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Federal Judge Grants Compassionate Release but Questions BOP’s Motivation

by Christopher Zoukis

U.S. District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf, who has written judicial opinions in cases involving former mobster and FBI informant James “Whitey” Bulger, knows a rat when he sees one. And when he was presented with a motion from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) seeking compassionate release for former Massachusetts state Rep. Salvatore F. DiMasi, the judge was skeptical.

That’s because it was the first compassionate release motion from the BOP he had seen in his 31 years on the bench, and it just happened to be for a former lawmaker with powerful friends. DiMasi, 71, was convicted on seven corruption charges in June 2011 and sentenced to eight years plus a $65,000 fine.

Judge Wolf expressed his suspicion in an initial ruling on October 17, 2016, in which he ordered the BOP to submit evidence in support of its motion. He also noted that, despite urging from the Office of the Inspector General, the Sentencing Commission and Human Rights Watch, the BOP almost never sought compassionate release.

[T]hese statistics raise the question – which is only a question – of whether the [BOP] Director’s decision to file the motion was influenced by DiMasi’s former status as Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the stature of some who may be advocating for his release,” the judge wrote.

The BOP submitted evidence in support of its motion, which was ultimately granted by Judge Wolf. The evidence supported the Bureau’s contention that DiMasi’s tongue and prostate cancers, and advanced age, satisfied the statutory criteria.

The background of DiMasi’s efforts to obtain early release clearly bothered the judge, however. DiMasi had submitted requests multiple times and was denied by BOP officials each time. Until, that is, “DiMasi’s lawyers persuaded the United States Attorney to intervene.” After that intervention, which took place mere months after the BOP’s last denial of DiMasi’s request, officials suddenly decided he deserved compassionate release.

Judge Wolf remarked that this course of events “was a deviation from the process prescribed by the bureau’s regulations,” and “suggests that the decision to file the Motion for a reduction of DiMasi’s sentence was driven more by the judgment of lawyers than of medical professionals.”

The BOP claimed that was not the case, and the judge took the agency at its word. But in granting the motion, he put the BOP on notice that if compassionate release was proper for DiMasi, it would also be proper for other prisoners in the same or worse condition.

“The future conduct of the United States Attorney and, particularly, the Bureau of Prisons will determine whether releasing DiMasi now will be consistent with the court’s obligation to avoid unwarranted disparities in sentencing,” Judge Wolf said in a November 2016 order. “If in the future the Bureau evaluates the requests of elderly, ill inmates more generously and files § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) motions more frequently, DiMasi’s release will not be injurious to this important interest.” See: United States v. DiMasi, U.S.D.C. (D. Mass.), Case No. 1:09-cr-10166-MLW. 

Additional source: Boston Globe

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Related legal case

United States v. DiMasi