By: Shraddha Gupta
Statehouse Correspondent/The Sun Chronicle
BOSTON — The bid for early release of former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi from federal prison was put on hold Monday after a federal judge overseeing the case requested more information from prosecutors who have requested DiMasi receive a “compassionate release” because of his health.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf, in an order issued Monday, expressed concern that early release of DiMasi, 71, could be seen as a case of prosecutors favoring a once-powerful political figure.
“This question is important to whether a reduction of sentence would reasonably be viewed as a form of unwarranted disparity based on power or privilege, which would injure respect for the law, a relevant factor the court is required to consider,” Wolf wrote in his eight-page order.
DiMasi was assessed an eight-year prison sentence in 2011 after he was convicted of political corruption, including extortion, theft and bribery. He has served almost five years of that sentence, and is incarcerated at Federal Medical Center, Butner, a federal prison in North Carolina.
Prosecutors have filed a motion citing DiMasi’s Stage 4 throat and prostate cancer in a request that would allow him to return to his family and get treatment in Massachusetts.
Local legislators have jointed with top state officials in support of early release, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Attorney General Maura Healey.
“I have compassion for him as he is dying. He will be able to die at home with his family,” said Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro.
“If it were not for his medical condition, I would hope that the former speaker would serve the full term in federal prison as he deserves,” said Rep. Paul Heroux, D-Attleboro. “However unsavory, unethical and awful his crimes were, I do support medical release for some terminally ill inmates.”
However, Heroux also said compassion might not be the only factor in seeking early release of DiMasi, noting there is a strong argument to release some terminally ill prisoners so that the taxpayers are not paying the exorbitant costs of end of life care.
State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, raised questions similar to the judge’s.
“While I sympathize with his family, I worry that early release might send the wrong message. In this day and age, when the public sees many politicians as above the law, I worry that this will add to the prevalent mistrust in our government,” he said. “We should be held to a higher standard. With great trust comes great responsibility, and he violated that trust.”
In his order, Wolf cited a 2012 report from Human Rights Watch that found that between 1992 and 2012, the Bureau of Prisons on average filed fewer than 24 compassionate release motions each year.
Wolf asked prosecutors and the Bureau of Prisons to provide him the total number of people “similarly situated to” DiMasi who have also been recommended for early release because of concerns over their health or age.
The next hearing is scheduled Nov. 1 in U.S. District Court in Boston.