Last Thursday, federal felon and local celebrity Chuck Turner spent his last evening before reporting to prison speaking with students at Northeastern University. Turner spoke on a panel entitled “Framing the Innocent” alongside Suffolk Law School professor Micheal Avery, New York lawyer Robert Boyle, and Tarek Mehanna Support Committee organizer Laila Murad at Northeastern’s School of Law.
Turner, now 70 years old, served as a Boston City Councilman representing Roxbury and Dorchester for five terms. A jury convicted Turner in October for accepting a $1000 bribe for a liquor license during an FBI sting operation. He was sentenced to 3 years in Hazelton Federal Prison in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia by US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock, and reported on Friday, March 25. The sting operation also brought down state senator Dianne Wilkerson.
Active till the end, Chuck held the panel as a farewell. He proclaimed his innocence and preached for “justice over political expediency.”
“We can’t have housing and education and health resources if we have a group of people, a group of prosecutors who have power, and authority to reach out and target anyone that they choose.”
He was referring to US Attorney John McNeil, the Federal prosecutor for Turner’s trial. McNeil said in his opening statement for Turner’s sentencing in January that “this case has nothing to do with race.” The audience quickly broke out in harsh laughter, which was silenced by Judge Woodlock.
Turner’s speech and most of the panel centered on the topic of racism in federal trials and and the issue of “prosecutors gone wild.”
“The issues in my case are that I accepted a thousand dollars knowing that that thousand dollars was given to me to file a hearing order on discrimination in terms of the issuing of liquor licenses.”
Turner then said that it was “just astonishing” that he is “basically going to spend three years in jail for calling a hearing.” During the sentencing, Turner’s lawyers stated nothing about the money going towards filing a hearing.
He also brought up the issue of perjury in his hearing. In January, both Judge Woodlock and McNeil agreed that Turner had perjured himself by lying to the FBI about accepting the bribe and the conditions thereof although he was not charged.
According to Judge Woodlock, the testimony that Turner forgot that he had received the thousand dollars and resulting accusations of perjury inflated Turners sentence.
Said Turner during the panel, “I think my case represents yet another example of the historical use of the US prosecutorial investigative and judicial powers to achieve political objectives… the legal system has been used to give those in control a tool to eliminate those in the political opposition.”
Turner spoke in hushed tones on the American Revolution, J. Edgar Hoover, and the formation of the FBI. He also spoke about the targeting of small businesses and the black community by the government.
“While the targeting of the Black movement [by Hoover’s ‘G-Men’] is clear, we need to recognize that this flagrant use of power was turned on anybody who dissented from the oligarchy perspective. The sting operation targeting Senator Wilkerson and I initiated by former US Attorney Sullivan is part of this same pattern.”
Turner spoke at length on his trial and expanded on a point raised by fellow panel member Boyle that the process of government prosecution, even if it fails, “has the power to sap the energy from the movement” by instilling fear in its people.
This fear, according to Turner, makes it very difficult to “protect yourself in the court of public opinion” which he has been trying to do since he got convicted.
Towards the end of his speech, Turner acknowledged that he put his lawyer in a difficult position by testifying during his trial, but, said Turner, “for an activist, the good advice to keep your mouth shut just doesn’t fit.”
Turner also urged the public to “expose the criminal actions” that were talked about on the panel, the most striking of which was the case of Tarek Mehanna presented by Murad.
Turner mostly spoke from a prepared speech, which he distributed at the lecture and to the overflow outside. The un-edited speech is available on Turner’s website: www.supportchuckturner.com
During the Q and A, Mike Heichman, a school teacher in Roxbury and active Green Rainbow Party member asked “Now we have a democratic president, African American Barack Obama, and I just wanted to ask the members of the panel are we moving further towards fascism, or are we moving away from fascism?”
To which Turner responded “Yeah, I mean all the signs are there” referring to raised taxes and the money going towards military purposes rather than education during both the Bush and Obama administrations.
“The one thing that isn’t there is the consciousness of the American people saying ‘no, we are not going to allow our government to go in that direction.’”
Read more about Turner’s indictment here.