Area Lawmakers Support Early Prison Release For DiMasi

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, fields a question during an interview at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Tuesday.
Written by Kaitlin Junod

By: Kaitlin Junod
Statehouse Correspondant / NH Gazette

Two area legislators are supporting a request for the early release of former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi from prison, citing a federal prosecutor’s request that the disgraced politician should be freed because of declining health.

“Sal DiMasi has been in prison for almost five years, poses no threat to society, and deserves compassionate release,” Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said in a statement Friday. “He is severely ill and should receive his medical care in a hospital, with his family by his side.” DiMasi was convicted in 2011 on charges of extortion, theft and bribery for taking $65,000 to steer millions of dollars in state contracts to Burlington software company Cognos. He had served as House speaker from 2004 until his resignation in 2009 when the charges against him surfaced. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

DiMasi, 71, was diagnosed with tongue and prostate cancer in April 2012. His wife, Deborah, has criticized prison officials, saying her husband’s condition was allowed to grow worse because it went untreated when he first reported swelling in his throat and neck in November 2011.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons and federal prosecutors filed a court notice Thursday under the Department of Justice’s compassionate release program that allows inmates over 65 who have completed at least half of their sentence to be released if they are suffering from “chronic or serious medical conditions” or experiencing “deteriorating mental or physical health that substantially diminishes their ability to function in a correctional facility.”

“In requesting his release, prosecutors have done the right thing,” Rosenberg said. “I hope very much their request will be granted.”

 State Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, also hopes the request is granted. “I’m very glad this is happening, and I wish it had happened sooner,” she said. “It would make much more sense for him to be closer to home than to be so far away in a federal prison.”

Story has co-sponsored a compassionate release bill in the Legislature that would allow a “conditional medical parole plan” for inmates in state prisons who are within three months of dying and “completely incapacitated.”

Bills for a compassionate release program have been in the Legislature for six years but have never been passed, according to Story. “It would be nice if it did change people’s minds and we could get the bill passed,” she said, adding that she is not optimistic.

“Legislators are scared of seeming soft on criminals,” she said.

Rosenberg had filed a letter to the Bureau of Prisons in December 2015 supporting compassionate release for DiMasi, asking that he be moved from a federal medical center in North Carolina to one in Devens, Massachusetts, where his family would have easier access to him.

“Mr. DiMasi should be allowed to fight this terrible disease, at home, with the support of his loved ones. It is the decent and humanitarian thing to do,” Rosenberg’s letter stated.

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