Wilkerson sentenced in corruption case

Howard Manly | 1/11/2011, 6:11 p.m.

Even Dianne Wilkerson is breathing a sigh of relief.

For the last two years, starting with her arrest on federal public corruption charges in 2008 and ending last week with her unprecedented three-and-half-year sentence, she has remained quiet, unable to defend what clearly was indefensible.

She admitted as much in an extraordinary letter to U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock that sought leniency.

“At the outset,” she wrote, “I want to state clearly that I committed the crimes to which I pled guilty and I accept full responsibility for my actions. My actions were wrong and inexcusable.”

Wilkerson already knew the consequences. “Because of my actions,” she explained, “I have sacrificed and compromised a cherished career … ”

It is unclear whether Judge Woodlock was persuaded by Wilkerson’s plea. After all, she had already pleaded guilty in June to eight counts of attempted extortion for taking bribes from undercover agents and a Boston businessman who was cooperating with the FBI.

What is clear is that Judge Woodlock had had enough of what he described as the culture of corruption at the Statehouse.

On the day before Wilkerson’s sentencing, the state Legislature convened and gave standing ovations to three former House Speakers who have been convicted or indicted on criminal charges, including: Thomas Finneran, convicted of obstruction of justice charges; Charles Flaherty, convicted on tax evasion; and Salvatore DiMasi, who has been indicted on corruption charges.

Neither Flaherty nor Finneran served a day in prison.

It was also clear that Judge Woodlock wanted to send a message, a tough one, to politicians in general and Wilkerson in particular.

Based on her letter, Wilkerson already knew the message.

“For the past two years, I have lived in a self-created solitary confinement,” she wrote. “I have been relentlessly and publicly vilified and humiliated.   

I’ve lost everything material including my job, health insurance, pension, life insurance and my career …

“I let myself down, my family and my community,” she added. “I caused great pain to many people. I am living now a day-to-day existence and I am desperate to start over.”

The sentencing then — and serving her time — is a rebirth of sorts, one that will enable her to figure out what went so terribly wrong and what could go right in the future.

But Wilkerson is very clear on what she called “the unscrupulous tactics utilized … by local and federal law enforcement purportedly to weed out corruption.

“What I would submit today,” she continued, “is that the very effort by local and federal law enforcement to accomplish their goal was itself a most corrupt and outrageous abuse of the justice system.”

Wilkerson was referring to the sting operation, launched by then U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan that also netted City Councilor Chuck Turner. He also was convicted of corruption charges and faces a sentencing hearing scheduled for later this month.

At the heart of the federal investigation was Ron Wilburn, who received about $30,000 from the FBI to work as an undercover informant. Wilburn later identified himself as the informant to the Boston Globe and at one point vowed not to testify during Turner’s trial.