Rumored corruption

The FBI used Ron Wilburn, and then tossed him aside. The feds got Wilburn, a Roxbury businessman, to wear a wire while passing bribes to Dianne Wilkerson and Chuck Turner. But after snaring the two black Boston politicians, they shut their investigation down, leaving all sorts of white political crooks untouched. That’s Wilburn’s take on his role in the sting that netted Wilkerson and Turner stiff federal prison sentences.

For two years now, Wilburn has been a bitter critic of federal investigators and prosecutors. He stopped cooperating with the feds in February 2009, telling the Globe he was angry that their investigation hadn’t snagged anyone else inside City Hall or the State House. His anger at the prosecution was so great that he considered refusing to testify at Turner’s trial, telling the Globe, “You mean to tell me that the only people investigated in terms of criminal wrongdoing were Dianne and Chuck Turner? There’s no way.”

Wilburn is right in that aspect. In their investigation into Wilkerson’s criminality, federal prosecutors looked into a number of Boston politicians and businessmen. Investigators also asked Wilburn for everything he had, and for every lead he could provide. Wilburn failed to provide them with much of anything to work with.

Hundreds of pages of newly unsealed documents in the Wilkerson case shed fresh light on federal investigators’ scrutiny of City Hall and State House officials. Wilburn’s grand jury testimony, in particular, shows federal prosecutors inquiring about several prominent Boston figures.

Wilburn’s testimony shows federal prosecutors inquiring about Daniel Pokaski, the former head of the Boston Licensing Board; Steven Miller, an attorney whose law firm specializes in securing liquor licenses in Boston; Arthur Winn, the real estate developer behind a South End mega-development that was a pet cause of Wilkerson’s; the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, whom Wilkerson met with about casino gambling; developers Edward Zuker and Ed Fish; and contractor and Jay Cashman.

No one other than Turner has been accused of any wrongdoing, let alone charged, in connection with the Wilkerson case. Whether or not there was a bigger case to be built – the investigation officially remains open, but hasn’t shown any public momentum – the questions prosecutors asked Wilburn suggest investigators were certainly trying to build a bigger case. For all his anger at the feds, Wilburn’s grand jury testimony helps explain why Wilkerson and Turner have been the only two public figures to face an indictment.

Wilburn provided the grand jury with extensive testimony about his payments to Wilkerson and Turner, which were captured on tape. They also asked him about anyone else in town – anyone at all – whom he knew to be involved in corruption. He made a number of claims, but offered little in the way of evidence.

Prosecutors asked Wilburn several times about Winn, the Columbus Center developer. Wilburn couldn’t tell them anything they hadn’t already read in the newspaper.

They asked about Fish, long a major contractor and developer in Wilkerson’s district. Wilburn knew nothing.

They asked about Zuker, a developer who loaned Wilkerson $9,000 so the senator could settle an outstanding tax debt; Wilburn didn’t have any information about him. Nor could he reveal anything about Cashman; he simply alleged that anyone who did any construction work in Wilkerson’s district had to pay the senator.

The exchanges regarding Pokaski, the former licensing chairman, and Miller, the licensing attorney, are particularly illustrative. Wilburn had made a number of accusations about Pokaski while he was wearing an FBI wire, but at the grand jury, he testified he wouldn’t be able to prove anything in court.

Prosecutors repeatedly pressed Wilburn for any specifics, in prosecutor John McNeil’s words, “about Steve Miller somehow engaged in nefarious conduct with the licensing board,” and whether “Mr. Miller was somehow passing on any kind of efforts, money, golf, trips anywhere, to anyone on the Licensing Board.”

Meet the Author

Paul McMorrow

Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Paul McMorrow

Paul McMorrow comes to CommonWealth from Banker & Tradesman, where he covered commercial real estate and development. He previously worked as a contributing editor to Boston magazine, where he covered local politics in print and online. He got his start at the Weekly Dig, where he worked as a staff writer, and later news and features editor. Paul writes a frequent column about real estate for the Boston Globe’s Op-Ed page, and is a regular contributor to BeerAdvocate magazine. His work has been recognized by the City and Regional Magazine Association, the New England Press Association, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. He is a Boston University graduate and a lifelong New Englander.

About Paul McMorrow

Paul McMorrow comes to CommonWealth from Banker & Tradesman, where he covered commercial real estate and development. He previously worked as a contributing editor to Boston magazine, where he covered local politics in print and online. He got his start at the Weekly Dig, where he worked as a staff writer, and later news and features editor. Paul writes a frequent column about real estate for the Boston Globe’s Op-Ed page, and is a regular contributor to BeerAdvocate magazine. His work has been recognized by the City and Regional Magazine Association, the New England Press Association, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. He is a Boston University graduate and a lifelong New Englander.

Wilburn couldn’t offer up anything. The public record is unclear as to whether the FBI enlisted undercover informants to investigate anyone other than Wilkerson or Turner. It appears the FBI pursued Wilkerson based on Wilburn’s claims that he had personally witnessed her taking cash.

Wilburn “doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” says Miller. “He’s delusional.” Miller, whose grand jury testimony has not been made public, said it’s well known that investigators took a hard look at anyone connected to the licensing board. “They looked at everything possible, and there’s nothing there. I’ve been doing this for close to 40 years. People hire us because we know what we’re doing.”