Grateful DiMasi returns home after five years in prison

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STATE HOUSE – Salvatore DiMasi, a once powerful Massachusetts House speaker who was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2011, returned home to Boston on Tuesday after battling cancer during his time in prison.

An imposing but jovial presence on Beacon Hill during his time in power, DiMasi appeared gaunt and spoke with a weakened voice while seated in a wheelchair. Wearing a gray baseball hat, jeans and navy waffle shirt and black North Face jacket, DiMasi immediately hugged both his stepchildren – Christian and Ashley – who were waiting for him at Logan Airport.

WATCH: DiMasi Returns to Boston

The former North End Democrat, who was granted a “compassionate release” by a federal judge, made a brief statement to the gathered media, but did not take questions before leaving for his new home in Melrose.

After taking a JetBlue flight from Raleigh, North Carolina to Boston with his wife Debbie, the former North End Democrat made a brief statement to gathered reporters, but did not take questions before leaving for his new home in Melrose.

“I just want to say how happy I am, grateful and thankful that I’m home in Boston where I love with my family,” DiMasi said. “I want to thank everybody for making this possible whoever made it possible.”

DiMasi, 71, walked out of Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina on Tuesday five years after federal Judge Mark Wolf handed down an eight-year prison sentence for corruption. He had a projected release date of November 2018, taking into account time off for good conduct, before his medical release was granted by Wolf.

DiMasi spent 30 years in the House, including more than four as speaker, during which time he successfully fought to preserve gay marriage, keep casinos out of Massachusetts and played a significant role in writing the universal health care law that became the model for the Affordable Care Act.

He also worked with former Gov. Deval Patrick to pass landmark climate change legislation and a $1 billion investment in life sciences.

That legacy became tarnished by reports of pay-to-play that led to his resignation in 2009 and subsequent conviction in 2011 on corruption charges stemming from his role in a scheme to steer almost $18 million in state contracts to the Burlington software company Cognos in exchange for $65,000 in kickbacks concealed as payments from his law associate.

Since his conviction, DiMasi has maintained his innocence. “I remain outraged that my reputation, my integrity and my good name have been sullied by this process. I will do everything in my power to earn back those things in the coming years,” he said on his way to prison.

DiMasi did not address his conviction upon arriving home, and said he was focused on reuniting with friends and family and regaining his health under the care of doctors at home. Wolf granted DiMasi a “compassionate release” earlier this month due to his poor health condition.

DiMasi was diagnosed in prison with tongue and then prostate cancer. Though both cancers are said to be in remission, the treatment for the tongue cancer severely affected his throat, causing difficulty swallowing and making DiMasi prone to choking episodes, according to court filings.

In their petition for DiMasi’s release, his attorneys said his weight has dropped to 174 pounds, and if his weight loss continues he will need a feeding tube.

Calling his wife Debbie his “champion” and crediting his family with giving him the strength to fight his illnesses, DiMasi said, “I’m a fighter. I’m gonna fight this all the way.”

DiMasi called his five years in prison a “trying and difficult experience for me.”

“This is going to be a very special Thanksgiving for me at home with my family and I hope you all have a nice Thanksgiving,” DiMasi said before departing the airport.

DiMasi will spend six months under home confinement, according to the release order from Judge Wolf, and two years of supervised released. He will be allowed to leave home for medical appointments and religious observances, though the court said it would revisit the issue of home confinement after three months.

DiMasi’ associate, former Beacon Hill lobbyist Richard McDonough, was also convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison, while DiMasi’s accountant Richard Vitale was acquitted of federal charges brought against him in the case. McDonough has since been released from Fort Dix in New Jersey.

During her husband’s time in prison, Debbie DiMasi has been critical of the prison health care system and a vocal advocate for a compassionate release program at the state level.

— Written by Matt Murphy