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In what was initially scheduled as the sentencing of disgraced former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, a federal judge Wednesday heard further allegations of bribery. Wilkerson, who was arrested after an FBI sting in 2008, plead guilty in June to eight counts of attempted extortion.
Federal prosecutors now want the judge to consider a tougher sentence than the recommended guidelines.
"Good morning. Good morning. How are you? Good, how are you today," Wilkerson said. That was the end of her end of the conversation on her way into federal court Wednesday.
"Are you testifying today?" I asked her.
She wasn't talking, which sets her apart from Chuck Turner, the former Boston city councilor, who also fell to the same FBI sting operation in 2008. He's never stopped talking.
Also unlike Turner, Wilkerson plead guilty. Federal guidelines call for a prison sentence of between 38 to 46 months.
Now, in an effort to persuade U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock to impose a heavier sentence of four years, perhaps more, prosecutors have introduced evidence they say shows Wilkerson had sought additional "bribes" as part of a pervasive pattern of corruption beyond what she's been charged.
On the stand Wednesday was Azid Mohammed, the Dorchester owner of a construction company. During the time in question, he was trying to develop a multimillion dollar project on public land in Roxbury.
"It was state-owned land and there would have to be legislation introduced at the State House to get it," said Mohammed's attorney James Dilday. "And if she didn't back him in the state Senate he would never get it through the state Senate."
Mohammed testified that he gave Wilkerson $7,700 in all, $5,000 of it in eight checks between 2002 and 2006. "She requested those monies from me," he said in court.
And she didn't call it a campaign contribution, he told the prosecutor.
"Did you write a check?" the prosecutor asked Mohammed.
"I did," Mohammed said.
"I had a $200 million project in her district and she [was] asking me for help."Azid Mohammed, construction company owner
"I had a $200 million project in her district and she's asking me for help."
"Did you volunteer to give her [the monies]?"
"I did not volunteer to give her that."
Dilday later said that as far as the developer was concerned, it was a 50-50 situation.
"Part of it was because she needed it, but part of it was because he wanted to make sure his project didn't get scuttled," Dilday said. "Do you remember when she said there was a competitor for that project and that's when he gave her the $1,000?"
Mohammed has an immunity deal with the government. The defense wanted Wednesday's hearing to cross-examine him and undercut the prosecution's pitch for a heavier sentence.
"You didn't feel you had paid Dianne Wilkerson," said defense attorney Max Stern.
"That's right," Mohammed said.
"You said you would have given her money without the project," Stern pushed.
"I might have said that," Mohammed said.
"Help" versus "pay," "help" versus "bribe." Of course, by her own guilty plea, Wilkerson admitted operating with no bright lines.
Under cross-examination, Mohammed was in a muddle. He said he didn't believe what he'd given her were bribes, and he testified that Wilkerson had said there were no strings attached.
After the hearing, defense attorney Charles Ogletree spoke with reporters:
"He's saying his support for Dianne Wilkerson was not bribery, it was about him trying to raise funds and curry favor, but not about a crime," Ogletree said.
More to the point, Judge Woodlock disagreed, saying that provisionally, he found Wilkerson knew that one reason for Mohammed giving her the money was to buy influence.
At the same time, the judge said he did not think the government had a strong case for increasing the sentence beyond 46 months in prison.
Meanwhile, the defense is hoping for a sentence lower than 36 months.
"People who know Dianne Wilkerson know she's done great things for many people who are known and unknown," Ogletree said.
But the judge also stated the defense hadn't made a good case for lowering the sentence, either.
"For a public official to say 'I've been an extraordinary public official' is not grounds for a departure from the guidelines," he said.
So much for all those letters sent on Wilkerson's behalf from pastors, officials, former Gov. Michael Dukakis, and Harry Elam, the first black judge on the state bench.
"I will be focusing on general deterrence," Woodlock said. Meaning, he said, "What's the price that has to be paid to tell other people not to enter into..." what Dianne Wilkerson did?
Sentencing is now scheduled for Jan. 6.
This program aired on December 23, 2010.
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