A federal appeals court today upheld former City Councilor Chuck Turner's conviction for attempted extortion and perjury.
Turner had sought a new trial on the extortion charge - related to a $1,000 payment from a Roxbury businessman. Although Turner did not appeal his three perjury convictions, he argued his overall three-year prison sentence - only six months less than former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who pleaded guilty to more charges - was based on vindictiveness by prosecutors over his pre-sentencing allegations of racism.
In its ruling today, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston said the perjury helped bolster the government's case that Turner was guilty of accepting a bribe, by showing he had something to hide. It ruled Turner got a fair trial, that the judge did not err in instructions to the jury and that the sentence could have been even higher than it was.
A key issue was $1,000 in marked bills "cooperating witness" Ron Wilburn gave Turner as part of his bid to obtain a liquor license for a proposed Roxbury supper club. Turner initially agreed to call for a council hearing on possible racism in how city liquor licenses were doled out - then canceled his request after hearing Wilburn was working with state Sen. Diannne Wilkerson to get a license approved by the legislature.
At the August 3 meeting, Wilburn repeatedly said that the $1,000 payment was an expression of his "gratitude" to Turner. On appeal, Turner uses these statements to argue that the $1,000 was merely a gratuity and that there was insufficient evidence that Turner agreed to perform ongoing official acts for Wilburn. There is strong evidence to the contrary, and the jury's verdict was amply supported.
On the vindictiveness charge, the court said:
The government's sentencing memorandum argued that Turner's out-of-court statements that his prosecution was racially motivated showed that he had not accepted responsibility, and the memorandum also referred to his perjury.
In addition, the district court explicitly stated that it had declined to consider Turner's public statements in coming to its sentencing decision, stating that it was not "likely to attach any significance one way or the other with respect to the question of Mr. Turner's assertions about the source of the prosecution . . . it is not weighing in the balance." The court based its sentence on Turner's offense conduct and his perjurious testimony and sentenced him within the guidelines. In discussing the basis for its sentence, the court gave a long and thoughtful analysis of Turner's conduct and the sentencing factors and concluded that a guidelines sentence of three years was appropriate. Turner has not shown prosecutorial vindictiveness in the government's sentencing recommendation. And the court made an independent sentencing decision based on the guidelines. Given the facts as found by the jury, the sentence was reasonable.