FBI secretly taped ex-city councilor

John Ruch

Former Boston City Councilor Felix D. Arroyo was secretly recorded by an undercover FBI operative in his City Hall office in 2007 as part of the investigation that sent other local officials to prison on corruption charges, according to recently released grand jury testimony.

Arroyo, who was a popular Jamaica Plain resident at the time and left office in 2008, was never charged with any crime or called as a witness.

“I was totally unaware of that,” said Arroyo when the Gazette informed him of the secret taping. “I assume the FBI was hoping I was corrupt or doing something wrong… They probably figured out I didn’t know anything.”

“In a lot of ways, it doesn’t surprise me,” said Arroyo, adding that the FBI often targets people who are “very vocal about issues they think could be [politically] threatening one way or another.” He suggested his call for the council to oppose the Iraq War may have drawn the federal government’s attention.

Arroyo is now the third JP-area public official known to have been secretly recorded by the FBI in the investigation.

The other two, former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and former City Councilor Chuck Turner, were caught on videotape accepting bribes and went to prison this year. Wilkerson was infamously recorded in the act of stuffing illicit cash into her bra at a restaurant table.

The grand jury testimony does not make clear what sort of meeting with Arroyo was taped and whether Wilburn attempted to offer a bribe as he did with Wilkerson and Turner. Arroyo said he does not remember the meeting. It is also unclear whether the recording was audio, video or both.

Most of the undercover audio and video was recorded by FBI cooperating witness Ron Wilburn, whose 2009 federal grand jury testimony was recently posted online by Commonwealth Magazine at commonwealthmagazine.org. The US Attorney’s Office did not have immediate comment.

Wilburn was a partner in a nightclub and launched the FBI corruption investigation with complaints of elected officials seeking bribes to deliver liquor licenses to such businesses. From the questions that federal attorneys asked at the grand jury session, it appears that the FBI’s interest in Arroyo stemmed from the councilor’s call for a hearing about the way liquor licenses were distributed in Boston.

Under questioning, Wilburn briefly mentioned meeting with Arroyo at an unspecified date while working for the FBI in 2007.

“Met with him once; we did a recording in his office in City Hall,” Wilburn testified.

“You met with Felix and you recorded that meeting; is that right?” a federal attorney asked Wilburn earlier in the testimony. “Yeah. Yeah,” Wilburn replied.

The full testimony makes it clear that “recording” refers to secret audio and video recorded by Wilburn for the FBI. He described recording audio on a device hidden in a suit pocket, and recording video with a tiny camera hidden in a briefcase.

Wilburn also testified that Arroyo twice requested and received the free use of a room at his nightclub, Mirage, for political fund-raiser parties, which would be a form of campaign donation. The federal attorney repeatedly asked whether Arroyo offered or received anything of value in return, and Wilburn said Arroyo did not.

“I never really asked directly” for the room, Arroyo told the Gazette. He explained that his campaign staff handled such matters and that Mirage regularly offered the room to various elected officials.

In his lengthy testimony, Wilburn accused various other public officials and powerful business people of corruption, only to acknowledge that his source of the information was rumors or hunches. He made no specific accusation about Arroyo.

Wilkerson and Turner are both African-Americans, and Turner has repeatedly claimed that a racist FBI conspiracy to target black politicians was behind the investigation. Arroyo is a Latino and is not of African background.

Arroyo expressed sadness over the fates of his former colleague Turner as well as Wilburn, saying that the government witness must live with a lot of tension.

Felix D. Arroyo lost a re-election campaign in 2007 and now lives in Newton and works for the state Department of Transitional Assistance. His son, Felix G. Arroyo, is now also a Boston city councilor and a JP resident, and has no involvement in the federal case. Felix G. Arroyo was out of the country and unavailable for comment. His office did not respond to phone calls and an e-mail.

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