Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Who Will Get Taken Down Along With Senator Dianne Wilkerson?

Democratic State Senator Dianne Wilkerson of Roxbury was arrested Tuesday on corruption charges after an extensive sting operation run by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The big question to ask is: If the facts alleged in the FBI complaint are proven true, then why did the FBI wait for a year to charge Senator Wilkerson with bribery and corruption? The complaint describes a series of payments made to her, and official actions taken by her in response, back in 2007, yet the FBI continued the investigation -- and upped the ante by assigning additional undercover agents.

My prediction: there has been a much larger investigation already underway for more than a year, and more heads may soon roll. Subpoenas are already flying, but I bet the FBI knows more already than they have admitted.

A second big question is: who else might this investigation and subsequent court proceedings take down in addition to Senator Wilkerson?

The Two-Sided Sting Operation: Why Did the FBI Wait To Press Charges?

The complaint against her first makes a series of allegations of how she repeatedly accepted cash payments between June 2007 and March 2008 totalling $8,500 from a representative of the club Dejavu. The payments were for her work in twisting the arms of city and state officials in order to obtain a liquor license for the new establishment. Dejavu had originally been denied a license in early 2007, but Wilkerson initiated a campaign starting in mid-2007 -- after the alleged cash bribes -- to push for reconsideration of the license.

The FBI agent's affidavit also alleges a second set of $15,000 in cash bribes starting in January 2008 paid as part of several undercover FBI agents' make-believe attempts to obtain development rights for a parcel of land in Roxbury at the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.

In the first set of cash payments, there appeared to be ample evidence by fall 2007 that the FBI could have charged Senator Wilkerson. Why did the FBI wait to make more payments on the ongoing liquor license issue -- as well as start up a new undercover operation about the Roxbury property?

My inkling is that the agents are sitting on quite a bit more information that what is contained in this one affidavit. The net may have been cast substantially more broadly, but they are only coming out with these charges against Senator Wilkerson for now. Given their ample evidence assembled by fall 2007, the FBI probably could have gotten wiretaps on her phones -- and hence snagged anyone else who might have been trying to buy political favors in the year since then.

Senator Wilkerson, Senate President Therese Murray, Council President Maureen Feeney, and BLB Chairman Daniel Pokaski met in mid-August 2007. The affidavit says that the outcome of the meeting was for Boston to submit a home rule petition to the legislature for 40 new liquor licenses and 30 new beer and wine licenses, that Dejavu would receive one of the liquor licenses, and that Senator Wilkerson would have control in allocating several of the licenses. The FBI agent's complaint reads:
25. Boston licensing Board Awards Dejavu a Beer and Wine License. On August 16, 2007, the BLB issued a letter notifying Dejavu that its petition for a malt and wine license had been granted. On the same day, WILKERSON met with the BLB Chairman, the Senate President, the Boston City Council President, and Senator [Michael Morrissey] to discuss the status of the Dejavu license and related issues. The outcome of the meeting was an agreement that the City of Boston would submit, and WILKERSON would sponsor, legislation which would authorize 40 new nontransferable liquor licenses and 30 new nontransferable beer and wine licenses for the City of Boston. (This type of legislation is also known as a "home rule petition.") It was understood the Dejavu would receive one of these new special liquor licenses, if another one did not become available first, and that WILKERSON would be able to control several other licenses.
While the FBI complaint does not allege that any of these other individuals -- Feeney, Morrissey, Pokaski, or Murray -- violated the law, this one meeting may be a major focus of the investigation as it goes forward. Assembled in one room, making an apparent back room deal, are major players of both city and state government. The meeting happened on the same day as a letter from the BLB awarding a temporary license -- probably at minimum a violation of the state's Open Meeting Law, since it followed no public hearing or public vote of the board -- and two weeks after Senator Wilkerson had put a hold on the state legislation for a pay increase for the members of the BLB. Council President Feeney has already confirmed that she was questioned Tuesday by the FBI.

While the affidavit alleged no quid pro quo among the attendees of that meeting -- to approve the liquor license for Dejavu, pass the BLB pay increase legislation, introduce and pass a home rule petition for more liquor licenses, and give control of some of those licenses not to the BLB but to Senator Wilkerson -- any casual reader easily comes to that conclusion. Whether any of that violates the law is a lingering question. What exactly was said at that meeting could cause embarrassment... or more.

Mayor Thomas Menino may have dodged a bullet here: while he was mentioned elsewhere as meeting with Senator Wilkerson and apparently promising to help, neither he nor his assistant working on the license issue were listed in the affidavit as being in attendance at that August 2007 meeting.

Boston Globe Omits Mention of Boston Globe Columnist Walker

The Boston Globe published a series of articles, an editorial, an Op-Ed, and a metro column in Wednesday's edition that covered the Wilkerson story from many angles.

Missing from all of them: the role that their own columnist Adrian Walker may have played in the unfolding drama.

We know a bit of his role from the FBI agent's affidavit:
"WILKERSON told the CW [Cooperating Witness] in a recorded conversation on or about July 11, 2007, that she sent a package of material to a Boston Globe columnist about the lack of liquor licenses available to minorities in the City of Boston."
He subsequently wrote a column about it in July 2007.

As I wrote over at UniversalHub:
As a blogger myself, I've received my own fair share of (anonymous) envelope drops trying to get me to write a political hit piece. They've all ended up in the circular file.

Maybe we could all chip in to buy a wastebasket for Walker?...

[W]hen somebody sends you a "packet", if you want to use it you ought to be prepared to do some substantial investigation to figure out the agenda of the person who sent it to you. (The affidavit left unclear if Wilkerson's envelope was anonymous or signed.)

If the Boston Globe had filled the still-vacant position of Ombudsman, I would expect a column about Walker's role and whether or not Walker had fallen for Wilkerson's political campaign. Given that the Globe is avoiding mentioning his role in all these stories, I assume they are giving Walker first crack at defending his role; his next column appears Friday.

Bets On a Wider Scandal

My prediction of what will happen:

Senator Wilkerson will lose re-election for her seat in her write-in campaign; she will fight the case to trial, with lots of embarrassing depositions along the way.

BLB Chairman Pokaski will probably resign within weeks -- if not days -- because he stood to gain financially from the August 2007 meeting that allegedly resulted in him approving a temporary license for Dejavu while the state legislature approved a pay raise for him.

Mayor Menino, Senate President Murray, and City Council President Feeney will be red-faced about how they got snookered into helping out Senator Wilkerson's campaign for the liquor licenses -- particularly Murray, Feeney, and Morrissey in how they appear to have agreed during the mid-August 2007 meeting to cede control of some liquor licenses to Senator Wilkerson.

Globe columnist Walker will defend his reporting while admitting that he feels betrayed by Senator Wilkerson. The Globe will otherwise avoid mentioning his name, but the Boston Herald will do so. Often.

And that there will be more names forthcoming in the wider FBI investigation.

Update: David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix has his own ideas about who's next.


Adam Gaffin said...

Walker basically did just what you predicted - in a column that only ran online yesterday afternoon (were the editors that embarrassed by it?).

Michael Pahre said...


Thanks for the link.

I must say, I totally missed that online-only column written by Walker. I had looked for news by looking at the Globe's collected links for all their coverage (at the top of the homepage), at Walker's column page, and had done an archive search, but this online-only column didn't show up in any of those three. I now even tried clicking the "Read all Adrian's columns" link on his column page, but that doesn't produce this particular online-only column. The Globe did an amazingly good job of hiding it... and your RSS/Google Alert seems to have snuffed it out.

I still suspect he will write a column on Friday about the issue... That column will make it onto the hardcopy on my doorstep.

jeffery mcnary said...

walker has consistently and credibly,reported on wilkerson's foilbles in the have other at the globe. the fact that the mentioned community holds few liquor licenses and ms. wilkerson's actions are not akin and should hold no such linkages. her reach to mr. walker simply reflect upon ms. wilkerson's twisted and tawdry pathology...yes?