Turner done in by his own deeds and words

Lack of contrition and alleged perjury lead to stiff sentence

Chuck Turner was sentenced to three years in prison yesterday, and afterward, he repeated what he’s been saying all along about the case against him – he’s innocent, he was set up, the government was “trying to do everything they can do to shut my mouth.” He added a nice kicker at the end, warning supporters that the government might try to kill him in prison. That’s Turner’s story, he’s sticking to it, and all the covert tapes in the world won’t change that fact.

But inside the courthouse, Douglas Woodlock, the federal judge who sent Turner away for three years, had a very different view on what brought down the former Boston city councilor.

“He who undertakes to speak truth to power must be prepared to confront the truth about himself,” Woodlock said from the bench yesterday. “If it had just been a $1,000 bribe, unaccompanied by false statements to the FBI and perjury, we’d be in a different place. People are fallible. They make mistakes.” Turner, Woodlock argued, landed himself in prison for his “failure to recognize his mistakes and accept responsibility,” as well as his decision to “engage in the most bizarre kind of obfuscation” while testifying at his own trial.

Turner was arrested in 2008 for accepting a $1,000 bribe from Ronald Wilburn, the same cooperating witness who wore a wire while slipping $6,500 in bribes to former state senator Dianne Wilkerson.

Immediately after Wilkerson’s arrest, FBI agents visited Turner, questioned him about his meeting with Wilburn, and asked him to cooperate  in the investigation into Wilkerson. He declined to cooperate with the government, and then denied ever meeting with Wilburn, let alone receiving cash from him. As a Harvard grad with a government persecution complex, Turner probably should have guessed that his refusal to cooperate and his false statements to the FBI wouldn’t end well for him – especially when the FBI had him on tape taking cash.

“He took the money and kept it,” Woodlock said. “He compounded that when the FBI visited him. Under the law, you don’t have to lie. You can keep your mouth shut. He thrice denied what was clearly the truth.” The cover-up, not the piddling bribe, landed him in prison.

“He made a fateful decision that day, to lie and to not cooperate,” said assistant US Attorney John McNeil. “It’s quite likely he could have walked in here not facing prison time. But he made the choice not to cooperate, and to take the case to trial. Then he gets on the stand and lies to the jury. His choices put him in the seat he’s in.”

At trial, Turner testified in his own defense. He did so against the advice of his supporters, his lawyers, and even warnings from Woodlock. He disregarded those warnings, and then testified he had no memory of ever being paid off by Wilburn. Yesterday, Woodlock called that testimony “ludicrous,” and tacked on extra prison time for committing perjury at trial.

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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.

“He has the right and privilege not to testify,” Woodlock said. “He had full knowledge of what the consequences were, and he testified falsely. It was designed, not very successfully, to obstruct justice.” He added, “No one is forced to testify, but he does not have the right to testify without consequence… He betrayed the public trust, and then he repeatedly lied about it.”

Photo by Stand4Security under a Creative Commons license.