Hack Houdini Tom Petrolati leaving Beacon Hill

Meet Rep. Tom Petrolati of Ludlow — the hack who got away.

In the hackerama since 1986, Petro is finally going away, but not in the way everyone always assumed he would be going away, if you get my drift. Think, most recently, of David Nangle.

Over the decades, Petro’s name was mentioned in connection with scandals involving three crooked House speakers. He testified before at least one federal grand jury, was once named by G-men in court as a “target,” ran up hundreds of thousands in legal bills, and was ultimately stripped of his own personal phony-baloney title as “speaker pro tempore” of the House.

And yet … and yet … as Petro announces his retirement at age 62, his wife, a college dropout, continues in her sweet hack job at the Probation Department for $134,876 a year. 

And in his campaign account, Petrolati lists cash on hand of $372,399.97.

I guess Petro wasn’t nearly as dumb as we all thought he was.

Consider how all the speakers he was jammed up with have ended up – Felon Finneran, disbarred, and Sal DiMasi, jailbird, with his own personal Bureau of Prisons number (27371-038). And lately, Bob DeLeo, unindicted co-conspirator in the same Probation Department scandal that almost brought down Petro.

It cost DeLeo $675,000 in legal fees to beat the rap. Petro only had to pay his mouthpieces $200,000, and he got 74 jobs out of Probation, not including his wife’s.

Petro is out of Ludlow, which spawned another famous Beacon Hill rogue, the Iron Duke, John Forbes Thompson. The Iron Duke became speaker, but his ending was much sadder than Petro’s. In 1965, at age 45, Thompson drank himself to death, under indictment, stripped of his speakership, in his girlfriend’s house in Dedham or somewhere.

The New York Times

Yes, the Iron Duke does now have a local Hampden County beer named after him, but I’m sure he would have gladly traded it in for the double kiss in the mail Mr. and Mrs. Petrolati are looking at down the road, something close to $200,000 a year.

Of course, the only way to survive 36 years in the demimonde that is Beacon Hill is to adapt. And yes, Petro’s m.o. has changed over the years. No more summer Turnpike jobs for the family – toll booths are a victim of technology, after all.

Also, Petro no longer buys Brylcreem by the case – he finally got the memo that “a little dab’ll do ya.”

After one of his photo finishes with a grand jury, he stopped taking contributions from his more traditional sources – among them, a Springfield city councilor convicted of skimming money from a homeless shelter, and a developer whose real business was putting slot machines into barrooms in the 413 area code.

Another Petro campaign contributor back in the day: a wiseguy named Frank Colantoni who did 12 years in prison for his role in the hit on a Connecticut hood named Wild Bill Grasso.

Asked by a reporter why he had given $500 to Petro, Colantoni replied, “If a friend comes to me and says the guy’s a good guy, help him out, no problem.”

No problem, that’s also what Petro said to Speaker Finneran when he was made the figurehead chairman of the redistricting committee. Finneran subsequently went down on an obstruction of justice rap, and Petro was himself asked some tough questions under oath about Massachusetts geography, including, “Mr. Chairman, what river does the Mystic Tobin Bridge span?”

To which Petro replied, I have no idea. The 23 good men and true of the grand jury nodded. After listening to him for awhile, they had come to the conclusion that Petro did not in fact know what river the Mystic Bridge crossed. But in retrospect, we now know, Petro’s mask of idiocy was but a clever ruse.

He’s actually pretty smart, it turns out,  because he’s walking down the steps with 372,399 reasons to be grinning, all of which have George Washington’s picture on them.

Petro’s farewell is the latest indication that time is running short for his final boss, the unindicted co-conspirator. Some of DeLeo’s people have started sniffing around for soft landings in the hackerama. DeLeo’s friend from the adjacent district, Rosalee Vincent, of Revere, is on her way out. Any day now … .

A local gangster, Angelo “Sonny” Mercurio, used to tell younger hoods that it was always better to run away before you got lugged by the feds. Sonny’s exact words: “I advocate the lam.”

Petro advocates the lam. In the end, he even outdid the legendary Iron Duke from his hometown – Petro never got indicted.

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