Wilkerson pleads guilty to attempted extortion charges

Former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson pled guilty last week in federal court to eight counts of attempted extortion. Prosecutors recommended that she be sentenced to no more than four years in prison.

Wilkerson, a Roxbury Democrat, was arrested Oct. 28, 2008 and federal prosecutors charged her with allegedly accepting more than $23,500 to push legislation to benefit developers and secure a liquor license. The arrest came days before the November 2008 election, in which she had mounted a sticker campaign after Sonia Chang-Diaz knocked her off the ballot in a Democratic primary.

Wilkerson resigned from the state Senate in November 2008, under heavy pressure from her colleagues.

The indictment followed an 18-month undercover investigation that began in May 2007 and led to 150 hours of extensive audio and video evidence, including photographs of Wilkerson stuffing under her shirt and into her bra envelopes that authorities said held cash. The trial was due to start later this month.

Prosecutors on Thursday also recommended three years of probation and the payment from Wilkerson of $23,500. They dropped a slew of other charges relating to the “honest services” public corruption statute, which is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wilkerson’s sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 20 at 2:30 p.m. at the Joseph Moakley Courthouse in South Boston.

Addressing Wilkerson, Judge Douglas Woodlock noted several times in court that he could go above or below the recommended sentence.

Wilkerson appeared with attorneys Max Stern and Charles Ogletree. Her son, family members and former aides were in the courtroom. Codman Square’s Pastor Bruce Wall also attended, but declined comment on his way out of the courtroom.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz sat in the front row throughout most of the proceedings. In a statement released after the hearing, Ortiz said, “Citizens place extraordinary trust in their elected officials, and it is those citizens who have been harmed by Ms. Wilkerson’s criminal conduct the most.”
Ortiz said the conviction “should send a message that justice, and jail time, will be sought for those who violate that trust.”

Ogletree, a Harvard Law professor, read a statement to the press from Wilkerson, saying that the guilty plea was “best for my family and the community I care for so deeply.” Ogletree has also offered to pitch in with the legal efforts of former state Sen. Anthony Galluccio (D-Cambridge), jailed because of alcohol use against court orders.

Stern said there was “much more to this person than the one who stood before the judge today.” He said he felt confident that when she will be sentenced, “the whole person will be judged.”

In court, Stern said the recordings that prosecutors were using as evidence of Wilkerson’s wrongdoings were not “complete renditions,” and that the FBI’s cooperating witness was the one who made the connection between payments and legislative actions.

Giovanna Negretti, the head of Oiste, a Latino political organization, and a former Wilkerson aide, also attended the hearing.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” she said, adding that she hoped focus would now turn to the recent spate of shootings in Dorchester and Roxbury.

City Councillor Chuck Turner has also been accused of similar federal corruption charges. His case and Wilkerson’s case were severed earlier this year at their request.

His trial remains on schedule for Oct. 12.

“That’s her case, not my case,” Turner, a member of the Green-Rainbow Party who represents parts of Roxbury and Dorchester, when asked by reporters about Wilkerson’s guilty plea. “I’m innocent.”
He added: “I’m looking forward to the trial in October.”

State House News Service contributed to this report.