Saturday, 2:15 PM
City Councilor Chuck Turner charged with accepting bribe
By Shelley Murphy, Jonathan Saltzman, John C. Drake, and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner has been charged with accepting a $1,000 bribe and then lying about taking the money in a widening federal corruption inquiry.
A 12-page affidavit filed in US District Court alleges that Turner was surreptitiously videotaped accepting the cash in his district office on Aug. 3, 2007, in exchange for pushing for a liquor license for the Roxbury nightclub Dejavu. Included with the affidavit are two photographs of Turner allegedly accepting the bribe. In one image, Turner's trademark white goatee is clearly visible as folded green bills are pressed into his hand.
Turner was arrested by the FBI in his City Hall office at 7 a.m. today on charges stemming from the undercover investigation, which led to the Oct. 28 arrest of state Senator Dianne Wilkerson on allegations that she accepted eight bribes totaling $23,500. The day of Wilkerson's arrest, two FBI agents visited Turner at his City Hall office and he "repeatedly denied ever being offered the money," according to the affidavit. During the interview, however, Turner rued the pervasiveness of corruption.
"If you took out all the corrupt politicians, you take out 90 percent and be left with us 10 percent," Turner said, according to the affidavit.
The five-term city councilor made his initial appearance this afternoon in US District Court in Worcester before Magistrate Judge Timothy Hillman, who is also handling Wilkerson's case. Turner faces charges of attempted extortion under color of official right -- essentially, using his office to obtain an illegal payment -- and lying to a government agent. Wearing a long-sleeve white dress shirt and brown pants, Turner was led into court with his hands cuffed behind his back. He told almost 30 supporters who attended the hearing that he needed to borrow a winter coat because the FBI pulled him out of City Hall without his jacket.
“I am absolutely positive that a jury of my peers will come to the conclusion that I am innocent,” Turner told a crush of reporters after the hearing. "I know I am innocent.”
When Turner was released on a $50,000 bond, his supporters erupted in cheers in the court's lobby.
"I think it’s a smear campaign, convicting somebody before they even go to court," said Kazi Toure, a Dorchester resident who has known Turner for at least 20 years. "I know he's a good man. I know he is not a person who takes money from people to do things in the community."
US Attorney Michael Sullivan disagreed in a statement issued earlier today.
"The public deserves, and should expect, honest services from our public officials," Sullivan said. "Public officials who line their pockets with cash while claiming to act in the public interest, violate our laws and the trust and confidence of the public we serve."
James Dilday, a lawyer who persuaded Turner to write a Jan. 22, 2007, letter to the Boston Licensing Board for the developers of Dejavu but dropped out after the license request was initially rejected in March, said he met Monday with Assistant US Attorney John T. McNeil. McNeil asked him about the possible involvement of others in the Dejavu payoff scandal, including Turner and State Representative Gloria L. Fox, a Boston Democrat.
"I said to him that I didn’t think Chuck was involved in any taking of any monies," Dilday said in an interview this morning. "I got him to write a letter for me and we got turned down."
Fox did not immediately return a phone message from the Globe seeking comment. She has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
"She's pretty clean, from what I heard,'' Dilday said of Fox. "You know the feds will ask about everybody. Nobody is beyond their vision.''
Fox also signed a letter on behalf of Dejavu that was sent to the licensing board, Dilday said. McNeil asked fewer questions about Fox than about Turner but was curious about her because of the letter, which Dilday said he wrote.
Wilkerson resigned Wednesday after nearly 16 years. She faced mounting pressure from her colleagues in the Senate to do so.
Turner, a member of the Green-Rainbow Party, has served in the City Council since 2000, representing District 7, which includes Roxbury, Lower Roxbury, and parts of the Fenway, South End, and Dorchester. City Council President Maureen E. Feeney temporarily stripped Turner today of all of his committee assignments, including the chairmanship of the committees on Education and Human Rights.
FBI agents arrived at Turner's home in Roxbury at 6:30 a.m. but could not find him. Agents located him 30 minutes later in his office and took him into custody.
The FBI's 18-month corruption inquiry hinges on the help of a cooperating witness identified in court documents only as "CW." The Globe reported this month that Wilkerson has told close associates that CW is Ron Wilburn, a longtime friend and active political supporter.
In the affidavit filed today in support of Turner's arrest, the cooperating witness is again not identified by name. In early 2007, he told investigators that he "had heard" that Turner had taken "a cash payment for writing a letter of recommendation for an individual with a criminal record," according to the affidavit. The cooperating witness acknowledged, however, that he had never made payments to Turner.
In December 2006, the cooperating witness approached Turner and Wilkerson about securing a liquor license for Dejavu, a nightclub on Melnea Cass Boulevard that was in the districts of both lawmakers. Turner wrote a letter on behalf of the club to the licensing board in January 2007. No money exchanged hands for the letter, according to the affidavit. Dejavu's request for the liquor license was rejected by the board in March 2007.
Over the next few months, Wilkerson is accused of accepting cash bribes of $500 and $1,000 at posh Beacon Hill restaurants Scollay Square and No. 9 Park. In July 2007, Turner began pressing for a City Council hearing for Dejavu's liquor license, according to the affidavit.
"The CW initially offered to give Turner a fund-raiser," according to the affidavit, and Turner gave him contact information for his fund-raising coordinator.
On Aug. 2, Wilkerson allegedly accepted a $1,000 bribe from the cooperating witness at the Fill-A-Buster restaurant across from the State House. Wilkerson told him that "they are busting tail" and Dejavu should have a liquor license in a few weeks, according to the affidavit.
The next day the cooperating witness accepted Turner's invitation and visited him at his district office in Roxbury. According to the affidavit, "The CW then handed Turner $1,000 in cash and said, 'You take the wife to dinner and … have some fun.'" The wad of money allegedly included five $100 bills and 10 $50 bills.
Dilday, the lawyer who worked on behalf of the developers of the nightclub, said today that it was hard to believe that Turner would promise to help the cooperating witness "for such a little bit of money.''
"I'm surprised that Chuck is involved because I always thought of him as an upstanding, honest individual, and I await the outcome,’’ said Dilday, who has known Turner since 1968. He is representing an undisclosed individual before the grand jury in connection with its investigation of Wilkerson’s alleged manipulation of legislation to pave the way for a Roxbury development.
Dilday, who is black, said he is concerned that two people arrested so far in the federal investigation are black.
"There’s a real question because this morning, two separate people said to me, 'Where’s all the white people?' " he said. "Because what we’re talking about is a three-person Boston Licensing Board. They had to have approved this license, and so are any of them involved?"
Warren T. Bamford, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said race hasn't played any role in the investigation.
"Naturally, there are no racial overtones to this," Bamford said. "We are looking at public corruption at any level and it really doesn't matter to us, ethnicity, religion or other factors. We're looking for honesty in public service and that's what we are trying to maintain. The idea that this has some racial overtone or is racially motivated is not correct.''
He said public corruption investigations are one of the FBI's top criminal priorities, second only to national security investigations.
Asked what confidence the public should have in the integrity of elected officials, US Attorney Sullivan said, "Most people serve honorably, and are faithful to their oath of office. We have charged two individuals. It is alleged they are part of this particular scheme to take cash payments, the theft of their honest services. I'm not going to comment beyond that."
But Sullivan did indicate that neither the Legislature nor Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino have become entangled in the investigation.
"I don't want people to speculate that members of the Legislature are complicit with regards to this investigation. There is no evidence to suggest that. And there is no evidence at all to suggest that Mayor Menino had any involvement at all with regards to that scheme," Sullivan said.
Asked if other members of the City Council will be implicated or if people connected to the Boston Licensing Board or the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission are being investigated, Sullivan said, "I am not going to confirm or deny anything beyond the fact that our investigation continues.''