At any rate, Turner would not have made an effective extortionist. His hallmark was holding hearings, not necessarily getting results. There is a role for such officials in public life, of course. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, sunlight is the best disinfectant, and Turner specialized in casting sunlight.
Prosecutors, oddly, conceded that Turner had little to sell. "There is substantial doubt," they asserted in a memorandum requesting a heavy prison sentence, "about Turner's effectiveness as a public servant." A strange assertion, for if he could not get approvals from the licensing board, why would any businessman succumb to his supposed extortion demands? This is more than a mere detail, for it weighs heavily toward a conclusion that Turner saw the Wilburn payment as an ordinary campaign contribution, rather than a payoff.
One might think that the news media would pick up on this. But from the moment the feds leaked the grainy photos of the handoff, the reporting angle (with a few exceptions, such as WBUR's David Boeri) was all but set: the press saw red meat. Reporters perhaps lost sight of the fact that, in their role as watchdog over government conduct, the actions of the feds deserved as much, if not more, scrutiny than the likely very minor improprieties of a city pol. If voters don't like Turner, or if they smell a whiff of dishonesty, they can express their displeasure at the ballot box. But if those same citizens dislike what federal prosecutors and FBI agents are doing in the people's name and on their dime, they have little practical recourse.
Which makes all the more revolting the fact that prosecutors, in their memorandum requesting 33 to 41 months in prison for Turner, used the politician's own overheated statements against him — in essence asking the court to punish him for his free speech. By asserting that the investigation was racially motivated, Turner's words "have been corrosive to respect for important public institutions and the rule of law," prosecutors argued to Judge Douglas Woodlock.
Coming from the Massachusetts US Attorney's Office, in connection with a case launched by the Boston FBI office, the feds's air of piety was nothing short of stomach-churning. Just last month, a federal appeals court saw fit to deny compensation to the family of an innocent man gunned down as a result of the Boston FBI's office working with the mobster Whitey Bulger. And federal prosecutor Jeffrey Auerhahn, found by another judge to have hidden evidence that could have shown that a man convicted of murder was innocent, continues to serve in the US Attorney's Office.
Even if prosecutors were throwing boulders from their glass house, the onus was ultimately on Woodlock to see through this ruse. In this regard, he utterly failed, seeing fit to hand down a shockingly harsh three-year sentence — only a few months shorter than that of Wilkerson, a repeat offender. Woodlock took specific issue with Turner's testimony, finding it implausible that the 70-year-old couldn't remember meeting the FBI's informant.
But Woodlock, a former corruption prosecutor turned judge, perhaps unsurprisingly didn't see the bigger picture. He didn't see the possibility — indeed, the likelihood — that the feds led Turner into a scenario that appeared far more pernicious than the reality. He didn't see that a local politician was targeted by federal prosecutors for not helping them build their case against Wilkerson.