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Federal judge sentences Chuck Turner to three years

DENISE LAVOIE | 1/25/2011, 7:29 p.m.
Former Boston City Councilor and longtime community activist Chuck Turner addresses a crowd at a party held in his honor at encuentro 5 in Chinatown last weekend. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock sentenced Turner to three years in prison for bribery. Ernesto Arroyo

Former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner has been sentenced to three years in prison for taking a $1,000 bribe and then lying about it to FBI agents.

During his trial last fall, prosecutors said Turner accepted a wad of cash in 2007 during a handshake with a businessman who was seeking help in getting a liquor license and was cooperating with the FBI. Turner testified in his own defense and insisted he did not take a bribe.

Prosecutors asked U.S District Judge Douglas Woodlock to sentence Turner on Tuesday to 33 to 41 months, arguing that Turner not only committed the offenses he was charged with, but also committed perjury during his trial.

His lawyers asked for probation and supervised release, citing his public service and advocacy for poor and working people.

“Mr. Turner was sentenced to prison today because of the choices he made and the actions he took during the course of this case,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “In 2008, Mr. Turner had the chance to assist the FBI in an ongoing public corruption investigation. Instead of telling the truth, he lied. He then went on to testify falsely under oath. It is the obligation of every elected official to be ethical and honest, and in this case, Mr. Turner was neither. Public corruption is more than a violation of the law, it erodes the public’s trust in the very system that was designed to protect us.”

After the sentencing, Turner, 70, left the courthouse to supporters chants of “We stand with Chuck!”

“This has been a horrendous situation for my wife and family,” Turner told reporters. “What happened today is as much a miscarriage of justice as the conviction. I’m innocent.”

Turner vowed to use his time behind bars productively.

“We are in a struggle for future generations,” Turner said. “If some of us fall along the way, the others have to keep up the struggle. Hopefully I’ll get out of jail and rejoin the struggle… If I die in prison, all I want is an autopsy. As far as I’m concerned, we’re at war.”

During the sentencing, Woodlock called Turner’s testimony during the trial “ludicrous and surreal.”

“The defendant perjured himself at trial,” he said. “He stated things he knew were not true ... No one forced him to testify.”

Woodlock said $1,000 may seem like short money ... but it’s real money. You’d remember it. Anyone would remember it. The right thing to do is give it back — immediately. That’s not what Mr. Turner did.”

Ortiz was equally blunt and blasted Turner for likening himself to civil rights icons.

“Mr. Turner is no Rosa Rarks; he’s a convicted felon,’ ” Ortiz said outside the courtroom.

Material from published reports contributed to this story.