State senator Dianne Wilkerson was arrested Tuesday morning on charges of public corruption -- charges at a level far above and beyond any she has previously faced. The accusations, first reported by Channel 7 and outlined in a 32-page FBI affidavit [read the full affidavit here], offer a peek into how Wilkerson was allegedly able to manipulate the city and state government into granting favors for individual business owners and developers.
Wilkerson, who has a previous conviction for tax evasion, has faced other charges during her career, mostly related to the use of campaign funds. The Phoenix reports in its current issue on new allegations, involving Wilkerson’s relationship with a developer who provided her a mortgage, and her apparent failure to submit IRS reports for a non-profit organization she runs.
The affidavit for today’s arrest accuses Wilkerson of accepting cash bribes in exchange for helping first obtain a liquor license, and later to obtain designation as developer of a public parcel in Roxbury’s Crosstown section. The undercover operation began last year, and continued through Wilkerson’s filing of a direct-designation bill last week.
Wilkerson was reportedly arrested and led away in handcuffs this morning.
Undercover FBI agents recorded conversations and cash transactions during the investigation. Several stills of Wilkerson allegedly taking cash from an undercover agent were included with the unsealed affidavit; the Phoenix first published the images on its Web site [click here to see the images].
In all, the affidavit describes cash payments of $23,500 made directly to Wilkerson. None of the funds were reported as campaign contributions, it claims. After receiving one $1000 payment, Wilkerson went to Foxwoods casino, the affidavit alleges.
Other public officials may be implicated as well. The affidavit says that at one point Wilkerson suggested that a member of the House of Representatives and a Boston City Councilor should each be paid $1000 for their roles in obtaining the parcel designation. Those officials’ names were not disclosed in the affidavit.
Wilkerson, according to the charges, worked to obtain a liquor license for Dejavu, a nightclub planning to relocate to Roxbury. To do so, she pressured the Boston City Council in September 2007 to pass a home-rule petition to make additional licenses available, and helped orchestrate the approval of the petition in the state senate. She also allegedly held up senate approval of another home-rule petition — to raise the salaries of the Boston Liquor Board (BLB) members — until she received assurances that Dejavu would receive one of the new licenses.
Information from the state legislature indicates, however, that the expanded liquor-license bill never passed the senate, despite the passage of the BLB raises in August 2007.
The other set of allegations involves Crosstown, at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. Undercover agents who had been working on the Dejavu license sting asked Wilkerson to assist them in obtaining the right to develop that area, including Parcel 8, a city-owned land controlled by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
According to the affidavit, Wilkerson ultimately filed a “direct designation” bill, on October 21, 2008. That bill would avoid a competitive-bid process, and give the undercover agent’s business venture the right to develop Parcel 8. The Phoenix was not immediately able to verify details regarding the bill; the senate clerk’s office referred all questions to the office of state senate president Therese Murray, whose spokesperson was not immediately able to supply the information.
At several points in the affidavit, it is suggested that Wilkerson persuaded other officials to assist her in obtaining the license and passing the direct-designation bill. No specific allegations of wrongdoing are laid out in the affidavit, but the descriptions in some cases raise questions about their actions.
Those officials are not named. However, one senator, described as the chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, is clearly Michael Morrissey of Quincy. A state representative described as “Assistant Majority Leader” from a district within Wilkerson’s senate district appears to refer to Byron Rushing, who is second assistant majority leader in the house.
There has been no allegation that either Morrissey or Rushing have been implicated in illegal activities. The affidavit alleges that Wilkerson told FBI undercover agents that she could count on the support of these legislators.
The US Attorney’s office is expected to hold a press conference about the arrest later today. An attorney for Wilkerson did not immediately return a Phoenix phone call.