Mass. Attorney General to up focus on public corruption

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Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced Wednesday she is creating a task force to focus on public corruption that has permeated the state’s political establishment.

Coakley says she intends to focus more on corruption in government by reorganizing her department.

The Democrat told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce she will split an existing fraud and corruption unit in her office and refocus its workers. One new unit will focus on financial crimes, the other on public corruption.

The focus comes after the bribery convictions of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner. Turner was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison after U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock blasted what he termed the former councilor’s “ludicrously perjurious testimony” at trial.

Coakley told the business leaders attending the Chamber breakfast: “If we cannot ensure the integrity of our markets and of our government, then most of our efforts to rebuild our economy, at this stage, are undermined.”

Besides Wilkerson and Turner, former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi is also facing federal corruption charges, following criminal prosecutions against his two predecessors.

And Coakley herself is investigating allegations of fraudulent hiring practices within the state Probation Department, the Middlesex sheriff’s office and with Massachusetts Lottery advertising during last fall’s gubernatorial campaign by independent candidate Timothy Cahill.

Coakley has been accused of ignoring many corruption cases, especially involving her fellow Democrats who compose most of the state government, but she has said that in many cases, the federal government has better law enforcement tools to prosecute the crimes.

She also highlighted for her Chamber audience the more than 40 public corruption cases brought by her office – against members of both parties – and her focus on falsified training by EMTs seeking extra pay; false workers compensation and unemployment claims; and her successful recovery of more than $250 million during the past four years through Medicaid fraud prosecutions.

Coakley said both of the new units will be staffed with prosecutors trained in public corruption techniques, as well as the white-collar crime that will be targeted by the financial crimes unit.

The attorney general encouraged business leaders to cooperate with her efforts by turning in employees suspected of embezzlement, hacking and theft of company secrets.

“Sometimes it makes sense for you, in your businesses, to send a line to your employees, to send the message, that we do not take this lightly, we are not just going to write it off after we fire you – and, by the way, send you out in the world so you can go do it someplace else at another business,” she said.

Coakley kicked off her speech with a reference to the high-profile U.S. Senate race she lost a year ago to Republican Scott Brown. Noting she had been re-elected in November and sworn in last week, Coakley quipped that “twice now in the past year, the voters have said they want me to stay as attorney general.”

She also provoked murmurs as she repeatedly highlighted the good-citizenship theme highlighted in regular Citizens Bank television ads – as she stood in front of a Bank of America banner in recognition of its sponsorship of the breakfast.

Source: The Associated Press

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Boston politician Chuck Turner sentenced to 3 years behind bars for bribery

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Former Boston Councilor Chuck Turner, who was convicted in October for taking a $1,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent in 2008, was sentenced today to three years in prison by U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock.

Turner, 70, could have received a sentence for as much as 35 years, although his defense team asked for no-prison sentence, pointing to his more than 40 years of community service.

Boston Councilor Chuck Turner was sentenced today to 3 years in prison for taking a $1,000 bribe to help secure a liquor license. (photo The Boston Herald)

Turner was caught in an FBI sting, during which he was recorded on video taking a $1,000 bribe from businessman-turned-FBI informant Ronald Wilburn. During his trial, Turner said he didn’t remember if he looked at the cash changing hands and referred to it as a “preacher’s handshake.”

Around the same time, another prominent African American politician was also taken down by Wilburn and the FBI. Former State Senator Diane Wilkerson took $23,500 in bribes for agreeing to help Wilburn obtain a liquor license for a nightclub he was purportedly planning, and for her influence on a property development deal.

Wilkerson pleaded guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion and was sentenced two weeks ago to 3 ½ years in prison.

The Harvard-educated Turner began his career in politics as a community activist in Boston’s South End, fighting for better housing conditions for poor residents. He was first elected to the Boston City Council in 1999 running on the Green-Rainbow ticket, and representing District 7.

Even though he was under indictment for bribery when he ran for re-election in 2009, his popularity with voters helped him easily retain his seat.

After a jury convicted him of bribery, the city council voted him out of his seat earlier this month, but Turner refused to go quietly. Turner filed a civil lawsuit against the city claiming it had no authority to remove him from office.

U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said of the sentencing, “Mr. Turner was sentenced to prison today because of the choices he made and the actions he took during the course of this case. 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.”

In addition to the prison sentence, the Judge Woodlock ordered Turner to return the $1,000 bribe monies.

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Boston judge tosses evidence on paroled twice-convicted killer, caught with cash from robbery

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A judge in Boston ruled that police did not have probable cause in the arrest of a twice-convicted killer, forcing prosecutors to drop weapons and robbery charges against him. The ruling came only a few days after paroled “triple-lifer” Dominic Cinelli allegedly gunned down and killed police officer John “Jack” McQuire in suburban Woburn.

Gerald Hill, 48, was convicted of second degree murder in 1978, while awaiting trial on a fatal 1977 stabbing incident. He was released from prison on parole in Sept. 2009.

On November 9, 2009, Hill was spotted by police officer George Dias, running erratically down a street with a shopping bag and dodging cars, when he jumped in the back of a taxi and slumped down.

Dias left his post upon hearing of a robbery at the Boston Cab Co. and possible shots fired — when he spotted Hill. Dias approached the taxi with two backup officers, at which time Hill briefly pulled a gun on the officers. In the back of the taxi with Hill was $21,000 in cash, plastic zip ties and two handguns.

In his ruling, Judge Mitchell H. Kaplan found that Dias was acting on a “hunch” when he decided to pursue Hill for “some manner of illicit conduct that warranted further investigation, but did not have a reasonable suspicion based on specific facts.”

Without being able to use any of the evidence, Suffolk County prosecutors decided to drop the case.

A police spokesperson said “We respect the judge’s decision, but clearly the officer had excellent instincts and did commendable work.”

Even though the charges were tossed out, Hill remains in jail on separate charges of parole violation.

Boston Herald

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Mayoral aide gets probation for dealing OxyContin and cocaine

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A former aide to Boston’s Mayor Thomas M. Menino was spared a potential lengthy prison sentence yesterday, when his lawyers and politically-connected supporters convinced the judge he was a changed man.

John M. Forbes, 31, a community coordinator for East Boston in city hall, was arrested in December 2009 for selling OxyContin pills from his kitchen, and attempting to sell 10 ounces of cocaine in an undercover transaction. Forbes said that his life was out of control, thanks to a 5 pill-per-day OxyContin addiction.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey M. Cohen, argued for a 51-month prison sentence, the same punishment that was given to a co-defendant, Lawrence R. Taylor. Cohen said that Forbes violated the public trust by representing city hall by day, and then selling drugs at night from his home — in front of his own children.

After he was arrested, he refused to cooperate with authorities, said Cohen.

Forbes’s attorney Rosemary Scapicchio, told  Judge Richard G. Stearns that Forbes was rehabilitated by his 128-day stay at a drug treatment center, and asked for leniency. She said he “can be a source of hope for others” and that he planned to help others fight their addiction.

Prominent politicians, including ex-Senate president Robert Travaglini and city councilor Sal LaMattina, were among supporters that lobbied the judge for a non-prison sentence.

He faced a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison. He was sentenced to five years probation and 1,800 hours of community service.

The Boston Herald

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Correction department employees switching jobs to scam pension system

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A Fox undercover operation in Boston has exposed shady, but legal loophole in the Massachusetts Department of Correction that allows managerial and administrative workers to retire many years earlier than they would otherwise be entitled to receive full pension benefits.

Here’s the way it works: A department employee in another group, makes a career switch and becomes a correction officer, a more hazardous job that allows employees to retire far earlier than other positions.  As long as the employee remains a corrections officer for 12 months, they are treated for retirement purposes as though they spent their entire employment in that position.

The practice is known as group jumping, and Fox found 14 instances of the practice since 2005.

One such employee interviewed briefly by Fox, was Cheryl Nelson. She spent nearly thirty years working as an office assistant in the department, before becoming a corrections officer in 2008. She acknowledged that she is on track to now retire with a full pension 11 years than she could have as an administrative employee.

Nelson disagreed she was gaming the system. “It helps me as a single person to better my retirement. I’ve got to think about my future,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve taken advantage of anything with the state. Absolutely not,” she said.

Mike Widmer, President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation disagreed with her assessment and said there was only one reason an employee would switch to a corrections officer at the end of their career, that being to enhance their pension benefits at the expense of taxpayers.

Widmer called maneuver legal “but it’s absolutely wrong. It’s wrong morally and it’s wrong fiscally.” He added that group jumping has been going on for years.

Gov. Deval Patrick has already weighed in on the issue, and suggested a special commission look into the problem, but last year’s legislative body failed to do so. The governor’s spokesman, Jay Gonzalez, said that a comprehensive pension reform package is in the works and will be proposed early this year.

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Cat ordered to report for jury duty

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East Boston resident Sal Esposito has been summoned for jury duty. There’s just one problem: Sal is a cat.

This Boston cat has been called for jury duty and will report to the court as required by law.

The issue arose after Sal’s owners, Anna and Guy Esposito, listed him on the last U.S. Census under “pet.” Residents are submitted to the list by street address and Sal Esposito may have gotten mixed in with his human neighbors.

But Sal’s owners tried to have him disqualified due to his inability to speak or understand English, but were denied. Unless the matter is resolved, Anna Esposito said she will take the feline to court to perform his civic duty on March 23.

MyFoxBoston.com

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FBI wants bribe money back from Boston politician caught in sting

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Adding to his mounting troubles, Boston city councilor Chuck Turner, convicted on corruption charges in October 2010, is now being asked by prosecutors to return the $1,000 bribe he took from an FBI informant.

After taking a $1,000 bribe from an FBI informant, the feds want their money back.

Turner was caught on videotape taking a $1,000 bribe from the local businessman turned FBI informant, for agreeing to help secure a liquor license. After the incident, he lied three times to the FBI about it. The sting was part of an operation targeting corrupt politicians. Turner is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan.25.

Last week, Turner filed complaint with the U.S. District Court seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the action the city council took on Dec. 1 to remove him from office.

Turner’s lawyer, Barry Wilson, also filed papers yesterday seeking a postponement of the scheduled hearing date. Wilson said that Turner is suffering from depression, and is out of the country recovering from his “rigorous trial schedule.”

Wilson has proclaimed his innocence, telling jurors that he only took $200 in what he called “a preacher’s handshake.”

The Boston Herald

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