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Wilkerson sentenced in corruption case

Howard Manly
Wilkerson sentenced in corruption case
(Photo: Don West)

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.  

In several interviews over the last two years, Wilburn criticized how the government treated him and said that he was upset that only two public officials, both of whom are black, were arrested in what he thought was an extensive probe of the city’s Licensing Board and the process for awarding liquor licenses.

During Turner’s trial, an often combative Wilburn testified that he became a cooperating FBI witness after agents acquired files showing that he and Wilburn’s business partner, Felix “Manny’’ Soto, had made several payments to Wilkerson 2003 and 2004.

Details of the payoffs were discovered in files in the basement of Mirage at Estelle’s, the nightclub Wilburn and Soto operated on Tremont Street in Lower Roxbury, Wilburn testified.

Soto was arrested in 2006 on charges of cocaine distribution. In 2007, Soto was given a seven-year suspended sentence. Jesus Ayala, who, according to police was arrested after exiting Soto’s car with more than 200 grams of cocaine he allegedly bought from Soto, is serving a 10- year sentence.  

Understandably, Wilkerson had very few kind words for Wilburn and an investigation whose star witness was publicly critical of the investigation.

“Much has been said about the role of Ron Wilburn,” Wilkerson told reporters, “but most of it doesn’t even begin to tell the real story of his role, his partners in crime, some of whom included law enforcement, the major drug dealing operation in Roxbury, money laundering and loan sharking, just to name some of the activities.

“Rest assured, he was a central player in a massive criminal enterprise,” Wilkerson explained. “The very law enforcement officials standing before you today chastising Chuck Turner and I walked away from pursuing the enterprise and traded their cooperation to target Chuck and me.”

Wilkerson was again not excusing her behavior. But as she explained, the community has a right to know all of the details.

“I’m readying to accept my punishment,” she told reporters shortly after the sentencing hearing, “so that I can get on with the next chapter of my life. I know that God is not finished with me yet … I just know that the next stage will be even better than the past.”