Prosecutors challenging Wilkerson dismissal push

Federal prosecutors are striking back at former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson’s accusations that they acted improperly in arresting her on corruption charges and hyped her arrest with photos of her allegedly stuffing cash into her bra.

Wilkerson’s attorney, Max Stern, has said the media coverage that has followed the arrest has been “inflammatory” and has potentially endangered her chances of a fair trial by jury. He has also argued that minorities are underrepresented on local juries.

In a response filed in U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, prosecutors asked a judge to reject Wilkerson’s claims, saying they are baseless.

Before losing a September 2008 primary to Jamaica Plain challenger Sonia Chang-Diaz and resigning amid a grand jury probe and indictment, Wilkerson had represented the Second Suffolk District for 15 years. Prosecutors pointed to the election as another example of Wilkerson as someone who attracted media attention to herself without their help.
“Wilkerson had been a lightening rod for press reports long before the charges in this case,” prosecutors wrote. “Indeed, even in the weeks leading to her arrest, Wilkerson was the subject of substantial media coverage as she had recently lost the primary election for her Senate seat and was in the process of running a sticker campaign against a member of her own political party.”

Wilkerson, charged with accepting $23,000 in cash bribes, and District 7 Councillor Chuck Turner, accused of taking a $1,000 and lying to federal agents, have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

“Wilkerson is a prominent public figure who is charged with accepting bribes in exchange for official acts at the same time as she was running for elected office,” prosecutors wrote. “[Moreover], in the years prior to any charges in this case, Wilkerson was the subject of widespread news coverage, including coverage about her prior conviction on tax charges, the subsequent revocation of her probation on those charges, as well as articles concerning her personal financial difficulties, state campaign finance problems, and her testimony in a Suffolk County murder case.”

The prosecutors – Assistant U.S. Attorneys John McNeil and James Dowden -- said federal agents who arrested Wilkerson took care to avoid attracting media attention to the arrest, with no “perp walk” or press notifications sent out until she was brought to the U.S. Courthouse on the Boston waterfront.

Wilkerson’s attorney, Stern has requested that the corruption charges be dismissed, or that there be a change of venue for her trial, currently scheduled for early spring. Stern could not be reached for comment by deadline.

In his motion filed last month, Stern said that releasing case information and photographs of Wilkerson allegedly stuffing cash into her bra “compounded the taint created by the arrest” and “set forth in excruciating detail the contents of the audio and videotaped meetings between Ms. Wilkerson and the government’s confidential source, providing the public with a sensational, blow-by-blow description of the alleged crimes.”

Prosecutors acknowledged that the alleged charges are embarrassing to Wilkerson, but added that the information they made public were a “critical element of proof.”

“Wilkerson further argues that if the Court does not dismiss the charges against her, that a change of venue is necessary because of the pre-trial publicity that this case has generated,” prosecutors wrote. “Yet Wilkerson does not suggest an alternative forum for this case. Even more important, Wilkerson fails to show that she cannot receive a fair trial in the Eastern Division of the District of Massachusetts. A change in venue is required only in ‘extreme cases’ where there exists so great a prejudice against the defendant that she…‘cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial.’ ”

Prosecutors also asked for a judge to deny her motions to sever the case from Turner’s. “Indictment alleges a series of interrelated and overlapping crimes arising from Wilkerson’s and Turner’s involvement in a conspiracy to obtain moneys for their official acts, and Wilkerson’s closely related conduct in a scheme proposed by Wilkerson as an outgrowth of the initial scheme,” they wrote. “The two schemes are factually interrelated, overlap in time, involve many of the same witnesses, and involve several of the same recorded meetings.”