Bribery, lies and corruption have plagued Beacon Hill this semester: after Boston City Councilor and a state senator were accused and arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for allegedly accepting bribes for liquor licenses.
The scandals have tainted the Golden Dome and forced city officials to search for ways to restore the public’s faith in Boston politics.’
City Councilor Chuck Turner (Dorchester, Roxbury), who was arrested Nov. 21 for allegedly taking a $1,000 bribe and then lying about it to the FBI, plead not guilty to conspiracy, attempted extortion and giving false statements to the FBI Wednesday.
Turner told the Daily Free Press that U.S. Attorney General Michael Sullivan, a Republican, is bringing the charges against him, and President-elect Barack Obama will take Sullivan out of office before he can try Turner in court.
‘Why is the U.S. Attorney General bringing charges that lawyers see is flimsy when he won’t be able to go through with them?’ Turner asked.
Turner said he expects the charges to be dropped after Jan. 25, and he does not expect the allegations to have an effect on his future political career. He said he expects his voters will remain loyal to him in future elections.
‘I have been serving the people of my district for 42 years,’ he said. ‘It is not going to affect them.’
Turner insisted he is innocent on all charges and condemned the media for prohibiting him from a fair trial by swaying public opinion.
‘It is unfair to decide a person’s guilt or innocence through the media,’ Turner said in a Nov. 23 press release. ‘It is clear that once you become the target of a media witch hunt, you either fight back by presenting the essence of your legal defense, or allow the media wolves to destroy your reputation so the jury’s decision becomes irrelevant to public perception.’
On Nov. 18, Sen. Dianne Wilkerson was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with eight counts of attempted extortion. Turner’s indictment on Tuesday added a conspiracy charge to Wilkerson’s eight charges of extortion, which she plead not guilty to Wednesday.
Wilkerson’s Oct. 28 arrest came after an 18-month undercover FBI and Boston Police Department investigation based on a tip that she accepted $23,000 in bribes in connection with liquor licenses and the development of a state-owned property in Roxbury.’
Wilkerson, who resigned on Nov. 19 after the senate asked her to step down, faces up to 20 years of imprisonment, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine on each of the eight charges, according to a Nov. 21 FBI press release.
The FBI believes the Wilkerson and Turner cases are connected and indicted them on conspiracy charges together on Tuesday.
‘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,’ U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said in an Nov. 21 FBI press release.
Gov. Deval Patrick created a Task Force on Public Integrity on Oct. 31 shortly following Wilkerson’s arrest. The task force will examine the Commonwealth’s ethics, lobbying rules and city officials’ conduct and make recommendations for reform.
Republican Rep. and task force member Mary Rogeness said she would like the state to gain more power so it can conduct similar investigations into the federal government.’
‘I would like to see laws strengthened so we would have the power to investigate more thoroughly,’ she said.
The task force is currently evaluating the state and local government so the governor can expand ethics legislation in the future.
‘At the end of the day, Massachusetts has the strongest ethics laws in the country in regards to elected officials,’ City Councilor John Tobin (Jamaica Plain) said about Patrick’s Task Force. ‘People are humans and are going to make mistakes. We can have laws about drugs and drinking and driving, but people still do it.’
Tobin, who has worked with Turner for seven years, said he respects Turner despite their differences and Turner deserves his day in court.
Tobin said Turner’s political blunder does not reflect well on the City Council or any elected official, but he said there are many more elected people in Massachusetts than there are scandals.
‘If a hockey player was accused of something I wouldn’t place that on all hockey players,’ Tobin said. ‘Politics is just something of a sport in this town.’