious, precious court resources, for no good reason."
The three lobbying violations did not carry any potential prison time, though the law has since been toughened. The four campaign finance violations each carried a maximum of 6 months, but prison time would have been unlikely as Vitale was a first-time offender.
Vitale was DiMasi's accountant and longtime friend. Prosecutors alleged he was paid by the brokers to use his connections with DiMasi to help shepherd through the Legislature a bill to allow brokers to add higher surcharges to tickets for sporting events and other entertainment. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate.
Prosecutors said Vitale's actions undermined the integrity of the legislative process. They cited e-mails between Vitale and the head of the brokers group in which Vitale would refer to DiMasi only as "him." The e-mails also cited meetings and other contact with state Rep. Thomas Petrolati, D-Ludlow, then a top DiMasi lieutenant.
No charges were brought against any lawmakers.
Vitale wrote checks for campaign contributions exceeding the $200 limit for lobbyists to several lawmakers including Petrolati and Robert DeLeo, who later succeeded DiMasi as speaker, according to Rainer. Those amounts would have been legal had Vitale not been a lobbyist.
In the federal corruption case, Vitale was accused along with DiMasi and McDonough of scheming to steer two state contracts worth a combined $17.5 million to the software firm
After a six-week trial, a jury convicted DiMasi and lobbyist Richard McDonough of conspiracy and other charges, but acquitted Vitale on all counts.
DiMasi and McDonough, who are appealing their convictions, are scheduled to begin prison sentences next month of 8 years and 7 years, respectively.
Weinberg said Vitale was relieved to put his legal travails behind him.
"He is happy to have finality. He is happy to have resolved both federal and state charges. He is anxious to get on with the rest of his life," Weinberg said after the hearing.
At the outset of the hearing, Ball explained her decision not to recuse herself from the case despite having had a friendship with DiMasi and contributing to his political campaigns before she became a judge in 1996. Ball said that DiMasi was not a party to the case and that she had never before met Vitale.
Ball also pointed out that she has had a warm relationship over the years with Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office brought the case.