Wilkerson enters 'not guilty' plea in federal court

"Not guilty, your honor."

Those words, said firmly and confidently, made up former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson's first public comments since she was ushered out of her Senate office by her sons and family friends, after formally resigning on Nov. 19.

Before an audience in the jury box comprised of visiting prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys from Macedonia, Wilkerson pleaded not guilty during her arraignment on Monday in U.S. District Court in Boston, kicking off what could be a long legal fight for the Roxbury Democrat. Her next court date is Jan. 22.

Federal prosecutors allege that Wilkerson accepted $23,500 in bribes in return for action on legislation involving a liquor license for a Roxbury nightclub and a parcel, also in Roxbury, between June 2007 and October 2008. U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan's office has released surveillance photos of Wilkerson allegedly accepting the bribes from an FBI informant, identified in the Boston Globe as Ron Wilburn.

Prosecutors are poring over documents from her Senate and district offices, with an agreement reached in court stating that anything she attempts to throw out is subject to their review.

"We're going through whatever documents she decides to dispose of," Assistant U.S. Attorney John McNeil told reporters after the arraignment. "They cannot throw anything out without us reviewing it."

McNeil said his office was reviewing a "large volume" of documents and added the investigation was "active and ongoing." He said he has not encountered any "significant" problems in preserving evidence.

The case also involves City Councillor Chuck Turner, who was indicted as a co-conspirator with Wilkerson in the matter on Tuesday. Turner has steadfastly maintained his innocence, bashing the media and the "evil" FBI.

Wilkerson and her attorney, Max Stern, declined to comment to reporters on her way out of the arraignment.

Wilkerson lost the September Democratic primary and the general election after attempting to run independently of the Democratic nominee, challenger Sonia Chang-Diaz. Chang-Diaz will assume the Second Suffolk District seat, which covers Beacon Hill, Roxbury, the South End, and parts of Dorchester and Mattapan.