Gazette Exclusive-Turner: FBI tried ‘sting operation’ in City Hall

John Ruch

An undercover FBI agent last year visited City Councilor Chuck Turner’s office in Boston City Hall wearing a hidden video camera in an apparent “sting operation,” Turner recently told the Gazette.

The undercover operation reportedly gathered footage of the agent walking to the door of the City Council’s chamber. An FBI agent reportedly recently visited the home of Turner’s assistant, Paulette Tillery, and showed her the footage, Turner said.

Turner blasted the operation and the visit to Tillery as an attempt to “entrap” him and “intimidate” his staff. Turner said he has done nothing wrong.

The agent’s visit was part of the FBI’s undercover investigation that led to state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson’s Oct. 28 arrest on bribe-taking charges, Turner said. It has been reported that Turner is among officials who have received federal subpoenas for Wilkerson-related records. But Turner had not previously revealed the existence of the undercover operation in City Hall. It is the first report of any undercover footage in the investigation besides the footage featuring Wilkerson.

“I imagine that they were trying to see if I was going to take a bribe,” Turner said, adding that he never has. He suggested the only reason for such a visit would be to “entrap” him.

“It’s an ongoing investigation, so we can’t discuss the details,” said US Attorney’s Office spokesperson Christina DiIorio-Sterling.

Government agents are legally allowed to secretly record conversations without a warrant and without the consent of the person being recorded, according to Michael Avery, a professor at the Suffolk University Law School.

“Most civil libertarians object to this practice,” said Avery in an e-mail to the Gazette. “The fact that someone is being recorded does not imply that he or she is suspected of a crime.”

Turner said the undercover visit happened on Sept. 12, 2007. He said he has not seen the footage himself, only hearing about from FBI investigators and Tillery, who appears in it.

Tillery declined to comment on the situation. “I don’t want to discuss it,” she said.

“An FBI agent came to the house of my assistant [Tillery] and showed her a DVD” of the undercover footage, Turner said, describing that incident as coming shortly after Wilkerson’s arrest.

The footage reportedly shows the agent speaking with Tillery, who then leads the agent to the door of the City Council chamber. Turner was in a council hearing at the time. He said he does not remember if he spoke to the agent. The footage either ends at that point, or that is all the FBI displayed.

Turner said there is no indication the undercover agent actively attempted to offer a bribe. “I’m not sure what the purpose was,” he said. “It’s hard to believe they made a [bribe] offer in the back of the council chamber.”

But Turner indicated that he is upset with the FBI visit to Tillery. “It seems to me they’re trying to intimidate her,” he said. “Are they trying to get her to say something that didn’t happen?”

Similar undercover footage of Wilkerson captured images of her allegedly taking thousands of dollars in cash bribes from agents at Boston restaurants.

The actions Wilkerson allegedly did in return for bribes include pressuring the City Council in a legislative effort to get a liquor license for a Roxbury nightclub. That reportedly has led to council president Maureen Feeney, among others, to be subpoenaed as part of the federal investigation of Wilkerson. Turner confirmed that he also has had records subpoenaed. Also, Turner said, FBI agents visited him at his house on the day of Wilkerson’s arrest and interviewed him at his office.

Feeney did not return a Gazette phone call for this article. Nick Martin, a spokesperson for Mayor Thomas Menino, confirmed that the mayor received a subpoena for records in the case, but had no immediate comment on the undercover footage taken in City Hall.

Turner—a longtime Wilkerson supporter—said he does not know the circumstances of her arrest. But, he said, “As far as their behavior with me, it shows me [the FBI is] still an organization that seems to focus on trying to take black politicians down.”

The FBI has an infamous history of attempting to derail African-American civil rights organizations and leaders—including Martin Luther King Jr.—in the 1960s and ’70s. Turner and Wilkerson are both African-American.

“I know they don’t have any evidence I was taking bribes,” Turner said, questioning the grounds for the undercover visit to him. “I know I didn’t take anything…It shows, to my mind, how corrupt the FBI is.”

“The FBI is, from my perspective, an evil institution,” he said.

Local City Councilor John Tobin, who sits next to Turner during City Council hearings, said he first heard about the undercover footage of Turner from the Gazette.

“I wouldn’t want to comment on it until I’ve actually seen the footage,” Tobin said, adding that he is unfamiliar with FBI investigation techniques and wants to keep it that way. “It’s been a pretty good 39-year run [of never dealing with the FBI] and I hope it continues into the future,” he joked.

But he did express some of the anxiety building among elected officials in City Hall and the State House. “Who knows what’s going to happen as a result of this [Wilkerson] investigation?” he said.

Tobin said he has not received any subpoena in the Wilkerson case and was not aware of any other reports of undercover investigations in City Hall.

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