Richard Vitale and WN Advisors Plead Guilty to Lobbying and Campaign Finance Violations
BOSTON – Richard Vitale and WN Advisors LLC, an entity owned and controlled by Vitale, pleaded guilty in Suffolk Superior Court in connection with violations of state lobbying and campaign finance laws, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today. Vitale was placed on probation for 2 years, is barred from acting as a legislative agent or lobbyist entity for three legislative sessions, and was ordered to pay the maximum fines allowed under the laws in force at the time - $32,000. Vitale will also be required to disgorge to the Commonwealth $60,000 in fees he was paid by the Ticket Brokers.
“The failure to register as a lobbyist undermines the integrity of the legislative process,” said AG Coakley. “With today’s guilty plea, Mr. Vitale will pay the maximum fines allowed under the law at the time as well as return the amount he was paid for his illegal lobbying activity.”
Vitale and WN Advisors were both indicted by a Suffolk County Grand Jury in December 2008. Vitale, age 66, of Boston, was charged with failing to file timely registration statements for 2007 and 2008 (2 counts), making an illegal agreement for compensation contingent on the passage of legislation (1 count), and making campaign contributions in excess of the $200 maximum per year for legislative agents (4 counts). WN Advisors was charged with failing to file timely registration statements in 2007 and 2008 (2 counts) and making an illegal agreement for compensation contingent on the passage of legislation (1 count).
In January, 2009, both Vitale and WN Advisors were arraigned and pleaded not guilty and Vitale was released on personal recognizance. Today, Vitale and WN Advisors pleaded guilty of all charges.
The AG’s Office also filed a civil action for disgorgement. Vitale and WN entered into a consent decree with the Commonwealth under which Vitale will disgorge the fees he was paid by the Ticket Brokers, totaling $60,000, which will go to the Commonwealth’s general fund.
After a referral by the Secretary of State’s Office in June 2008, the Attorney General’s Office began an investigation of potential lobbying law violations by Vitale and WN Advisors. WN Advisors was paid a total of $60,000 by the Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers (“MATB”). MATB hired Vitale and his firm to promote legislation regulating the resale of tickets to sporting and other entertainment events. In October 2007, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed ticket resale legislation; the bill did not, however, pass the Senate.
Under state law, a person “who for compensation or reward does any act to promote, oppose or influence legislation” is considered a “legislative agent” who must file an annual registration statement with the Secretary of State’s Office and pay a filing fee. Legislative agents must also file detailed, itemized reports twice a year listing all campaign contributions, lobbyist expenditures, and all bill numbers of legislation that they acted to promote or influence. An entity that employs legislative agents must also file annual registration statements, file semi-annual detailed reports and pay a filing fee. All of this information is then made available to the public on the Secretary of State’s website.
During the course of the investigation, authorities discovered that Vitale communicated directly with two of the highest-ranking members of the House of Representatives, Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Speaker Pro Tempore Thomas Petrolati, on multiple occasions in an attempt to promote ticket resale legislation on behalf of MATB. Investigators found that Vitale arranged for and attended meetings with those Representatives and a member of MATB, and that Vitale also allegedly met privately with the Representatives to discuss proposed legislation. In addition, investigators learned that Vitale used a courier service on multiple occasions to deliver printed copies of emails from the representative of MATB to Representative Petrolati’s office and Vitale also allegedly forwarded emails from the representative of the MATB to a personal email address of Speaker DiMasi. Specifically, investigators found that on at least one occasion, Vitale delivered an email which requested specific changes to the bill, which the House of Representatives then made before passing the bill.
Investigators found that Vitale deliberately concealed his role in promoting legislation by arranging for meetings with the Representatives in his accounting firm office and other private locations. Authorities learned that on at least one occasion, Vitale specifically instructed a member of MATB not to disclose the role of WN Advisors.
Vitale and WN Advisors failed to file registration statements for 2007, and they filed untimely registration statements for 2008 in May 2008 only after being instructed to do so by the Secretary of State.
Investigators also discovered that Vitale signed an agreement on behalf of WN Advisors with MATB that included a provision that WN Advisors would receive additional compensation ($20,000) upon the final passage of favorable ticket resale legislation. Massachusetts law prohibits any person from making an agreement for compensation that is contingent upon the passage or defeat of legislation.
During the time period that Vitale allegedly actively promoted legislation and WN Advisors received payments from MATB, Vitale made four separate campaign contributions to state legislators in excess of $200. Massachusetts law prohibits legislative agents from contributing more than $200 per year to any elected official’s campaign committee.
At the time in 2007, the maximum penalty for failure to make required lobbyist filings and for making illegal contingent compensation agreements was $5,000. Thus, Vitale and WN Advisors have been ordered to pay the maximum $30,000 in fines after pleading guilty on all counts involving those provisions. The maximum penalty for making campaign contributions in excess of the limit for lobbyists was imprisonment for not more than six months or a fine of $500. Therefore, Vitale has been ordered to pay the maximum additional fines of up to $2,000 after pleading guilty to all four campaign finance counts.
In 2009, Attorney General Martha Coakley supported the passage of the legislation which strengthened the laws around lobbying. That new law increased the penalty for similar lobbying violations to up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The new law also broadened the definition of lobbying to include background work, strategizing, planning and research of the kind carried out by Vitale.
First Assistant Attorney General Edward Bedrosian and Assistant Attorney General Andrew Rainer prosecuted this case. Officers of the Massachusetts State Police assisted with the investigation, as did officials from the Secretary of State’s Office, the Inspector General’s Office, the State Ethics Commission, and the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.