Thursday, January 06, 2011

Winter and Spring of Retribution

Nemesis has been napping, as is her wont in white-collar crime cases, but has taken wing and will strike down on the waterfront at 2:30 p.m. today. In plain talk, the first of three currently convicted or indicted corrupt MA pols gets sentenced in First District federal court.

Today, it's ex-State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson. On January 25th, it will be ex-Boston City Councilor Charles A. (Chuck) Turner. Assuming either a plea deal or guilty verdict, it will be ex-Speaker of the House Salvatore F. DiMasi later this year or early 2012.

These three marbles are finally making their circuitous spins down the funnel. That says good and awful things about the process.


The famous and infamous Wilkerson was a fine legislator and a personal disaster all along. As Senator, she did more than vote the right way. She championed civil rights, including same-sex marriage, with vigor and focus. She led on one key law after another.

Yet, this same constituent heroine was the compulsive tax evader and bribe taker.

Now she appears before Judge Douglas P. Woodlock facing prison. Having already done probations and fines and such for previous offences, she's sure to camp in a cell. Prosecutors call for four years.

In contrast to Turner, she has turned on the contrition. In a long letter to Woodlock for consideration today, she detailed and iterated how sorry she was and how thoroughly she has ruined her life in the process.

She's likely to get the four or at least two.

P.M. Update 1/6/11: She received a sentence of 3.5 years.


On the other hand, Turner is hanging tough and likely will all the way into his own sentencing hearing, or in his case, event. He has always been confident in being both right and righteous. His current tack of suing to retain his Council seat while awaiting certain prison time is...well, he could not be expected to act otherwise.

We can differentiate this pair in several ways. Most obvious is that Turner neither shows regreat nor admits guilt. Pols and other big shots don't know when to stop their bluster. He's just another who has never learned when it is counterproductive to fling the bull.

Both were caught on poor-quality video taking bribes. She remains forever more comical, as she stuffed some in a brassiere while in a restaurant. Such is the stuff of The Onion and The Daily Show.

Yet, his $1,000 corruption was at a much lower level. Unfortunately for him, the feds had targeted her in a sting and she had pointed their briber to Turner, apparently as a share-the-wealth favor. Thanks a bunch, he must have surely thought many times since.

Also in the difference column, she has a long history of allegations and proof of financial misdeeds. His was a nibble on a federal fishing trip.

The big one though is his refusal to fess up. He insisted on taking the stand in his trial on one count of bribery and three of lying to the FBI about doing it. That was plain stupid and many of us speculate that the case was so weak and the link to tit for tat in the recording so questionable that he might have gotten off if his ego and self-righteousness not compelled him.

Oddly enough, he seems to have shown some self-preservation sense on the stand. While before and after his trial he alleged innocence, he did not risk perjury aloud in court. He repeatedly and incredibly claimed not to remember the bribe or the briber. He never said he didn't take a bribe, just that he didn't remember this, that and the other event and person.

That dodo did not fly with the public (except his diminishing cadre of supporters), the press, bloggers and more important, the judge. Guilty on four federal charges.

Turner is likely to spend months to a year or two in prison.

He never should have been the target of a sting operation. He had not earned it by history and allegations. Moreover, given that two of the most prominent black pols in the commonwealth were stung and convicted, his charges of racism have credibility that he personally lacks.


Oddly enough in counterbalance, a white white-collar criminal (innocent until proven otherwise, of course) will be before the dock. DiMasi is only the most recent of the past three Speakers forced from office after corruption charges. He should go to trial April 25th.

While to my liking, he also was a hero in the SSM battles, his level of accused corruption is in the millions of dollars. He allegedly help rig commonwealth contracts for his and his mates' benefit.

For many, a DiMasi conviction or plea bargain this year will never erase thoughts and feelings of the race-based nature of the Wilkerson and Turner stings. Yet, it is all to fitting that the more powerful and much lighter skinned Speaker goes before the same First District federal court. In his case, he drew Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf, for whom I have great respect.

DiMasi is certain not to play brinkmanship as Turner is. He'll cut a deal if it's obvious that he'd lose at trial.

Yet, his receiving probation, restitution to MA and a fine would not cut it here. We have a minnow and a trout headed for prison for corruption. He's big, honking tuna. As the expression went in the 60s, the whole world is watching.

Dirty White Collars

All three cases share the white-collar/federal-court thingummy. Their cases stagger haltingly and lethargically toward, into and through the system.

In the name of preparation by all concerned and a fair trial, these corruption cases can take longer than those of violent criminals looking at life sentences on the far end. The public may be eager for swift, certain justice. The system operates like my New Mexican relatives refer to as maƱana scheduling; they'll get around to it tomorrow, some indefinite tomorrow.

That carries over to sentencing in such cases as well. Also, convicted or plea-bargained white collar criminals tend to ramble about living pretty normal lives for months or years as trials slowly come into view and sentencing eventually occurs.

A few just can't take the idea of prison. I think of my co-editor on a book project who resolved his pending incarceration with a death leap. I can't see either Turner or Wilkerson or DiMasi going through a window.

Instead, if all three end up with prison terms and fines, there'll be a few of lessons and opportunities.
  1. We have a long, filthy and no longer amusing history of corruption here as many states do. If pols see their peers in the can, they will likely be less willing to take bribes and funnel public funds for their benefit.
  2. The stink of the Turner sting could well force evaluations of the misuse of the FBI, U.S. Attorneys and their ilk of such operations. Particularly when there is a fair argument that racism played here, the POTUS and Justice Department shots should give some direction about doing the real work in uncovering and prosecuting the clever and dirty pols instead of creating crimes through temptations and entrapment.
What's almost certain not to happen is equalizing treatment for white-collar criminals with others. Their indictments, trials and punishments take much longer and have much greater latitude for prosecution and sentencing.

Like Jean Valjean and his stolen loaf of bread, misdeeds of ordinary folk receive swifter and surer punishment than those of power and influence. How odd that so many in the public are eager to demand fast and harsh dealing with petty and violent criminals when as a group they already face that much more frequently than pols and business leaders who are corrupt.

No comments: