Read New Evidence of Horrid Prosecution, Prisoner Policies

Salvatore F. DiMasi

The story of how authorities denied a white-collar Boston convict medical care that might have detected the man's Stage IV cancer is one of several horrific news columns in recent days about our prosecution and prisoner system.

Salvatore F. DiMasi, at right, is a former speaker of the House in Massachusetts serving an eight-year year term on corruption charges. DiMasi, one of his state's leaders Harvey Silverglatein its landmark program to expand health care, was himself denied medical care for months by federal authorities after he discovered lumps in his neck, according to a Boston Phoenix column this week by civil liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate. "By the time he was treated, the cancer had reached stage IV," Silverglate wrote, adding:

"Question: what do the federal government's "war on terror" and its "war on political corruption" have in common? Answer: torture."

Silverglate, above left, has been an adjunct law professor at Harvard Law School and private litigator for many years. He reports that DiMasi was imprisoned far from his home state despite the recommendation of his sentencing judge and denied medical care because authorities either wanted to break his spirit or simply did not care about his health.

There are several similar reports over recent days that should give us all pause. After all, it is our justice system, created with our taxes and by officials whom we select.

Mark FullerUpdate: An Alabama federal judge implicated in the most notorious political prosecution of the last decade remains on the case, and issued a decision July 5 that former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman is not entitled to a new trial on corruption charges and must face resentencing on corruption charges Aug. 3. The decision was issued by U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, a Republican whose private company received some $300 million in secret federal payments while he issued many pro-prosecution rulings in the trump-up charges against Siegelman. Siegelman, governor from 1999 to 2003, was his state's most popular Democrat before he was targeted in 1999 by Republican prosecutors in a case continued by President's Obama's Justice Department as they closed ranks.On July 9, Siegelman filed a motion to set aside the judge's denial of a new trial.

The case illustrates the vast scandal regarding the judge and the Justice Department. Yet no one in authority even wants to look into the mess except to ensure that Siegelman is packed away to prison and all secrets remain hidden. In May, for example, it was revealed that the married Judge Fuller was involved in a multi-year affair with his court clerk, also married. Fuller was chief federal judge from 2004 to 2011 in Alabama's Montgomery-based district, and is shown at right in a photo by freelancer Phil Fleming. Fleming says the judge requested the portrait in a celebratory mood moments after the jury's 2006 verdict in the Siegelman case.

Update II: A federal appeals court denied the appeal of former Connecticut businessman Charles B. Spadoni of his obstruction of justice conviction for deleting information in 1999 on his computer in a corruption probe involving his boss. Spadoni is serving a prison term with release expected next June after contesting his indictment.

In other news: Destroying the soul, published by the Vanderbilt University humanities professor Colin Dayan in the Washington Post July 5, describes the vast cruelty and expense required to keep prisoners in sensory deprivation in SuperMax cells.

Ted StevensAlso, in the Post, longtime litigator Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., the defense lawyer for former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens during his 2008 corruption trial, described as a whitewash the Justice Department's new disciplinary report for prosecutors who illegally withheld evidence from the defense. That caused an unjust conviction for Stevens, at left, and doubtless the Republican's loss of a senate seat by a narrow margin in an election just after the now-vacated verdict.

"The underlying misconduct represents a shameful chapter in the Justice Department’s history," Sullivan wrote. "But the department’s failure to punish wrongdoers makes the scandal worse, and the failure makes a mockery of the attorney general’s effort to establish a standard of propriety that the goal of prosecutors is to do justice, not to win at all costs."

Many such well-documented tales of abuses and cover-ups occur, but we hear of few reform actions that are effective. That's why our own reporting occasionally focuses on the news media or on politicians, as in a report the Chicago Tribune was caught outsourcing some of its local coverage to overseas-based scriveners using phony "bylines."

That out-sourcing scandal surely was an aberration. But the long-term trends of cost-cutting and the false-economies of privatization are continuing, if not growing. On Monday, we excerpted a story about an unemployed woman in Alabama who was imprisoned for 40 days because she couldn't pay a $179 speeding ticket. She now faces more than $3,000 in additional costs to pay the private contractor that jailed her in a system recalling the debtors prisons of the 1800s Dickens era in London. One of my Alabama sources, an attorney, wrote say the situation was not unusual. My source described the region's high unemployment and poverty, and government officials' heartless schemes to allow politically connected private companies to extract profits from defendants. We previously considered the justice system to require government operation for reasons of accountability.

But government control is no panacea. Also in Alabama, my friend Roger Shuler blogged this week on how state-run University of Alabama -- where he worked for 19 years is -- much like Penn State University because both are heavily involved in scandals that few have wanted to investigate, as illustrated by the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal at Penn State.

This would all seem discouraging, if not hopeless -- except for the tireless crusaders such as those featured here. They bring these abuses to wider attention.

In that spirit is Louis Manzo, a former  New Jersey assemblyman and Jersey City mayoral, who gave a lecture at a local library last week describing vast federal abuses in its unsuccessful prosecution of him on corruption charges. The sting that helped propel former New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie into the governor's mansion, and Manzo's analysis is excerpted on a video that will be played by local Channel 51 for a month in Jersey City.

Particlarly important in Manzo's talk is a segment near the beginning. In it, he describes flaws even in the case's guilty pleas, which are normally counted as part of Christie's success in the probe.  Manzo argues that prosecutors exhibited enormous contempt for the public in using their powers to target selectively local politicians and then pressure them into unfair guilty pleas. Channel 51 (Comcast), Jersey City, NJ via YouTube, Defendant Louis Manzo lectures on the Bid Rig III investigation, Louis Manzo, June 2012 at Jersey City Miller Branch Library. Speak NJ Show producer Yvonne Balcer's 30 minute edition of 90-minute presentation. Broadcast on Channel 51 Mondays at 10:30 p.m. and Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (EDT) for one month.  "A lot of people pled guilty," Manzo said. "Some people pled guilty to crimes they could not have committed....The FBI and the USAO have an uncomplicated view of Hudson County politicians. To them their are just two types -- the crooked and the dead." This, he said, scores political points with voters statewide, who falsely assume that Justice Department officials are well-motivated.

Most are, of course. But what about the exceptions?

Several of the situations noted above underscore serious problems in accountability. In the case of DiMasi, Silverglate noted the defendant's trial judge, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf of Boston, recommended that the Bureau of Prisons keep the defendant at Ayer, in Massachusetts. Instead, authorities imprisoned him in Lexington, Kentucky, frustrating medical treatment and family visits. As disclosure, I formerly worked as law clerk to the judge two decades ago. But the legal reform work of the Justice Integrity Project is entirely independent of him or any input, aside from what I read in news accounts.

Mark WolfThat said, I am inspired by the former prosecutor's national leadership in urging the Justice Department to hold its personnel -- including prosecutors, FBI agents and prison officials -- to high standards of conduct. Wolf, at left, served at the Justice Department as assistant to Attorney General Edward Levy in the 1970s helping establish the Office of Professional Responsibility, and was deputy U.S. attorney in Massachusetts during the beginning of the Reagan Administration.

Nominated by  President Reagan to the bench in 1985, Wolf is most famous for presiding over the successful federal prosecution of New England's Mafia leadership in a case initiated more than two decades ago, and then spotting prosecution irregularities. Post-sentencing for most defendants, the judge convened a special investigative hearing resulting in a 600-page judicial finding of prosecution irregularities. This forced more than 20 federal prosecutors and agents to lose their jobs. Also, it prompted federal indictments on murder charges for two former leaders of Boston's FBI agents for their role in coddling murderous informants, including James "Whitey" Bulger, who is himself facing charges involving 19 murders. See my column from last year on the arrest: FBI Confronts Its Demons By Busting Mobster Whitey Bulger,

In the DiMasi case, he was convicted in 2011 of seven of nine charges relating to payments to him and several colleagues from Cognos, Inc., a contractor that obtained some $20 million in state contracts. Corruption by public officials is abhorrent, of course, but the judge doubtless believed he was sentencing the defendant to an appropriate prison term -- not a term of death via denial of medical care.

Silverglate -- who authored in 2009 the landmark book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent -- wrote of the DiMasi case this week:

America was outraged when it learned of abuses committed by enlisted personnel at Abu Ghraib. As details of waterboarding and other enhanced forms of interrogation emerged, a vigorous national debate ensued. But when the news broke recently that Salvatore DiMasi, a former Speaker of the Massachusetts House convicted of political corruption and now serving time at a federal prison, was subjected to treatment so Borgia-like, so inhumane as to constitute a form of torture, the community mostly yawned.

There is compelling evidence that DiMasi was subjected to torture-lite in his assignment to a faraway prison in Lexington, Kentucky, there to serve his eight-year sentence, rather than at the nearby federal prison hospital at Fort Devens in Ayer. At the time of DiMasi's September 9, 2011 sentencing, US District Court Chief Judge Mark Wolf recommended to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP) that DiMasi serve his sentence in Ayer. Wolf expressed concern about DiMasi's then-diagnosed heart condition and the prospect of forcing his cancer-stricken wife to travel long distances for visits. Yet the distant Kentucky assignment was callously selected by the FBP, a subdivision of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The final word in this goes to Brendan Sullivan, who is based in Washington at the prominent firm Williams and Connolly. While working at a business trade group in 2008, I obtained Stevens' presence in giving a featured speech at an industry seminar on homeland security, and I also contributed to his Democratic challenger, now-Sen. Mark Begich. Nonetheless, I was at the forefront in arguing upon my return to journalism that Stevens was the victim not simply of prosecution misconduct, but a political prosecution to help authorities obtain a highp-profile Republican scalp in case the Democrat Barack Obama won the 2008 election, as he did.

Brendan SullivanSullivan, at right, provides some praise for the DOJ's 672-page internal discipline report in the Stevens case, released in May. Sullivan wrote, for example, that Attorney Gen. Eric Holder "deserves credit for recognizing the extent of the prosecutors’ misconduct and seeking an immediate dismissal."

But Sullivan faulted the DOJ for concluding in its internal report in May that some prosecutors engaged in “reckless professional misconduct.” Sullivan said, "This new term in the law appears to be an effort to characterize wrongdoing of a lesser grade than “intentional.” Sullivan went on to write this week:

The department’s actions in this matter have fallen too far short. The underlying misconduct represents a shameful chapter in the Justice Department’s history. But the department’s failure to punish wrongdoers makes the scandal worse, and the failure makes a mockery of the attorney general’s effort to establish a standard of propriety that the goal of prosecutors is to do justice, not to win at all costs.

The department has said that such misconduct happens only rarely. But most times the defense does not find out when prosecutors hold back exculpatory evidence. The Innocence Project has shown in recent years that there is widespread injustice in our system and many wrongful convictions. It is hard to catch a wrongdoer prosecutor. When we do, the punishment must fit the crime.

The Justice Department’s failure to adequately punish is unbecoming to the department and unfair to the thousands of honest prosecutors who do follow the law. If we don’t learn from these mistakes, we are doomed to repeat this miscarriage of justice. And if this can happen to a U.S. senator in a Washington, D.C., courtroom, it can happen to anyone, anywhere in America.



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Related News Coverage

Three Felonies a DayBoston Phoenix, DiMasi Agonistes and the federal ‘justice’ system, Harvey Silverglate, July 3, 2012. Death Sentence? DiMasi was denied medical care for months after discovering lumps in his neck. By the time he was treated, the cancer had reached stage IV.  Question: what do the federal government's "war on terror" and its "war on political corruption" have in common? Answer: torture.The chronology strongly suggests that DiMasi experienced something more serious than mere negligence: in effect, DiMasi was given a possible death sentence for political corruption (or, perhaps more precisely, for not providing "helpful" testimony concerning the activities of others).

Boston Globe, Salvatore DiMasi has rare form of cancer, Andrea Estes and Scott Allen, May19, 2012. Former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi has been diagnosed with cancer in his tongue and lymph nodes, his family confirmed Friday, a disease that can be fatal if not detected early. DiMasi, a onetime political power now serving eight years in a Kentucky prison for corruption, was diagnosed last month after he discovered a suspicious growth, a family friend said. It’s unclear where DiMasi will be treated, but there is a prison medical facility specializing in cancer treatment in North Carolina. “Our family was shocked and saddened to learn that Sal was diagnosed last month with a rare form of cancer,’’ said his wife, Debbie DiMasi, in a statement to the Globe in response to questions about her husband’s health. “We hope he can get the prompt and proper treatment for this serious medical condition.’’ DiMasi already knew about the suspicious growth when federal marshals brought him back to Massachusetts in February to testify before a federal grand jury investigating a rigged hiring system in the state Probation Department. But doctors did not confirm that the growth was cancerous until he returned to Kentucky.

Washington Post, No justice for ‘reckless’ prosecutors, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., July 5, 2012. In late May, the Justice Department finally completed its three-year investigation of the miscreant prosecutors who obtained an illegal verdict against Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008. That verdict caused the Alaska Republican to lose his reelection bid and changed the balance of power in the Senate. The department’s actions in this matter have fallen too far short. The underlying misconduct represents a shameful chapter in the Justice Department’s history. But the department’s failure to punish wrongdoers makes the scandal worse, and the failure makes a mockery of the attorney general’s effort to establish a standard of propriety that the goal of prosecutors is to do justice, not to win at all costs. The department has said that such misconduct happens only rarely. But most times the defense does not find out when prosecutors hold back exculpatory evidence. The Innocence Project has shown in recent years that there is widespread injustice in our system and many wrongful convictions. It is hard to catch a wrongdoer prosecutor. When we do, the punishment must fit the crime. The Justice Department’s failure to adequately punish is unbecoming to the department and unfair to the thousands of honest prosecutors who do follow the law. If we don’t learn from these mistakes, we are doomed to repeat this miscarriage of justice. And if this can happen to a U.S. senator in a Washington, D.C., courtroom, it can happen to anyone, anywhere in America.

Washington Post, Destroying the soul, Colin Dayan, July 5, 2012. Colin Dayan is Robert Penn Warren professor in the humanities at Vanderbilt University and the author of “The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons.” We as a nation are guilty of the most horrific treatment of prisoners in the civilized world. In March, 400 prisoners in California’s Security Housing Units, as well as a number of prisoners’ rights organizations, petitioned the United Nations asking for help. Since then, the Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison who have each spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement . A class-action suit in Arizona challenges inadequate medical and mental health care that subjects prisoners to injury, amputation, disfigurement and death — especially in prolonged solitary confinement. Supermax detention is the harshest weapon in the U.S. punitive armory. Once, solitary confinement affected few prisoners for relatively short periods. Today, most prisoners can expect to face solitary, for longer periods and under conditions that make old-time solitary seem almost attractive. The contemporary state-of-the-art super-max is a clean, well-lighted place. There is no decay or dirt. And there is often no way out.

Legal Schnauzer, Jerry Sandusky Case Unmasks Morally Bankrupt "Leaders" in Higher Education, Roger Shuler, July 5, 2012. The second chapter of the Jerry Sandusky scandal is about to be written, and it looks like it will be radically different from the first.  Chapter 1 focused on Sandusky and the boys he sexually abused, during and after his tenure as an assistant football coach at Penn State. Chapter 2, it appears, will focus on the university leaders who had information about Sandusky's crimes and chose not to report it to the proper authorities.  This kind of moral lapse among those who lead an institution of higher learning might be shocking to the public. But I worked in a university setting for almost 20 years, and it does not shock me in the least. Ironically, my experience was at one of Penn State's regular football rivals--the University of Alabama. I witnessed moral decay in the UA System that, while not as dramatic as what we now are seeing at Penn State, certainly rivals it in severity and scope.

Channel 51 (Comcast), Jersey City, NJ via YouTube, Defendant Louis Manzo lectures on the Bid Rig III investigation, Louis Manzo, June 2012 at Jersey City Miller Branch Library. Speak NJ Show producer Yvonne Balcer's 30 minute edition of 90-minute presentation. Broadcast on Channel 51 Mondays at 10:30 p.m. and Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (EDT) for one month.  Manzo excerpts: "A lot of people went to trial. A lot of people pled guilty. You have no idea the immense pressure that the government will put on in a federal proesecution to get you to get them off your back and admit to crimes you couldn't possibly commit...Some people pled guilty to crimes they could not have committed....The FBI and the USAO have an uncomplicated view of Hudson County politicians. To them their are just two types -- the crooked and the dead....In the Justice Department there is no Democrat or Republican. There is just careers and advancement of careers. They cover their own."

FireDogLake, Probation as a Revenue Scheme for Cash-Strapped States, David Dayen, July 3, 2012. If you liked for-profit prisons pushing tougher sentencing and leading to a sharp increase in the warehousing of US citizens, then you’ll love for-profit probation: Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked.  When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.  For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company. Her story, in hardscrabble, rural Alabama, where Krispy Kreme promises that “two can dine for $5.99,” is not about innocence.   It is, rather, about the mushrooming of fines and fees levied by money-starved towns across the country and the for-profit businesses that administer the system. The result is that growing numbers of poor people, like Ms. Ray, are ending up jailed and in debt for minor infractions.

Siegelman Case

Don SiegelmanBirmingham News / Al.com, Don Siegelman wants decision denying him a new trial set aside, needs time to pursue another appeal angle, Kim Chandler, July 9, 2012. A lawyer for former Gov. Don Siegelman has asked a federal judge to set aside his decision denying the former governor's request for a new trial. Siegelman's lawyer Peter Sissman filed the request, saying he wants time to appeal a discovery request seeking documents related to the recusal of former U.S. Attorney Leura Canary. Sissman has been focused on allegations that Canary, whose husband is involved in Republican politics, maintained some involvement in the prosecution of Siegelman, a  Democrat, despite her public recusal. U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, who denied Siegelman's request for a new trial, has scheduled a resentencing hearing for Siegelman on Aug. 3. A magistrate judge on June 27 denied defense discovery requests. Sissman said he had 14 days to appeal that decision.

Birmingham News, Judge rejects new trial for former Gov. Don Siegelman, July 6, 2012. Siegelman is scheduled to be resentenced Aug. 3. U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller said Siegelman's arguments for a new trial were almost identical to those made by his co-defendant, Richard Scrushy, which already had been denied. "When all is said and done, his claims fail on their merits, just like Scrushy's did, and his motion for a new trial is due to be denied," Fuller wrote in an opinion dated Thursday.

Justice Integrity Project, Supreme Court Denies Siegelman, Scrushy Appeals, Andrew Kreig, June 4, 2012. True to recent form, the U.S. Supreme Court denied relief June 4 to former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, right, on corruption charges. This sets the stage for Siegelman's reimprisonment in the most notorious federal political prosecution and frame-up of the decade. The court denied without comment the certiorari petition of Siegelman and co-defendant Richard Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth, Inc. In 2007, U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller sentenced them to seven-year prison terms on multiple charges from Siegelman's solicitation of donations from Scrushy in 1999 for the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation. Siegelman supported the foundation's initiatives to increase school funding with a state lottery over the opposition of a Republican-orchestrated coalition. On receipt of the court's decision, Siegelman gave a brief comment to his supporters, who have helped him through the years by donating to help pay millions of dollars of legal bills. As published on a list-serve run by Alabama supporter Pam Miles, Siegelman wrote, "Cert Denied.....:)...I'm Blessed by having your love and support..."

Justice Integrity Project, Alabama Judicial Scandal Could Taint Many Cases, Not Just Siegelman's, Andrew Kreig, May 16, 2012. An Alabama newspaper exposed a scandal May 16 that deserves national prominence. The headline was "Federal judge's lengthy affair with court worker is exposed."  This is a scandal not simply for the judge, Mark Everett Fuller, shown at right in a photo by my research colleague Phil Fleming. It is a lifetime shame for those in the Justice Department, federal court system and the United States Senate who have coddled and protected him for an entire decade during his obvious previous disgraces.

Justice Integrity Project, Siegelman Case Showdown Nov. 2 Hurts Obama, Not Rove, Andrew Kreig, Nov. 1, 2011. A legal showdown of historic proportion unfolded Nov. 2 in an Alabama federal court. Squaring off in Montgomery Courtroom B4 were the Obama Justice Department and its most important domestic defendant, former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, once the leading Democrat in his state. Siegelman wants the government to provide documents proving that Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary really withdrew from the case, as she claimed. Justice Integrity Project, FBI Confronts Its Demons By Busting Mobster Whitey Bulger, Andrew Kreig, June 28, 2011. The FBI’s capture of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger in California last week on 19 murder charges shows impressive commitment. Agents used a $2 million reward and an innovative publicity campaign to locate the former FBI informant even though his prosecution could bring the FBI new embarrassment. Two top FBI agents have already been accused of murder in the shocking tale of Bulger’s reign as a stone-cold killer protected both by law enforcement and his brother, William “Billy” Bulger, the longtime president of the Massachusetts senate and a powerbroker with national-level clout.

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Justice

Salon, Two-tiered justice, Glenn Greenwald, July 5, 2012. The paperback version of my last book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, was released yesterday. The themes and arguments in it continue to be central to much of what I write. In fact, so many of the new stories on which I’ve focused since the book’s publication are pure expressions of the two-tiered justice system which the book examines. Here are several interviews and appearances I’ve done in the past several days concerning the book [including] a10 minute interview I did last night with Alyona Minkovski, who is really a superb interviewer, on the American Surveillance State.

Media

Media Nation, Exposing the “‘pink slime’ journalism” of Journatic, Dan Kennedy, July 5, 2012. If you care about local news, then you must listen to a report on “This American Life,” broadcast last weekend, that exposes a scandal whose importance can’t be overstated. The story is about a company called Journatic, which produces local content for newspapers using grossly underpaid, out-of-town reporters — including cheap Filipino workers who write articles under fake bylines. And how great is it that “This American Life,” damaged earlier this year when it was victimized by fake journalism, has now exposed fake journalism elsewhere? Here is the Chicago Tribune — a major Journatic client — lecturing “TAL” on journalism ethics earlier this year.

Guardian (United Kingdom), HBO kills plan to adapt Roger Ailes biography into a movie about Fox News, Adam Gabbatt, July 5, 2012.  TV presenters from rival MSNBC were among the executive producers ? but HBO announces the plan is dead just hours after it was first revealed. Just a day after it was first reported, HBO has killed a plan to adapt a forthcoming book about Fox News president Roger Ailes into a movie. Deadline's Nikki Finke, who broke the story, reveals she has received an email from HBO, citing its affiliation with CNN as the reason. Finke speculates that her report on the hush-hush project may also have been a factor. Anyway, it didn't last long.