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Chuck Turner corruption trial to resume with key witness on stand

Posted by Metro Desk  October 25, 2010 08:49 AM

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When Ronald Wilburn was questioned by federal prosecutors last week, the star witness in the federal corruption trial of Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner was combative -- with both prosecutors and defense.


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Boston Globe

Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner


“You gave me up,’ " shouted Wilburn, who worked undercover in the FBI sting that resulted in the arrest of Turner and state Senator Dianne Wilkerson in autumn 2008 on bribery charges shouted at a prosecutor. “Hell, you cut off my income. I did all the dirty work, and you gave me up!’’

Wilburn will be back on the stand today as Turner's defense attorney, Barry P. Wilson, continues the attack on Wilburn credibility. On Friday, Wilburn testified under questioning by Wilson that he never counted the cash bribe he allegedly paid to Turner in a meeting that was both secretly recorded by Wilburn.

Last Friday Wilburn, whom the government paid more than $29,000 as a cooperating witness, testified only after a judge threatened to jail him. He said authorities blew his cover in a Globe article on Nov. 10, 2008. It reported that Wilburn was the unidentified man who gave Wilkerson $6,500 in secretly videotaped payoffs, leading to her arrest two weeks earlier. The unmasking was based on interviews with three associates of Wilkerson.

Raising his voice, Assistant US Attorney John T. McNeil confronted Wilburn about whether he himself put his name in the media long before that. Wilburn was the subject of a Globe column in July 2007 — when he was secretly cooperating with the FBI — about his inability to obtain a liquor license for a supper club he wanted to open in Roxbury.

“You did it while you were working for the FBI, didn’t you?’’ McNeil shouted in US District Court in Boston. “Isn’t it true that your name first appeared in the newspaper in an article you initiated?’’

The blistering face-off occurred on the second day of Wilburn’s testimony about a $1,000 bribe he allegedly paid Turner on Aug. 3, 2007, for help in getting the license while Wilburn wore an FBI wire.

In another startling development, Wilburn said under questioning yesterday by McNeil and by Wilson that he was involved in several cash payments to the Boston police before he participated in the corruption investigation of Wilkerson and Turner.

He said Felix “Manny’’ Soto, a protégé who operated Mirage at Estelle’s, the nightclub where Wilburn worked from about 2000 to 2005, repeatedly paid Boston police officers cash after 2 a.m. in addition to the standard payments they received for work details there. Wilburn said he himself never made those payments.

Wilburn said he personally paid a police official $800 outside police headquarters at 6 a.m. after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, although Wilson said Wilburn originally told the FBI it was $10,000. Wilburn also testified that he told the FBI he made three payments to the Boston police.

Neither side in the trial explained the fragmentary allegations nor what the payments were for.

Boston police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said in a statement yesterday: “Mr. Wilburn’s allegations have been part of an ongoing investigation among the US attorney’s office, the FBI, and the Boston Police Department. I can’t comment any further than that.’’

An FBI agent had previously testified that Wilburn became a cooperating witness in early 2007 as part of a separate public corruption investigation involving a third public official.

Turner, a 70-year-old politician who has served six terms on the City Council, is being tried on charges of attempted extortion and three counts of making false statements to federal agents. Wilburn allegedly thrust a wad of cash into his hand in the councilor’s Roxbury office while carrying several recording devices, including a video camera in a briefcase.

Wilburn spent most of yesterday’s testimony being grilled by Wilson, Turner’s attorney. Wilson, who will resume cross-examination today, sought to portray the witness as a ne’er-do-well who could not pay his own bills while working for the FBI.

Although Wilburn unequivocally testified Thursday that he gave Turner all the money FBI agents told him to hand the councilor, Wilson repeatedly sought to cast doubt on whether it amounted to $1,000.

As Wilson posed questions, Wilburn acknowledged that an FBI agent never counted on camera the bills he gave him before Wilburn entered Turner’s office. Wilburn, who testified that he withdrew the money from his pocket and gave it to Turner in a handshake, said he did not count it, either.

“So you don’t know how much money they gave you, do you?’’ Wilson asked.

“No,’’ Wilburn replied.

“And you don’t know how many bills?’’

“No.’’

Wilson also drew attention to inconsistencies between Wilburn’s trial testimony and his testimony before a grand jury on March 3, 2009 — the day, Wilson pointed out, that Wilburn was evicted from his residence. At trial, Wilburn testified that he gave a folded wad of cash to Turner; before the grand jury, he testified that the bills were unrolled.

But the tensest exchange occurred between Wilburn and McNeil.

Lashing out, Wilburn said McNeil unmasked him by filing grainy FBI surveillance photographs in federal court immediately after Wilkerson’s arrest. Only slivers of the cooperating witness are visible in the pictures: the crisp white cuff of a dress shirt, a close-up of a palm, hands pressing neat folds of cash toward Wilkerson.

“You provided a photo of my hand passing the money,’’ Wilburn snapped. He was identified as CW in an FBI affidavit, but Wilburn said, “It should have been RW.’’ He said he has not been able to get work since then.

The scene became even more unusual when a juror got District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock’s attention and said, “I’m just curious if someone’s coaching the witness.’’

The juror was referring to a lawyer in the front of the gallery, Robert S. Sinsheimer, who was gesturing to Wilburn to calm down. Sinsheimer was appointed by the judge last week to represent Wilburn in case the witness was charged with contempt for refusing to testify.

McNeil made it clear that Sinsheimer did not work for the government.

Originally published on the blog MetroDesk.

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