City Councilor Chuck Turner said today in federal court that he never looked down at his hand when he allegedly received a $1,000 bribe in a handshake at his office because it's "disrespectful" to look at your hand if someone gives you something.
Turner repeatedly referred to such an exchange as a "minister's handshake" or a "preacher's handshake" and said it sprang from a Biblical admonition against undue focus on money.
At the same time, under aggressive cross-examination by a federal prosecutor at his corruption trial, Turner continued to say he didn't know what he received in the exchange, which was secretly recorded on videotape by a witness working with the FBI.
"I'm just trying to sort this out," said federal prosecutor John T. McNeil. "The reason you didn't look down when [witness] Ron Wilburn gave you this was because it was money?"
"I can't say it was money," Turner said."The problem with answering the question is it's all speculation."
After about an hour of questioning by McNeil that included a series of questions about the videotaped exchange, Turner stepped down from the witness stand and the defense rested its case.
Turner, a long-time activist and veteran city councilor, is on trial on charges of attempted extortion and three counts of lying to FBI agents.
Prosecutors say Turner accepted a $1,000 bribe that was passed during a handshake between businessman Wilburn, who was seeking Turner's help in getting a liquor license, and Turner during an Aug. 3, 2007 meeting at the councilor's storefront district office in Roxbury.
Wilburn, who was cooperating with the FBI, carried a briefcase rigged with a surveillance camera to the office, capturing video of the meeting -- and of some kind of object passing between the two men's hands during the handshake.
Turner, in cross-examination Tuesday, acknowledged that the videotape shows him and Wilburn in the meeting and that "something" passed between them. But he said he did not remember receiving cash.
In addition to showing the exchange, the video shows that Turner never looked down at his hand after receiving the object from Wilburn, which became the focus of a number of McNeil's questions this morning.
"What you got in that picture was a big wad of cash, wasn't it?" McNeil asked, referring to a still of the exchange captured from the video.
"That's what you say. I have no way of telling," Turner said.
Turner later said, "The point is, it's about service."
"So it was an exchange of money for service, wasn't it?" McNeil asked. The question sparking laughter from a spectator in the courtroom. US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock stopped the proceedings to warn that he would not tolerate such outbursts.
"I have no way of saying so. I don't remember what happened. The picture doesn't answer that for me," Turner said.
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