BOSTON — Former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner heads to court Tuesday afternoon to find out whether he will be going to prison.
A federal jury convicted Turner last October of accepting a bribe from a Boston developer and knowingly making false statements to FBI investigators. On Tuesday, the government will ask the judge to send him to prison for at least 33 months, arguing that Turner more than earned the stiffer sentence after he was convicted.
Turner has never stopped proclaiming that he is the victim of a witch hunt, to his supporters outside City Hall and in the court house, to his fellow councilors who voted to expel him, to everyone who would listen and to those who didn’t want to.
“What I’m saying to you brothers and sisters is that that conviction is rotten,” Turner said.
Turner said he was the victim of a widespread top-to-bottom FBI/Department of Justice conspiracy to shut him up because he’s a black agent for change.
“We know this city will only have integrity when the working class people of all races come together,” he said.
Now comes sentencing, and the federal prosecutors are telling the judge it’s time for Turner to pay the piper. They argue that since his conviction in October, “Turner has falsely promoted distrust of federal and local law enforcement, the criminal process, this court, and the jury.”
And Turner’s “incendiary campaign,” the prosecutors say, shows no acceptance of responsibility, a key factor judges consider in sentencing a defendant.
But defense attorney Harvey Silverglate, who has no connection to the case, is a persistent critic of the Department of Justice. He said federal prosecutors are overreaching once again.
“It is your constitutional right to plead not guilty,” Silverglate said. “What the government is doing in this sentencing memorandum is suggesting that Turner, for insisting he is not guilty, should be punished extra severely. That’s highly improper.”
At his trial, Turner took the stand in his own defense, against the advice of his attorney. He testified that he couldn’t remember, didn’t recall, his meeting with the cooperating witness who allegedly gave him a $1,000 bribe.
Turner’s testimony was considered a disaster that led to his conviction. Prosecutors call it “perjury” and want the judge to punish and thereby “condemn Turner’s contempt for the court as an institution.”
“Well, the government claims it is perjury. However, it is perfectly understandable how somebody like Turner, who sees in some days dozens of people, would not remember seeing Wilburn,” Silverglate said.
Ron Wilburn is the cooperating witness who is seen passing something green, presumed to be the money, to Turner on a video he secretly recorded for the FBI in 2007.
By accusing him of perjury at trial, the government is trying to get the judge to increase Turner’s sentence.
But did Turner make false statements knowingly, as the prosecution alleges, when he testified he had no memory of meeting the witness let alone taking the money? Did he do so with the specific intent to obstruct justice?
That’s the problem.
“He would be punished for simply not being able to recall. It is really an outrageous penalty for testifying at one’s own trial,” Silverglate said.
Turner isn’t going quietly. Even though the government said the prison sentence should fall between 33 to 41 months, Turner’s taken every advantage of proclaiming his message. Even as his defense team asks the judge to sentence him to supervised probation without prison time, Turner is suggesting the FBI has a program to “target and eliminate black officials.”