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Wilkerson resigns in wake of bribery charges

Wilkerson resigns in wake of bribery charges
Dianne Wilkerson resigned her seat as the Second Suffolk District's representative in the Massachusetts Senate on Wednesday, one day after she was indicted on eight federal counts of attempted extortion. Federal agents say the longtime incumbent accepted $23,500 in bribes from undercover agents that she believed were local businessmen. (Photo: Don West)

Wilkerson, 53, who grew up in Springfield, tendered her resignation in a handwritten letter sent to Senate President Therese Murray.

She had faced increasing pressure to step down — and possible expulsion by her state Senate colleagues — since she was arrested last month after being photographed by the FBI allegedly stuffing bribe money under her sweater.

Murray, who announced the resignation on the Senate floor, said the shadow is lifting off the chamber and the moral fiber of the Senate remains strong.

“Dianne Wilkerson has made the right decision,” Murray said. “With her resignation, the good work of the Senate will continue as we commit ourselves to ensuring the public trust.”

A call to Wilkerson’s State House office was not immediately returned.

The Boston legislator, in her eighth term on Beacon Hill, is the second member of the 40-member Senate to resign in the past six days. James Marzilli, an Arlington Democrat, resigned Friday as he awaits trial for sexually harassing four women in Lowell.

Gov. Deval L. Patrick, who supported Wilkerson in the Democratic primary she lost, said he wasn’t surprised by her decision.

“I think the time is here. There is a cloud over the whole Legislature on account of these charges and others,” Patrick said as he left his office. “Still, on a human level, it’s sad and deeply personally disappointing.”

Tuesday’s indictment alleges Wilkerson accepted cash payments between June 2007 and October 2008. It seeks the forfeiture of the more than $23,500 in payments allegedly made to the Boston Democrat by undercover agents and a cooperating witness during the 18-month investigation.

If convicted, Wilkerson faces up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine on each of the eight charges.

U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan has said the investigation was ongoing and did not rule out additional charges being filed as his office reviews the evidence gathered by investigators.

Wilkerson, who is free on a $50,000 unsecured bond, has said there is “more to this story,” but has declined to elaborate citing the ongoing investigation.

An Senate ethics panel is reviewing the case and could have recommended that senators vote to expel Wilkerson, who lost her re-election bid in the September primary to fellow Democrat Sonia Chang-Díaz.

On Oct. 30 the Senate passed a unanimous, nonbinding resolution urging Wilkerson to resign immediately. After initially saying she would follow the wishes on her colleagues, Wilkerson refused, saying in a statement it was unreasonable to ask her to step down so quickly. She later said she would resign, but declined to give a date.

Marzilli also initially refused to resign, although he did not seek re-election. He resigned after drawing criticism for a trip last month to Germany, where he represented the Massachusetts Senate at an environmental forum.

(Associated Press)