Once a power in politics, DiMasi headed to prison

Former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, once one of the most powerful figures in Massachusetts politics, was sentenced Friday to eight years in federal prison for using his influence to steer $17.5 million in state contracts to a software firm in exchange for kickbacks.

The sentence was the stiffest ever given an elected official in Massachusetts in a public corruption case, according to the state’s top federal prosecutor.

After sentencing, DiMasi, a Boston Democrat, and his wife, Debbie, shared a lengthy embrace in the courtroom.

U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf sentenced co-defendant Richard McDonough, a prominent Statehouse lobbyist, to seven years in prison for his role in the scheme.

Wolf said DiMasi’s life story was, in many ways, typical of the American dream, noting that he was the son of Italian immigrants who worked hard to succeed and become the first Italian-American House Speaker in state history.

“This is a dream that has been corrupted,” Wolf said.

The judge said he believed DiMasi to be a family man, loved by his stepchildren and wife, who is battling breast cancer. Wolf also commended DiMasi for standing up for the disadvantaged as a legislator, but added: “In my opinion, you sold those people out.”

Obama’s uncle released from jail after DUI charge

Officials say President Barack Obama’s uncle has been released from a Massachusetts jail two weeks after being arrested on a drunken driving charge.

Onyango Obama was detained by federal immigration officials for allegedly violating an order to return to his native Kenya. Federal officials would not say why he was released Thursday or where he went. Onyango Obama is the half-brother of the president’s father. Federal officials have said he was ordered to leave the U.S. nearly two decades ago. He was arrested in Framingham on Aug. 24 on the drunken driving count.

Four journalists to receive Yankee Quill Awards

Four contemporary New England journalists and a 19th-century Boston publisher are receiving the 2011 Yankee Quill Award for their contributions to journalism in the six-state region.

The honorees are Jack Authelet, former editor of the Foxboro, Mass., Reporter; Leah Lamson, editor of the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette; Irwin Gratz, producer for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network; and Kendall Wallace, chairman of the board for The Lowell Sun.

The award will also be presented posthumously to Gen. Charles H. Taylor, publisher of The Boston Globe from 1873 to 1921.

The Yankee Quill Award is presented annually by the Academy of New England Journalists through the auspices of the New England Society of Newspaper Editors Foundation.

The awards will be presented Nov. 11 at the New England Society of Newspaper Editors annual meeting in Tewksbury, Mass.


Kancamagus Highway opens on Sunday — one week early

Gov. John Lynch says an important New Hampshire tourist highway is reopening.

Lynch announced Friday that the Kancamagus Highway will reopen Sunday, nearly a week ahead of schedule. The scenic North Country highway was significantly damaged by flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Irene. Lynch said he will lead a bus tour across the highway — Route 112 — on Sept. 16, to kick off foliage season.

UNH program will utilize schools to counter bullying

Three rural school districts will serve as laboratories this fall for an experiment by a University of New Hampshire outreach program to fight bullying and peer pressure in middle schools.

The university’s nine-week “Courage to Care” program will encourage discussion and activities stemming from short films depicting everyday situations faced by students. The films feature students from across New England as actors.

The curriculum has been helped by a federal grant of nearly $133,000.

“We don’t even mention the word ‘bullying,’ in the curriculum,” said Malcolm Smith, family life and policy specialist at UNH. “It’s really about school culture and climate.”