US asks judge to send Turner to prison

Says behavior in court ‘amplified the crimes’

By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / January 22, 2011

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Federal prosecutors urged a judge to send Chuck Turner to prison for a minimum of two years and nine months in a scathing sentencing memorandum that used the former Boston City Council member’s own words against him.

Arguing that grandstanding at rallies and in the media “amplified the crimes,’’ the six-page document quoted Turner 11 times. Turner described his prosecution as a “witch hunt,’’ called the US Constitution an “illegal document,’’ dismissed photographs of him accepting a $1,000 bribe as doctored, and argued that the government was trying to take him down because “they saw the power of communities of color rising up.’’

“From the day he was confronted with his crime, Turner has engaged in an incendiary campaign of misinformation, obfuscation, and blame,’’ read the memorandum, signed by John J. McNeil, the assistant US attorney who led the prosecution of Turner. “As the trial revealed, Turner’s vitriolic campaign was ultimately an act of profound narcissism, in which he sacrificed the best interests of his community in a fraudulent attempt to claim the mantle of an honest public servant.’’

The memorandum, filed Thursday, urged Judge Douglas P. Woodlock to follow federal guidelines when he sentences Turner Tuesday. According to the prosecution, that requires a prison term of 33 to 41 months, which is a maximum of almost 3 1/2 years behind bars, followed by three years of supervised release. A jury convicted Turner in October of four felonies for accepting a $1,000 bribe and lying about it to FBI agents.

Turner’s criminal attorney did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

In a separate civil suit, lawyers filed 85 pages of motions and affidavits yesterday in response to questions from the state’s top federal judge about whether the City Council overstepped its legal authority when it kicked Turner out of office after his conviction.

The civil suit may ultimately not be enough for Turner to regain his council seat, because state law would automatically remove him from office if he is sentenced to prison. But a victory in civil court could help Turner recoup almost two months of pay and validate his struggle. It would also be a political blow to the 11 members of the City Council who voted to oust Turner and force the city to reschedule a special election set for later this winter.

Chester Darling, who is representing Turner in the civil case, argued that the City Council violated rights guaranteed by the US Constitution and ran afoul of the state constitution, which prohibits cities and towns from meting out punishments for felonies. The city’s lawyers rejected those arguments, pointing out specifically that Turner’s removal from elective office was a civil, not a criminal, procedure in line with state law. Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf did not immediately issue a ruling.

Prosecutors used the civil suit as fodder in the sentencing memorandum, arguing that it was part of a larger effort to stop the special election and deny Turner’s district representation in the City Council. That angered Darling, who bristled at the suggestion that he conspired with Turner’s criminal lawyers.

“They are wrong; they owe me an apology,’’ Darling said yesterday of the US attorney. “They are just trying to overwhelm Chuck. . . . The US attorney is doing the equivalent of kicking the guy when he’s down. Shame on them.’’

Prosecutors have argued that Turner should face such a substantial sentence because he perjured himself 15 times on the witness stand. During the trial, Turner repeatedly said he had no memory of ever meeting Ronald Wilburn, a Roxbury businessman working as a paid undercover witness for the FBI.

Turner continued to make that assertion, even as prosecutors played a surveillance video that showed him meeting with Wilburn and accepting what the businessman testified was a wad of money.

Turner’s attorneys have not filed their own sentencing memorandum, but the judge has received dozens of letters from his supporters pleading for leniency because of Turner’s decade of service as an elected official.

Prosecutors tried to undercut the letters to the judge by raising “substantial doubt about Turner’s effectiveness as a public servant.’’

The sentencing memorandum included a transcript of a secretly recorded conversation on June 5, 2007, with former state senator Dianne Wilkerson the day she accepted the first of $23,500 worth of bribes.

Turner’s attorney’s played the recording during the trial to show he was not close to Wilkerson, who pleaded guilty and received a 3 1/2-year prison term.

But Wilkerson’s comments also raised questions about Turner’s ability to deliver for his constituents.

“He would be good, if you needed somebody . . . to go pick up a ruckus and just protest for you,’’ Wilkerson said, according to a transcript of the recording. “You want to get something done . . . that’s not what he does.’’

Andrew Ryan can be reached at