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Injustice in Mass. criminal courts gets less attention than in Fla.

Melvin B. Miller | 7/19/2013, 1:54 p.m. | Updated on 7/19/2013, 1:54 p.m.
Chuck Turner Banner Photo

Many Americans are shocked by the acquittal of George Zimmerman. There are many comments about the inequality of justice in Florida, but the relatively mild sentence for Michael McLaughlin, the disgraced former Chelsea Housing Authority executive director raises questions about fairness in the Massachusetts criminal justice system.

According to a HUD report dated May 22, McLaughlin spent $711,392 in federal funds that were not authorized. He reported a salary of $160,000 but was actually taking $360,000. There were also unauthorized travel expenses. Much of this information was known before publication of the report and served as the basis for McLaughlin’s prosecution.

Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. attorney, agreed to a plea involving an 18-month sentence but Judge Douglas P. Woodlock rejected the sentence. On July 17 he doubled the sentence to three years. That is the same sentence the judge imposed on former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner who was convicted earlier of receiving a payment of $1,000 for providing constituent services.

One might argue that despite the enormous disparity of the sums involved in the two criminal enterprises they were nonetheless both equivalent acts of moral turpitude, but that would be an inaccurate opinion. There was sufficient evidence to conclude that Turner had received a campaign contribution and not a required payment for a service performed. Then Turner would have been guilty of nothing more serious than violating state law regarding disclosure of campaign contributions.

Anyone with a sense of fair play would conclude that Turner and McLaughlin should not be jailed for the same period of time for such dissimilar offenses. But McLaughlin knows how to play politics and Turner is a firebrand. Even their arrests were treated differently. McLaughlin was permitted to show up at the U.S. attorney’s office with his lawyer. Turner was the victim of an early morning arrest. The door of his house was battered open, and he was later taken in handcuffs from City Hall.

Turner was treated by the FBI like a violent felon, while McLaughlin was little more than an errant gentleman. Then the criminal charge and the sentence were excessive. Any injustice because of race, religion, color or political views depreciates the greatness of the American judicial system.