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Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury

 

Reflections from Behind the Wall

Anatomy of a FrameUP! - Installment 7

Chuck TurnerThis is the seventh installment of an eight installment series in which I describe my two and a half year struggle with the Justice Department that led to my being a convicted felon, beginning the 5th month of my 36 month sentence here at the work camp of USP Hazelton, Bruceton Mills, West Virginia. 
 
I know it is highly unusual for the defendant to address the jury. However, I understand the suspicion that we have of elected officials. So I thought before you make your decision regarding my fate, it would be important that you have an opportunity to get to know me beyond my political label. 
 
Let me begin by giving you a little background on myself. I have spent my whole life working for justice. Frankly, when I graduated from Harvard College in 1963, my focus was on the injustice that we as African-Americans were and had been suffering in this country. Throughout the 60s, I concentrated on organizing African-Americans to stand up for our rights, based on the belief that change would only come through our being the instruments of change. 
 
As my experience deepened, I began to understand that the problem was not just one of discrimination against black people and people of color but also one of discrimination against women and workers regardless of race. Under the US Constitution not only were those of African descent restricted from voting but also white women and those white men who did not own property could not vote. They were also not seen worthy of the full rights of citizenship. While I saw racial injustice as the driving force of this country's system of oppression, I learned that gender and class were also included.  
 
By the 70s, I was seeking to build coalitions with other racial groups that could not only add to our power as African-Americans to challenge discrimination but also build a foundation for operational unity. To me, this would take us beyond protest to progress in building the base of a democratic multiracial society. 
 
To model this concept and fight discrimination against people of color in the construction trades in Boston, I helped to build an organization called the Third World Jobs Clearing House, an alliance of organizations focused on providing jobs for construction workers from Boston's black, Latino, Asian, and Native American communities. Our operational success in Boston led to our becoming a state wide organization with offices in Cambridge, Worcester, and Springfield. Unfortunately, the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan led to the defunding of the organization. 
 
During this same period, when the suburban controlled construction unions that excluded whites from Boston as well as people of color called a general strike and marched on City Hall, 2000 strong, to demand the defunding of the Clearing House, we decided we needed to create a law that would join affirmative action for people of color and women to the concept that all Boston construction workers regardless of race had a right to a guaranteed share of City funded construction jobs. Once the policy was approved by the Mayor, the unions and contractors joined forces to fight against it in the courts all the way to the Supreme Court but they lost. 
 
In the 80s, recognizing the need for workers of all races to have power over their economic destiny, I became education director of the Industrial Cooperative Association, a nonprofit consulting firm that provided services to workers and organizations that desired to form businesses where the workers would be the owners as well as the workers. So I spent five years traveling across the country helping workers establish worker cooperatives. 
 
By the mid eighties, however, gentrification was driving my friends and neighbors economically out of my community, so I left ICA. I felt that if I kept traveling with ICA, one day there would be no community when I came home. I joined then with other activists to form a coalition of business, religious, civic, and housing groups which demanded the right to have a voice in land use decisions and decisions regarding land owned by the City. In yielding to our demands, the Mayor granted similar powers to other Boston neighborhoods. 
 
In the 90s, concerned about violence in the community, particularly youth violence, I joined Emerge, the nation's first organization focused on providing counseling services to men, commonly known as batterers, who were abusive to their wives, girlfriends, and/or children. My purpose was to learn more about the issue of domestic violence and how to change men's attitude regarding the use of violence. Recognizing the magnitude of the problem and my need to learn, I stayed as a counselor and manager for 7 years until I ran for City Council. 
 
In 1999, I ran for City Council not with the idea at age 59 of beginning a political career but with the objective of using the office of District Councilor to demonstrate the value of organizing as a tool of political representation. I saw holding office also as a way of demonstrating the effectiveness of politics based on principles rather than the politics of expediency. To give life to this new model, my wife, Terri, and I funded from my salary and contributions an office in the community and monthly roundtables to bring activists and community members together. 
 
Since I had never had a job making more than $40,000 a year and the Councilor's salary was in the high 60s, Terri and I decided  that if the contributions weren't enough to sustain the operation, we could use the additional money from my salary. By the time, I was arrested 9 years later, we had loaned the campaign $120,000 to sustain the operation. Today, the debt to us is $170,000 but I believe it has been well spent given our accomplishments and hopefully one day we will have enough contributions to have the campaign organization pay us back. Although Terri says its wishful thinking. 
 
I have shared this history with you to help you understand that I have a somewhat unique approach to politics and elective office. However, it doesn't discount the evidence the prosecution has shown you to convince you of my guilt. I have shared it with you to begin the process of creating reasonable doubt in your mind regarding my guilt. As Judge Woodlock said your responsibility is to consider that I am innocent until all reasonable doubt has been removed. Let me begin the process by asking two questions that I think are important for you to think about as you weigh the evidence. 
 
The first question is, "Given the fact that I didn't run for political office until age 59 and given the fact that my purpose was and is to demonstrate a principled approach to politics, would it make sense that I would in effect "sell my vote for $1000"?
The second question is, "Given the fact that all the money that Terri and I have contributed to the campaign can be paid back to us at some point from donations, does it make sense that I would risk the return by engaging in a totally unprincipled act?" Those are questions that I think it is important that you ask yourself. Those are the questions that I believe can lead you to have reasonable doubt that I am guilty of Extortion Under Color of Law As Official Right. 
 
Let's move on to discuss the evidence in the context of the four elements that Judge Woodlock said the prosecution has to prove if I am to be found guilty of extortion. First, they have to prove that on August 3rd I obtained cash from Wilburn. The amount is really not important. The question is did I get any cash? That's an easy one for you. As I look at the pictures, it seems that it is beyond a reasonable doubt that I did. 
 
The second thing the prosecution has to prove is whether I received the money as Judge Woodlock put it, "...under color of official right"? Again, that point is not debatable. While I think I probably saw it as a contribution, I would not deny that it was given in relationship to my being a City Councilor. The third element that has to be proved is that if Mr. Wilburn had actually been trying to get a license for his club rather than operating a sting would interstate commerce have been involved. The person from Anheuser Bush answered that one for us, when he said that his company's beer would have to have crossed state lines if it was to be sold in a club operated by Wilburn. 
 
Now we come to the fourth element, if there is no reasonable doubt about this element, then I think you have no alternative other than to convict me. What is it that has to be proved? Since this is so important, let me share Judge Woodlock's actual words:
 
"...the Government has to prove that Mr. Turner engaged in a purposeful act under circumstances as he believed them to be that amounted to a substantial step toward the commission of the crime of Extortion Under Color of Official Right and that his criminal intent was strongly corroborated. Extortion Under Color of Official Right means that a public official obtained or attempted to obtain a payment to which he was not entitled, knowing that the payment was offered to him in return for taking or withholding or influencing official acts".  
 
This is the element that the prosecution must prove that I think is reasonable for you to doubt. In order to help you understand why doubt is reasonable, let me take you back to the evidence presented regarding the meeting of Wilburn with the Senator on June 5, 2007. This was the meeting in downtown Boston where Wilburn presented the Senator with the first payment for her help in obtaining a license. 
 
The FBI plan was to use this meeting as an opportunity for Wilburn to have the Senator bring me into the entrapment web he was weaving around the Senator. Wilburn's initial responsibility had been to entice the Senator into working on obtaining an all purpose liquor license in return for cash payments that would be substantially beyond a normal  contribution. 
 
Remember the Judge said Extortion Under Color of Official Right has to involve payment to which the official is "not entitled". Thus by systematically giving the Senator payments that went substantially beyond the $1000 campaign contribution limit that a Massachusetts state senator could receive in a year from an individual, he would establish the evidence that she had received an amount of money to which she was not entitled. The June 5th meeting where he gave her $500 was just the first step in laying the grounds for her indictment. 
 
Wilburn's next responsibility was to have the Senator bring me into the same trap. If he could persuade the Senator to involve me in her attempt to get a license, then he could systematically give me money beyond the $500 limit for contributions to City Councilors and I would be guilty of Extortion Under Color of Official Right. His FBI handler decided that since he was beginning the payment process with the Senator at the June 5th meeting that would be a good opportunity to have Wilburn persuade the Senator to bring me into his web. 
 
However, what neither the FBI or Wilburn realized was that the Senator was barely speaking to me at that time. The fact that I had been actively and publicly challenging her support for Northeastern University building a dormitory at a pivotal location in our district had put a chill on our relationship. That's why she said no when Wilburn suggested my involvement. Let me refresh your memory regarding her answer when Wilburn asked her why she didn't want to involve me:
 
Wilkerson: "Cause I think Chuck is crazy". Then Wilburn responds: "No, he is crazy. Chuck Turner. He is crazy. I mean h's living in the nineteen sixties. He thinks Chairman Mao is still alive. Communist Manifesto. You know". (Laughs)
 
Wilkerson then responds: "He drives me batty. He really does". After a brief response from Wilburn, she continues, "He would be good, if you needed somebody who, you needed to go pick up a ruckus and just protest for you. I would hire him. You want to get something done? He's not the p..., that not his, he doesn't know...". After Wilburn agrees with her, she concludes by saying, "That's not what he does". 
 
Two weeks later she confirmed that she did not want me involved when she sent an email to the Council as a whole requesting help, rather than following Wilburn's advice and bringing me into his web. With the Senator rejecting Wilburn's attempt to create the picture that I was involved in a conspiracy with her and with the cooperating witness himself saying that he thinks I believe in the Communist manifesto, you should be developing strong doubts that I was did anything more than file a hearing order to expose what I believed to be a corrupt licensing process.
 
Another indication that the government's theory that I was in a conspiracy with the Senator is a fantasy of their making is the fact that they have no evidence that the Senator contacted me by phone, email, or in any other way when in response to her email asking for help, I sent an email to her and the Council saying that I would file a hearing order. It would be logical to assume that if we were working together, there should have been some communications between us regarding the hearing and the license; yet since the government has not produced any evidence, you can assume there was none. Add one more reasonable doubt that I am guilty of Extortion Under Color of Official Right. 
 
Despite the Senator's rejecting my involvement, Sullivan and the FBI were determined to continue their attempt to create the illusion that I was involved in a conspiracy with the Senator to extort money from Wilburn. Therefore, Wilburn's FBI handler had Wilburn come unannounced to my City Hall office on July 25th to attempt to have a meeting. Let me remind you that his handler earlier in the trial admitted that everything that Wilburn did was directed by him. 
 
The purpose was to plant the seeds of evidence of Extortion Under Color of Official Right that would later be used to indict me. Remember you were told that he asked me if there was anything he could do in return for my help and I said that he could contact my wife, the campaign treasurer, who would help him plan a fund raiser. Periodically during our 25 minutes together, he kept coming back to the idea of the fund raiser in different ways. His purpose was to establish the evidence that the fund raiser was one of the "benefits" that I would get in exchange for filing the hearing order. In my mind, this was designed by Sullivan and the FBI to turn an ordinary conversation with a constituent into a "crime".   
 
Sullivan and the FBI apparently thought that since they were giving money to the Senator, they needed to arrange a photo opportunity where Wilburn could take a picture of his handing money to me. I believe that the FBI thought that if Wilburn asked at the July 25th meeting what I wanted, I would ask for an illegal contribution or make an incriminating statement.  Since I didn't fall into their trap, they decided to set up the photo op for the following week. 
 
Wilburn told you that on Friday, August 3rd I called him around 11 a.m. and asked him to come to my district office and that he assumed that I was asking him to come and bring money. Yet, there was no recording of the call. He said that he couldn't set up the recording device because his daughter was in the room. However, I think you heard evidence that should make you doubt that I ever made such a call. Think back to the film that Wilburn made of our meeting on the 3rd that you watched in its entirety. When Wilburn said at the end of the 5 to 7 minutes that we spent talking that we should get together, I asked him for his telephone number. I made this request about 2:45 less than 4 hours after I allegedly had called him. I think that you should have a reasonable doubt that there was any call from me to him if four hours after the alleged call, I had to ask him for his telephone number. 
 
The film also showed that he spent about 40 minutes sitting in my open office while I talked to other people who were already at my table next to the store front windows facing the street. Ask yourself: Why would I call someone to my office to give $1000 in front of office staff, constituents and people passing by on the street? Why would I keep Wilburn waiting for 40 minutes if I had asked him to come?  
 
There is an additional reason to doubt his story that he brought me $1000 at my request. Remember he said when handing me the money, "Take your wife out to dinner". He said that the reason he didn't tell me the exact amount of money as he had when he gave the Senator money is that there were other people sitting at the table who he didn't want to know that he was giving me a bribe. Ask yourself, why I would have him give me $1000 while other people were sitting at the table. I think you can see that the only explanation is that I had never called him so I could not have known that he was coming with the objective of handling me money as he had been instructed by the FBI. 
 
The only other evidence of my financial involvement with Wilburn was equally doubtful in terms of any criminal intent on my part. As you heard from Wilburn, he came to the City Hall on the day in early September that the Council was to vote whether to send to the state legislature the home rule petition to create new liquor licenses, one of which was to be given to Wilburn. I believe that Sullivan had Wilburn's handler order him to go to City Hall to produce evidence that there was a pattern of my accepting money to which I was not entitled. Since Wilburn had given the Senator a number of payments equaling $8,500, it would look strange for me as a coconspirator to only have received an alleged $1000 in one payment.  
 
When he arrived unannounced, my secretary said that she would take him to the anteroom behind the Council chamber to see if I would talk to him. As he told you, he did not give me any money at that time because of the presence of my secretary. He also said that his handler then told him to make no more contact with me. His handler confirmed this in his own testimony. They also confirmed that I did not contact Wilburn. 
 
To me the significance of this testimony is that if I was involved in a scheme to extort money from Wilburn and the Council had approved the home rule petition for additional licenses to be sent to the legislature, why wouldn't I contact Wilburn to get my payoff? Ask yourself, does the fact that I didn't contact him fit with the picture the government has been painting? If I had been involved with a scheme to get a payoff, would I have been satisfied with $1000 when the Senator received $8,500? The only reasonable answer again I believe is that I did not have any involvement with the extortion scheme. My only objective was to see that Wilburn and others in my district wanting liquor licenses had a fair chance to get one. 
 
The last three counts relate to my conversation with the FBI agents on the morning of the Senator's arrest. I can not deny that the evidence presented shows that my answers to their three questions were not true. That is, Wilburn had given me money; he had offered me a fund raiser; and he had offered me money and services even though I denied all three. My answer to Asst US Attorney McNeil accusation that I lied in order to cover my crime is that when I gave those answers I was telling the truth as my memory reflected it. 
 
I can understand how difficult it must be for you to believe that I have no memory of him and my interactions with him. I just ask you to remember that when he contacted me, I had been serving as a Councilor for eight years in a job that required me to work seven days a week, often 12 to 14 hours a day. Remember, I was arrested at City Hall on a Friday morning at 6:15 a.m. In terms of my responsibilities. I not only was running my City Hall office but also a District office where on Fridays from 10 to 6 I would meet with anyone who came whether they had an an appointment or not. In addition, to my legislative and constituent work, I was overseeing an organizing agenda with monthly 3 to 4 hour Roundtable meetings where we served breakfast and lunch.  
 
While Wilburn and I have both been in Boston for over 40 years, he admitted on the stand that we had never met before the FBI directed him to make contact with me. The other reality is that we had three face to face meetings over a six week period that last probably a total of 30 to 35 minutes. My focus on the issue of the liquor licenses was on the interactions with Council President Feeney and her chief of staff, who was coordinating the work with the Senator. As strange as it may seem, I don't remember any of the meetings with Wilburn.  
 
In conclusion, ask yourself, if I had been involved with the Senator in extorting money from Wilburn would I have been willing to meet with the FBI agents. They arrived at the office before 10 a.m. on the morning of the Senator's arrest. Her arrest had been on the news for an hour or two before they arrived. If I had been extorting money from Wilburn, would I have been willing to meet with the agents? Of course not! My first thought would have been that since they have arrested the Senator; they are now coming for me. However, I didn't call a lawyer. I didn't put them off. I ushered them into my office after checking their credentials.
 
I realize that you have been presented a lot of hard evidence by the prosecution. Since this was an effort to entrap me as well as the Senator, naturally they would have the evidence that they staged. The key question is whether my actions were based on criminal intent and whether that has been corroborated as Judge Woodlock said was necessary for me to be found guilty. I believe that there is substantial reasonable doubt of criminal intent and corroboration that will allow each of you to vote not guilty on each of the four counts. Thank you for your time, attention, and consideration.

 

 

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