No-longer-cooperating witness Ron Wilburn tells the Boston Globe’s Adrian Walker: “Dianne is a thief. Chuck isn’t. Dianne knew better. Chuck is a victim of circumstance.” Which is kind of the way this has looked from the beginning.
Tag: Chuck Turner
Today we offer a postscript to Chuck Turner’s absurd call for legal sanctions against media outlets that fail to presume his innocence in an ongoing federal corruption probe. Now the government wants to take away Turner’s First Amendment rights. According to Boston Globe reporter Shelley Murphy:
Federal prosecutors urged a judge yesterday to prohibit Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner from revealing, or even talking about, evidence and witnesses the government is relying on to convince a jury that he pocketed a $1,000 bribe.
The best part is a letter written to the judge by Assistant U.S. Attorney John McNeil, in which he says in part: “Mr. Turner has held a series of press conferences and rallies since he was charged in this matter, aimed in part at bolstering his character and attacking the government’s motives for seeking an indictment against him from the grand jury.” And this is wrong?
McNeil goes on to say that Turner might “selectively” quote from the evidence against him, which could have the effect of “indirectly” intimidating witnesses and otherwise harming the case against him.
According to Laurel Sweet and Ed Mason, writing in the Boston Herald, the gag order sought by prosecutors could also derail an internal investigation by the Boston City Council.
The idea that Turner should be denied a look at the evidence against him unless he agrees to give up his First Amendment right to defend himself in public is offensive and outrageous. If prosecutors fear they can’t win without Turner’s silence, then they must be worried that they don’t have much of a case.
Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner may or may not end up doing time. But if the indicted councilor has his way, local journalists — including Joan Vennochi of the Boston Globe, Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix and Joe Fitzgerald of the Boston Herald — will be subject to legal sanctions for failing to presume that Turner is innocent.
On Friday, the Herald’s Ed Mason reported that Turner had sent a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick asking that a task force be appointed that would investigate “collusion” between federal prosecutors and the media.
Over the weekend, John Guilfoil, the founder and editor of the online magazine Blast, posted the full text of Turner’s screed. In it, Turner calls for nothing less than the abolition of the First Amendment. Guilfoil, a former student of mine, writes, “Five words, Councilor: ‘Congress shall make no law.'”
Turner, in case you’ve forgotten, is under federal indictment, charged with taking cash bribes in connection with the Dianne Wilkerson case.
Tellingly, Turner cites Deuteronomy, the Quran, the Roman Code, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution in his argument to muzzle the press, yet makes absolutely no mention whatsoever of the First Amendment, which clearly states: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” (Subsequent amendments, as well as Supreme Court decisions, have broadened “Congress” to include all governmental bodies at the federal, state and local levels.)
Turner blasts columns by Vennochi, Reilly and Fitzgerald, saying they have “unashamedly proclaimed my guilt.” He also claims that Globe columnist Adrian Walker’s interview with Ron Wilburn, the cooperating government witness, is proof that the FBI’s affidavit against Turner is full of lies (not how I would interpret it). And Turner includes this tantalizing tidbit:
Even Howie Carr, self proclaimed protector of the public good and verbal slayer of public officials who betray their trust has not even mumbled one word about the fact that the US Attorney’s wire is making accusations against him.
Really? Does anyone know what Turner is referring to? The ball’s in your court, Howie.
Not to save the best part for last, but Turner closes by recommending legal sanctions against journalists who discuss “the ‘evidence’ in the court of public opinion before it has been presented in a court of law,” including:
- “State legal policy should be significantly reformed to promote respect for the presumption of innocence among state officials, mass media representatives, and citizens.”
- “Mass media outlets must be prohibited from spreading information that conflicts with the presumption of innocence.”
Now, let me move on to the fallacy at the heart of Turner’s proposal to round up journalists and send them to re-education camp. Yes, the legal system is required to presume that Turner is innocent unless it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that he is not. But the media are under no such constraints.
Turner is free to avail himself of the libel laws if he believes a journalist has said something about him that is false, defamatory and, as he is a public official, made with knowing falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. And there are circumstances in which the courts will intervene by way of gag orders on the lawyers in order to balance the First Amendment with the Sixth, which guarantees the right to a fair trial.
But this is not North Korea, or even Britain, where the press has far fewer protections than it does in the United States. (I’ve had a couple of interesting discussions with my editor at the Guardian, whose home office is in Manchester, England.) In the U.S., everyone is free to speak and write the truth as he or she sees it.
By the way, I am willing to grant Turner the presumption of innocence. Taking cash from a supplicant shows incredibly poor judgment, but let’s wait and see if it adds up to a criminal act. (Although I was unimpressed by Turner’s claim that the photo might have been doctored — a subject with which Turner has some passing familiarity.)
Regardless of whether Turner is guilty of bribe-taking, though, he has already convicted himself of holding freedom of the press in utter contempt.
Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker unleashes a high, hard one today destroying any pretense that Boston city councilor Chuck Turner and former state senator Dianne Wilkerson were set up by racists at the FBI.
Walker has a page-one interview with Ron Wilburn, better known as “Cooperating Witness,” the guy who lured Wilkerson and Turner into posing for those can’t-get-enough photos of them taking cash, allegedly in return for their help in getting Wilburn a liquor license for a bar he was trying to open.
Wilburn is not a racist FBI agent. Nor is he in trouble himself. Rather, he is a well-known, 69-year-old African-American businessman and longtime Wilkerson supporter who tells Walker that he’d had enough, and that he expects more city officials will be arrested before this is over.
I’d say he’d be in a position to know, wouldn’t you? After all, he knows who smiled for the camera. This excerpt from Walker’s piece is priceless:
“People do things,” Wilburn said. “There are decisions, there are choices, and there are consequences.” Asked if he was surprised that public officials would allegedly take money to help push a liquor license, he responded quickly. “Hell, no,” and let out a hearty laugh….
“You’re dealing with favoritism, cronyism, classism, and if you don’t have the right connections it’s very difficult to make things happen,” Wilburn said. “The average person that works hard and has a plan to get a license, it’s very hard for them to move through that system. And you find out if you have the right people pushing the buttons, things can happen fast.”
So much for Turner’s media-bashing performance yesterday outside City Hall.
Wilburn does say that the FBI remains its usual bumbling self. For one thing, he says he never told the FBI that he was tired of being shaken down by Wilkerson, as the FBI claims in its affidavit (PDF). For another, he’s upset that the FBI gave him so little cover that his identity quickly became known.
But, he adds, “I was not forced or coerced.”
And now Wilburn finds himself at the center of the biggest corruption scandal Massachusetts has seen in several decades.
Just finished reading David Bernstein’s excellent piece in this week’s Boston Phoenix on the long-controversial mosque that’s been built in Roxbury, known as the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. Among other things, Bernstein reports the following:
- Originally intended as a spiritual center primarily for U.S.-born African-American Muslims, the center’s control shifted long ago to conservative Muslims primarily from the Middle East, some of whom have espoused homophobic and anti-Semitic views.
- Despite numerous financial difficulties, the project was pushed along at key moments by Mayor Tom Menino and a staff member at the Boston Redevelopment Authority who had a conflict of interest that almost certainly should have led him to recuse himself.
- Promised benefits to the community have not materialized, and are unlikely to any time soon given the mosque’s ongoing financial problems.
- Former state senator Dianne Wilkerson and Boston city councilor Chuck Turner, charged by federal authorities with taking bribes, have showed an unusual degree of interest in the mosque.
The mosque has been 20 years in the making, and is still incomplete. A fascinating story, even though there are more questions in Bernstein’s story than there are answers.
Most outstanding quote from the soon-to-be-ex-councilor: “If you took out all corrupt politicians, you’d take out 90 percent and be left with us 10 percent.”
Us? Well, he is innocent unless proven guilty.
Here’s what I don’t understand. I always thought Turner was one of those hard-core ideologues who would never take a dime. The only way this would make sense is if we learned he donated the money to the North Korean government, or to Cynthia McKinney’s presidential campaign.
Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner is a major-league goofball, but he always struck me as honest. And perhaps he is.
But his reputation took a big hit this morning when he was arrested by the FBI in connection with the Dianne Wilkerson bribery case.
Oh, and there’s a Wilkerson-style photo, too. At least Turner keeps his shirt on.