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Globe Editorial

Wilkerson’s guilty plea deprives public of account of her crimes

June 4, 2010

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FORMER STATE senator Dianne Wilkerson spares herself the tension and uncertainty of a trial with her decision to plead guilty yesterday to federal corruption charges. The public, however, loses an opportunity to hear detailed testimony about the depths to which some elected officials will sink.

It is difficult to remember, now, 18 years later, that Wilkerson was once the great hope of one of Boston’s neediest neighborhoods; it was she, a skilled lawyer with a willful manner, who promised in campaign posters, decorated with her uplifted profile, “We Can Do Better.’’ She was referring to the often erratic, sometimes corrupt leadership of some of her predecessors. But she has far outstripped them in betraying the public trust.

Wilkerson stood accused of taking more than $20,000 in bribes between 2002 and 2008 to secure a liquor license and grease the way for a commercial development in Roxbury. She pleaded guilty to attempted extortion, but the charges against her included conspiring to extort cash, theft of honest services, and mail and wire fraud. Just a few months ago, the seemingly shameless 54-year-old Wilkerson was leveling charges of misconduct against law enforcement officials for disseminating undercover FBI photographs of her stuffing a bribe into her bra. It was a tired reminder of how cynical Wilkerson had become — always pointing the finger at someone else.

Now, with her guilty plea, she has no one to point at but herself. She deserves a prison sentence that takes account of the toxic effect that public corruption has on the life of a community.

Plea bargains save court costs. But they are costly in other ways, especially in public-corruption cases. It’s not likely that all the evidence against Wilkerson was contained in the indictment and FBI affidavit against her. More could have come out in court — more insights into the Legislature’s shadowy role in the granting of liquor licenses, a better understanding of the pressures faced by developers looking to do business in the city’s minority communities, and perhaps more connections to other public officials in addition to Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, who is charged with accepting a $1,000 bribe from the same cooperating witness and making false statements to the FBI.

It’s always said that those suspected of a crime deserve their day in court. In this case, however, it was the public that lost a chance for a full measure of justice.

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