Turner escapes council scrutiny

January 26, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH

Welcomes LaRouche support

City Councilor Chuck Turner, who is under indictment on federal corruption charges, has escaped an internal Boston City Council investigation of his case. New council president Mike Ross, who represents part of Hyde Square, pulled the plug on the investigation, which was budgeted for around $50,000.

Turner has drawn vocal support in his District 7, which includes part of Egleston Square, and across Jamaica Plain. The JP-based International Action Center (IAC) Boston has been a key organization supporting him.

He has also gained support from the national political action committee of controversial activist Lyndon LaRouche, which will hold a downtown meeting this Saturday alleging that Turner and former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson are the victims of a racist conspiracy by the FBI.

Turner will speak at the event. He told the Gazette that it will give the “historic context” of decades of government efforts against African-American politicians. Turner said that he and Wilkerson are involved in a “really classic case of the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office deciding they wanted to take down two black politicial officials.”

Turner was arrested by the FBI in November on charges of taking a $1,000 bribe to help a nightclub get a liquor license, then lying to federal agents about it. He is also charged with conspiracy in the larger federal bribery case against Wilkerson.

Turner, who has proclaimed his innocence, also intends to run for re-election this fall, he confirmed for the first time to the Gazette. Turner has been so defiant of the federal charges that it was widely presumed he would run while under indictment, but he had not previously made an announcement.

“I’m definitely running and expecting to win,” Turner told the Gazette. “I’ll just keep continuing to do the work that will convince people to elect me.”

At least two other candidates—Abrigal Forrester and Carlos “Tony” Henriquez—are considering runs for Turner’s council seat. Neither potential candidate could be reached for immediate comment.

In recent weeks, prosecutors sought a gag order to prevent Turner from publicly distributing or discussing evidence in the case, though the US Attorney’s Office itself previously released an FBI evidence photo allegedly showing Turner accepting a handful of cash. Turner said in a written statement this week that he will fight the order. The US Attorney’s Office did not respond to Gazette questions about the gag order.

Former City Council president Maureen Feeney arranged for a retired judge to investigate Turner’s case for a reported $500 an hour. But Ross, who generally has a better relationship with Turner, halted that investigation apparently before it began, citing the cost. He has called for the council to come up with a set of ethics rules instead.

City Councilor John Tobin, who represents most of JP, told the Gazette that he opposed the internal investigation in private discussions with Ross. Noting that the federal government is already investigation Turner, Tobin said there was no reason to be “paying upward of $50,000 for an investigation that is already taking place for free—or free to us.”

Tobin also expressed hesitation about appearing to declare Turner guilty before an official trial. “The American justice system is based on due process,” he said, explaining that council decisions should come afterward. “If Councilor Turner is guilty…then he has to leave,” Tobin said.

In this week’s written statement, Turner praised Ross for not giving in to “a situation where many in the public are still screaming—Off With His Head.”

Running while under indictment is already presenting Turner with some challenges. He told the Gazette that is he is seeking state approval to set up a separate legal defense fund that could accept unlimited donations. Currently, he said, the state is requiring him to use his campaign finance account for all such activity.

Turner’s legal defense and re-election campaign clearly will go hand-in-hand. He already has drawn hundreds of supporters to several rallies.

IAC Boston, headquartered on Amory Street in Egleston Square, has been a key organizer of Turner’s support efforts. The organization did not respond to Gazette phone and e-mail messages.

The national IAC was founded by controversial human rights activist Ramsey Clark in 1992 to oppose the first war against Iraq. Clark recently appeared at a Boston rally to support Turner and blast the government case against him in a visit apparently arranged by IAC Boston.

IAC Boston’s web site and press statements have called the Turner case a “racist frame-up” and an “attack on the entire Roxbury community” and all “working people.” The US Attorney’s Office has said the case has nothing to do with race.

The main IAC defines itself as an “anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist” organization, according to its web site. Its efforts include supporting the controversial claims of innocence by Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a police officer, and opposing US aid to Israel as part of the Palestinian cause.

Horace Small, executive director of the JP-based Union of Minority Neighborhoods, told the Gazette that his organization does not support particular officials due to its non-profit status. But it did offer IAC a meeting room after-hours for its Turner organizing efforts.

And personally, Turner is “one of my three closest friends on Earth,” Small said.

“I’m not one of the fanatics that have made this case a cause célèbre, because at the end of the day, we’ve got the people’s business. We’ve got work to do,” Small said.

But, Small said, the government’s case appears weak, and it would surprise him if Turner is guilty.

“I know the cat. I know his heart,” Small said of Turner. “There’s not an evil bone in his…body.”

LaRouche and his various political organizations are often criticized as left-wing conspiracy theorists. Limari Navarrete of the LaRouche PAC said that the Turner and Wilkerson case came to the group’s attention through former US Rep. Mervyn Dymally, who she said has investigated “FBI operations against black officials” for years.

“We said, ‘There’s something kind of fishy about this,’” Navarrete said of the charges against Turner and Wilkerson. She noted that the charges came soon after Turner publicly supported a moratorium on people paying home heating bills, and Wilkerson publicly supported a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures.

Turner told the Gazette he has also spoken with Dymally. He noted that key government witness Ron Wilburn, in a Boston Globe interview last year, contradicted the FBI by saying that investigators approached him with tales of Wilkerson’s corruption, not the other way around. Turner suggested that means the entire probable cause for the investigation was based on “lies.”

“What this says to me is [that] this is a situation totally set up by the FBI,” Turner said. Turner added that the basis for the FBI’s investigation of him cited in an affidavit—that he once took money for writing a recommendation letter for a person with a criminal record—“never happened.”

The LaRouche PAC event this Saturday will involve a presentation about the alleged conspiracy. The free event will be held at 2 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel Boston at 200 Stuart St.

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