Judge OKs early prison release for ex-Massachusetts speaker

Former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi walks out of the Federal courthouse in Boston, Wednesday, June 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

BOSTON (AP) — Former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi will be released from prison early as he battles health problems.

Judge Mark Wolf on Thursday agreed with prison officials and federal prosecutors who argued that DiMasi’s health issues make it difficult for him to function normally in prison.

DiMasi, 71, has served five years of an eight-year sentence on public corruption charges. He was diagnosed with and treated for throat and prostate cancer while in prison.

DiMasi’s doctors say his cancer is in remission, but his treatments caused a narrowing of his esophagus that creates a risk of choking when he eats or drinks. He now requires a pureed diet and has lost about 70 pounds, his lawyers have said.

In his ruling, Wolf said he found “extraordinary and compelling reasons” to warrant releasing DiMasi early from prison.

Wolf cited the opinion of the medical director of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, who found that DiMasi must be monitored while he eats.

“This opinion is central to the court’s conclusion that DiMasi’s release is justified,” Wolf wrote.

Under Wolf’s ruling granting compassionate release, the once-powerful Democrat will be released Tuesday from a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, to his wife.

“This is the right, just and fair decision,” said David Guarino, who formerly served as a top aide to DiMasi.

DiMasi was first elected to the state Legislature in 1979 and worked his way up through the ranks of the House to become speaker following the resignation of Thomas Finneran in 2004. He was convicted of public corruption charges for steering state contracts to a software firm in exchange for $65,000 funneled through his private law firm.

DiMasi, who served as speaker from 2004 to 2009, was the third consecutive House speaker to leave office under an ethics cloud. He was convicted in 2011.

Compassionate release is intended for inmates with terminal illnesses as well as elderly inmates who have served a significant portion of their sentences.

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