Former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, whose district included Egleston Square in Jamaica Plain, was sentenced last week to three years in prison and three years probation following his conviction last fall on charges of public corruption.
Seven people are now running to replace him as the District 7 councilor, with a special preliminary election set for Feb. 15. [See related article.] The final is scheduled for March 15.
Turner’s Jan. 25 sentencing ended an over two-year saga that began in 2007 when Turner was indicted for taking a $1,000 bribe from FBI informant Ron Wilburn as part of a public corruption investigation that also netted former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson.
US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock also ordered Turner to return the $1,000 and said Turner should start serving his sentence in late March.
Turner was convicted on charges that he accepted the bribe in exchange for agreeing to help Wilburn obtain a liquor license, and for lying to federal agents about it. He was tried and found guilty in a week-and-a-half long trial that ended Oct. 29.
The ex-City Councilor was ousted from the council by his colleagues in a Dec. 1 vote. While his jail sentence on felony charges means he is barred by state law from staying in office, he told the Gazette in a phone interview this week that he plans to continue to fight to overturn the City Council rules under which he was kicked off the council prior to his sentencing.
Turner also reiterated that he feels his conviction is unjust, and said he thinks he received a particularly harsh sentence in part because of his repeated expression of that belief.
“I thought I had the right to speak out,” Turner told the Gazette.
“The dilemma has been that I really don’t remember the situation happening,” Turner said, referring to his meeting with Wilburn when Wilburn gave him the money.
“Mr. Turner was sentenced to prison today because of the choices he made and the actions he took during the course of this case,” United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said in a Jan. 25 press release. “In 2008, Mr. Turner had the chance to assist the FBI in an ongoing public corruption investigation. Instead of telling the truth, he lied. He then went on to testify falsely under oath. It is the obligation of every elected official to be ethical and honest, and in this case, Mr. Turner was neither.”
Speaking to the Gazette, Turner denied the allegation that he had lied under oath when he took the stand in his trial and claimed he did not remember meeting Wilburn. He said he was surprised that he received jail time, especially since the prosecution never tried to argue that he engaged in a pattern of corruption.
“I am 67, and I have no history of even committing campaign finance violations. You can’t argue that you are protecting good government by going after me,” he said.
Still, Turner admitted, through his actions, including taking the witness stand during his trial, against the advice of his lawyers, and speaking out passionately against the verdict, “I did not handle this in a way that protected myself.”
Wilkerson, who pled guilty to multiple counts of public corruption last year, was recently sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.
Turner’s Dec. 1 ouster from his seat on the Boston City Council by his colleagues was conducted under Boston City Council rules—ratified following Turner’s indictment, and with his support—that allow the council to vote any member convicted off the council, even if they have not been sentenced to jail-time.
Turner told the Gazette that despite the fact that his sentencing means he cannot regain his seat, he plans to continue to pursue litigation to have the rule under which he was ousted overturned.
That litigation, Turner said, is based on a state Supreme Judicial Court precedent that he believes limits the council’s right to make rules by barring it from ousting sitting members.
“While I—as a felon sentenced to jail—obviously can’t serve, the question of whether I was legally terminated is still going on,” he said. “The goal was to knock down an illegal precedent, as well as return me to office.”
He said he voted for the rules change because he was its obvious target; he thought, at the time, he would be exonerated, and he did not think the rule language which requires City Council to determine if councilors convicted of felonies are “unqualified” to serve, gave the council the power to oust those councilors.
Turner, who was re-elected in 2009, was certainly defiant at his Dec. 1 hearing. Speaking before the council at the hearing where he was ousted, he said, “What I am saying to you is the conviction was rotten…You know the reality of who I have been with you. There has never been an accusation that I am an inside player. They call me a crazy radical.”
The ex-City Councilor does indeed have a reputation for being radical—he was known as a local activist long before he was first elected in 1999. But, while he has repeatedly suggested that his indictment was a racially motivated effort to silence his radical voice, some of the most seemingly outlandish claims on that front have publicly come from others weighing in on his case.
According to a report in the Boston Globe, prior to Turner’s sentencing, his lawyer, Barry P. Wilson, suggested in a sentencing memorandum that his client’s conviction was related to the FBI’s “Frumenschen project.”
As the Gazette reported in 2009, a similar theory was posited in 2009 by controversial international political activist Lyndon LaRouche. LaRouche claimed the conspiracy is partly backed by a supposed secret Boston group he calls “the Vault” that has “historic connections to Anglo-Dutch imperial interests” and is “committed to the destruction of the US as a sovereign nation.”
According to the Globe, Wilson’s “Frumenschen project” was likely a reference to an alleged FBI initiative in the late 1970s and early 1980s to target African-American politicians for investigation.
Wilson’s reference appeared in a footnote, according to the Globe report.
Wilson did respond to Gazette calls requesting comment.
Speaking to the Gazette, Turner said that while he had not put stock in LaRouche’s outlandish claims, evidence he has seen since then, including testimony from a former FBI agent, convinced him that the FBI program may have existed. “I saw some information that was substantive,” he said, “Although I initially had questions about it, I thought there was enough information to include it [in the sentencing memorandum] as a footnote.”
Turner said he will spend time in prison writing and reflecting on his years of public service and the future of progressive movements in the United States, and that he expects to be back.
“My father worked into his 80s,” the 70-year-old veteran activist and ex-City Councilor said.