The Persecution of Chuck Turner

Let me be clear from the start: if Chuck Turner took that money (and the jury says he did), it was wrong, and his conviction was proper-a tragic end to a great career.

However, Turner’s guilt or innocence is only a small part of the story. The bigger part involves the decision by Federal Attorney Michael Sullivan – a former Republican State Representative – to go after him. Bear in mind that even if we accept the prosecution’s case at face value, the following points are true:

1. This was not an investigation of a crime. No crime was committed until the investigation of Turner was under way.

2. Ron Wilburn, the guy who gave $1,000 to Turner, was paid $30,000 to do so by the federal government.

3. Wilburn has told the press that several other individuals were implicated by his evidence, but the only people prosecuted were two African American elected officials with progressive politics, Turner and then-State Senator Dianne Wilkerson. Logically this has to be true — elected officials can’t issue liquor licenses themselves, they have to get someone in City Hall to do it.

It’s hard not to conclude then that this was not an attempt to root out corruption in city politics, but an attempt to silence a strong progressive voice from Boston’s inner city.

In this regard, I have to take note of an editorial in today’s Boston Globe with the title “Chuck Turner’s World of Lies.” Here’s the concluding paragraph:

Turner, to be fair, isn’t a venal man. He doesn’t live it up on ill-begotten funds. But he has spread unreality among his supporters for decades. And that may be his greatest crime. In a Boston neighborhood that so desperately needs sensible leadership to address crime, joblessness, and poor education, Turner has fed his constituents a steady diet of political fantasy

Wow! It is the considered opinion of the Globe editorial board that to advocate ideas they disagree with is a serious crime! More serious than bribery, for example. It follows that Turner deserved to be punished whether or not he took a bribe – so perhaps it was justifiable to arrange for him to be offered one. With Boston’s leading newspaper advancing views like that, it’s no wonder that many of us are very skeptical indeed of the Turner prosecution.

4 thoughts on “The Persecution of Chuck Turner”

  1. I agree this looks odd and am troubled by the fact that they only got convictions against African-American public officials, especially given the history of federal investigations too often resulting in that and only that.
    My theory is that these two were low level targets in a bigger investigation of the current Boston city government that didn’t go anywhere so the feds took what they could get and moved on.

    The problems for Ms. Wilkerson and Mr. Turner are that the feds had pictures of them taking the money and a witnesses admitting he gave it to them. They both could have said “no, thanks” and reported what had happened to either the BPD, the MA State Police or the MA campaign ethics compliance officers but they did not do that. If the feds had doctored the photos, that would have leaked by now, the FBI isn’t that good at keeping secrets like that. The paid informant was a problem but the pictures probably overwhelmed that.

    If it wasn’t that then it opens the door to what you’ve suggested.

  2. Thanks for the comment! Three points in response:

    1. I am not saying that Turner was framed; I am saying that he had not committed a crime before the FBI tried to entice him to take the money. That’s not framing, but it is entrapment. I think we get big problems if law enforcement tries to bribe public officials just to set them up, and that they should be prohibited from doing so. If they do it as a general practice, it really opens the door to abuse — they can go after people for their political beliefs. Of course, if no one every yields to temptation, then such entrapment attempts will fail — but sadly some of them do succeed.

    2. I am not disputing the case against Turner. I wasn’t at the trial and so did not have the same chance that the jury did to evaluate the evidence; and I decided long ago (I think it was during the OJ Simpson trial) that I would not say that someone was guilty or innocent simply based on what I’d read in the press (at least with rare exceptions, either if a prosecution is an obvious political framing, as in the Dreyfus case; or, even more rarely, if it’s something like a Southern trial during the 1950s of a white sheriff who beat a black inmate to death and was acquitted by an all-white jury in the face of clear-cut evidence). So I’m not ready to say “he was guilty” as an absolute statement.

    3. I think I did not put enough emphasis on my main point, viz. that the Globe editorial, with the statement I quoted about Turner’s “real crime,” was outrageous –taken literally (and how else?) it amounts to thought control for elected officials.

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