Joe DeNucci, boxer and long-serving politician, dies at 78

NEWTON, Mass. — Joe DeNucci, a former world class middleweight boxing contender who became a politician and the longest-serving state auditor in Massachusetts history, has died at age 78.

DeNucci, who had suffered from Alzheimer's disease, died Friday at his home in Newton, where his death was confirmed by the Andrew J. Magni & Son Funeral Home.

In his boxing days he fought quality opponents including Emile Griffith, a world champion in multiple weight classes, before turning to the equally rough-and-tumble world of state politics. As a Democrat, he served as a state representative and later held the office of state auditor for 24 years.

Throughout his political career he promised voters and supporters he was in their corner and said he was honored by the trust they placed in him.

"I am extremely proud of the work of the state auditor's office," DeNucci said shortly before leaving office. "Every day, the quality of our work speaks for itself and improves the operations of state government."

Among the state government audits DeNucci handled was one in 2008 that found the state commission charged with protecting the disabled from abuse didn't have the staff needed to keep up with a growing number of reported allegations, leaving people with disabilities at risk of further abuse. DeNucci had sponsored legislation creating the commission when he served in the state House.

An audit he handled in 2007, at the beginning of the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis, found the state's Division of Banks needed more resources to improve oversight of mortgage lenders and brokers.

As auditor, DeNucci's job was to root out waste, fraud and corruption in state government. But toward the end of his career he was accused of violating the state's conflict of interest law by clearing the way for his cousin Gaetano "Buster" Spezzano to be hired into an agency job for which he appeared to be unqualified.

DeNucci said Spezzano, the son of his mother's sister, went through the standard application and review process, but DeNucci did not try to conceal he wanted him hired.

"Guy was a little special to me," DeNucci said. "I know he was in trouble. He didn't have a job. I gave him the most entry-level position."

Amid that scandal, DeNucci didn't run for re-election in 2010. The next year top state elected officials including Gov. Deval Patrick and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, both Democrats, gathered in the Statehouse to honor him. The newly sworn in auditor, Suzanne Bump, who was replacing DeNucci, also was on hand.

On Friday, Bump recalled DeNucci's many positive contributions to state government and extended her condolences to his family.

"Joe DeNucci's compassion for others and his dedication to public service were legendary, and he made significant contributions to the betterment of government and its public," Bump said in a statement. "Having served in the House with him, I can personally attest to the many qualities that endeared him to his Newton constituents. Joe's family deserves our thanks for sharing him with the commonwealth for so many years."

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