Ex-Speaker Corruption Lobbying

FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 file photo former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, center, is flanked by stepchildren Ashley, left, Christian, center top, and his wife Debbie, right, while speaking to members of the media as he arrives at Logan International Airport, in Boston. DiMasi, who served five years in prison on federal corruption charges, is appealing a decision that bars him from registering as a Beacon Hill lobbyist, Thursday, June 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

BOSTON (AP) — Former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi is appealing a decision that bars him from registering as a Beacon Hill lobbyist after being convicted of federal corruption charges.

The 73-year-old Democrat — who was granted compassionate release in 2016 after serving five years of an eight-year sentence — had applied to become a lobbyist.

The state Lobbyist Division, overseen by Democratic Secretary of State William Galvin, denied DiMasi's application in March, citing his federal conviction, which included extortion charges.

On Thursday, DiMasi and his lawyer, Meredith Fierro, appeared at a hearing in Boston to appeal the decision.

Fierro argued that a state law requiring the secretary of state's office to automatically disqualify the lobbyist registration of anyone convicted of a felony for violating the state's ethics and lobbying laws does not apply to DiMasi since DiMasi was convicted on federal charges.

"The section is very narrow," Fierro said at Thursday's hearing.

Marissa Soto-Ortiz, a lawyer representing the state Lobbyist Division, argued that DiMasi's violations require his automatic disqualification for 10 years from the date of his conviction — or at least until June 2021.

If that argument fails, Soto-Ortiz raised the possibility that the actions taken by DiMasi which resulted in his conviction were in effect a form of lobbying which required his registration as a lobbyist.

DiMasi was charged with using his clout as speaker to steer lucrative state contracts to a software company in exchange for $65,000 in payments funneled through DiMasi's outside law firm.

Since DiMasi, who was serving as House speaker at the time, was not registered as a lobbyist, Soto-Ortiz said the Lobbyist Division could block DiMasi from acting as a registered lobbyist for an additional three years from the end of the current proceedings.

DiMasi resigned in 2009 and was convicted in 2011.

Thursday's hearing was preliminary. It could take several more months before final arguments are made to the hearing officer, Peter Cassidy.

Any decision by Cassidy could be appealed to the courts.

While in prison, DiMasi was treated for tongue and prostate cancer.

In arguing for compassionate release, his lawyers and family members said that while his cancer was in remission, the illness had resulted in a narrowing of his esophagus that created a risk of choking and required he be constantly monitored while eating and drinking.

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