Council weighs Turner's fate

Chuck Turner Rally, Oct. 30, 2010. Photo by Don WestChuck Turner Rally, Oct. 30, 2010. Photo by Don WestCity councillors are weighing next steps after colleague Chuck Turner, who represents Roxbury and parts of Dorchester, was convicted of accepting a $1,000 bribe and lying to the FBI about it months later. Turner is scheduled to be sentenced for the crimes on Jan. 25, but faces more immediate sanctions from the city council, which will hold a public hearing on Turner’s status on Dec. 1.

At impromptu press conferences, rallies, and on television and radio, Turner has maintained his innocence and demanded that the council not take action until he is sentenced by a federal judge next year. Turner faces the prospect of jail time, but could be given probation. He will not appeal the verdict, and says he does not plan to run for re-election to the seat he has held since 2000.

“I realize that my decision not to resign and to fight to complete my term creates a difficult situation for you,” he wrote in a Sunday email to councillors. “However, I believe that my constituents have a right to have me complete the term to which I was elected.”

A two-thirds vote of the council is needed for any action ranging from censuring him to removing him from his $87,000-a-year position. The hearing date of Dec. 1 allows the winner of the special election to replace former City Councillor John Tobin to weigh in.

Turner told Boston Neighborhood News on Tuesday that he is consulting with lawyers about whether a state law that seems to allow convicted felons to retain office if they are not in prison would override a city-council rule, which he voted for, that would require the council to take action in response to a councillor's conviction.

Turner’s corruption case was part of an extensive investigation that focused on and ensnared former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, a Roxbury Democrat who was charged with accepting $23,500 in bribes. Wilkerson has pled guilty to charges and is awaiting sentencing.

“The reason that Mr. Turner finds himself today a convicted felon is primarily because of choices that he made of his own free will,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz told reporters after the jury handed down the unanimous verdict. “And those were a choice to accept money he shouldn’t have, to keep it, and then to lie about it. And that’s what this case is all about, plain and simple: A public official who betrayed the people he was elected to serve.”

City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo, who once worked as an aide in Turner’s office, said in a statement that Turner was convicted of “something that is out of character with the person I know.” He added: “My heart goes out to him and his family.”

Turner’s decision to take the witness stand is widely viewed as a mistake, as his attorney, Barry Wilson, who disagreed with Turner’s decision, had sought beforehand to question the credibility of the government’s star witness, Roxbury businessman Ron Wilburn.

Twenty-four hours after the verdict, around 120 Turner supporters gathered outside his Roxbury district office, which Turner said he is shutting down because he cannot afford to keep it open.

Turner gave a lengthy, meandering and at times fiery speech that took shots at various officials – former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan; the Roxbury businessman, Ron Wilburn; City Council President Michael Ross – and took detours through U.S. history, such as Shays’ Rebellion after the Revolutionary War. He described the U.S. Constitution as an “illegal document.”

The 70-year-old Green-Rainbow Party member also urged supporters to write letters to the judge in charge of the case, Douglas Woodlock, and ask him to put Turner on probation instead of jail. Turner is due to be sentenced on Jan. 25, 2011.

Turner said he is asking Ross to postpone any decision by the City Council on his fate until the judge has made a decision on whether to put Turner on probation.

“[W]hen anybody says to me, ‘Are you going to resign Chuck?’ they are asking me to desert my people,” Turner told the crowd outside his office. “And if you put a bullet through my head, I won’t resign, I’ll be gone, but that’s the only way I’m gonna leave that City Council.”

City Councillor Charles Yancey also took the microphone that day, saying the FBI was “hell-bent” on “destroying” Turner. Spotted in the crowd were state Rep. Gloria Fox (D-Roxbury); Rev. Gregory Groover, head of the Boston School Committee; and Roxbury attorney Hassan Williams, among others.

If the City Council votes to expel Turner, a special election will be necessary. Several names are already in circulation, including Tito Jackson, who unsuccessfully ran in the 2009 derby for two open City Council At-Large seats; Williams, the attorney; Monica Dean, a former chief of staff to Wilkerson; and perennial candidate Althea Garrison, who has frequently run for Turner’s seat as well as those of others.

Turner’s district includes Roxbury, Lower Roxbury, and parts of the Fenway, South End, and Dorchester.

Reporter contributor Adam Gaffin contributed to this report.