Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz is comfortable in her seat as the state’s top federal prosecutor, saying she has no plans to run for governor in 2014.
The question came up again, after she was recently named Boston’s third most powerful person by Boston Magazine and was profiled by local news affiliate WCVB Boston. She also was dubbed “Bostonian of the Year” by the Boston Globe earlier this year. Ortiz said she enjoys her position as U.S. Attorney and would like to continue doing it as long as she can, according to the WCVB segment.
Since her confirmation to the post in 2009, Ortiz, 56, the first woman and first Hispanic to hold the position, has captured the spotlight for her prosecution of a number of corrupt Massachusetts politicians:
- Salvatore DiMasi (D), former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. DiMasi took kickbacks from the Burlington, Mass.-based software company Cognos (now owned by IBM) in exchange for using his office’s influence to award the company $17.5 million in two state software contracts. He was found guilty of conspiracy, extortion and honest services fraud and was sentenced to eight years in prison last summer.
- Dianne Wilkerson (D), a former Massachusetts state senator for almost 16 years, pleaded guilty in 2010 to eight counts of attempted extortion for taking bribes of $23,500 to secure a liquor license for a nightclub and legislation to pay for commercial development in Boston’s Roxbury district. She was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison on Jan. 6, 2011.
- Chuck Turner, a former city councilor in Boston, was convicted of taking a $1,000 bribe in office in relation to the Wilkerson case and lying to the FBI about it. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
Ortiz’s most challenging case is yet to come: the prosecution of James Whitey Bulger, former leader of Boston’s Winter Hill gang who spent 16 years on the run before his arrest June 22, 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif. His trial is set for Nov. 5 and he’s charged with 19 murders.
Ortiz’s life has been successful but rarely easy. She grew up in a Spanish Harlem public housing project, daughter to parents who moved from Puerto Rico with no equivalent of a high school diploma and little English. She learned her work ethic from her father, who held jobs as a taxi driver, street vendor and opened a gift shop, according to the WCVB broadcast.
She graduated from Adelphia University in 1978 and attended George Washington University Law School on a full scholarship. During law school, she was an intern with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, where she met current Attorney General Eric Holder. She served as Assistant U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts from 1997 until her nomination.
Her career has been beset with private crises: her first husband, Michael Morisi, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 34 and died after eight years of fighting the disease in August 2000. In 2005, one of her sisters almost died from a brain aneurysm. Ortiz got herself tested and had brain surgery in 2006 to have her aneurysm removed, according to the Boston Globe.
“Living through that illness for eight years really taught me to live life to the fullest, and really to not put things off,” Ortiz told WCVB. “You just never know how much time you have.”