Election 2008

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Steven Senne/AP
Mass. state Sen. Diane Wilkerson,
right, departs federal court.

Massachusetts State Senator Busted for Corruption in FBI Sting

October 29, 2008 11:03 AM
by Christopher Coats
Coming just days before an election that could have saved her political career, Mass. state Sen. Diane Wilkerson was implicated in a corruption scandal that will likely end much more than her time in office.

Long-term Senator Accepted Bribes

Diane Wilkerson, the embattled Mass. state senator who in 1992 became the state’s first female African-American senator, has been charged for a series of crimes centering on the acceptance of more than $23,000 in bribes for legislative and bureaucratic favors.

The FBI caught many of the payments, which came from a number of dining establishments and developers, on video and audio recordings after being tipped off last year.

Most notably, the surveillance camera caught Wilkerson stuffing $1,000 in cash into her undergarments.

The investigation found that Wilkerson had accepted money in exchange for clearing alcohol licenses and presenting legislation that would have allowed for an increase in the number of restaurants in Boston.

Undoubtedly damaging to any political figure, the federal investigation is just the latest in a long line of professional missteps by the popular and controversial state senator, and could mean an end to her life in public service.

Dogged by legal troubles throughout her career, most notably stemming from an outstanding tax bill in the late 1990s, Wilkerson’s public life took a decidedly negative turn during this year’s Democratic primary.

Background: A litany of political missteps

Though she won previous elections decidedly, Wilkerson was narrowly defeated by opponent Sonia Chang-Diaz during her 2008 re-election bid thanks to an evaporation of public support and endorsements after she was forced to pay a $10,000 fine for her lack of clear campaign records.

Losing by just one percent, Wilkerson launched a write-in effort, though her chances looked grim after the local party establishment threw their support behind Chang-Diaz.

“She needs a miracle,” Mike Shea, a Boston Democratic strategist, told Politicker at the time.

The lone African-American state senator in the Massachusetts Senate, Wilkerson is said to have possibly benefited from an expected spike in African-American voter turnout on Nov. 4, but this week’s developments appear to have removed any lingering hopes for victory.

Detailing their case against Wilkerson at the press conference this week, FBI agents provided a 32-page affidavit with descriptions of meetings held with the senator and cash payments from $500 to $10,000.

Denying the announcement had anything to do with the upcoming election, U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan said that the timing of the investigation’s conclusion was determined by the demands of the case, not political motivation.

“It’s coincidental that this happened one week before the election,” Sullivan told the Boston Globe.

Should Wilkerson manage to avoid prosecution, which could land her in jail for up to 40 years, she will then face disbarment charges by the Massachusetts Bar Counsel for allegedly lying under oath.

Stemming from the voluntary manslaughter trail of her nephew, the charges suggest that Wilkerson lied during the proceedings, and again during the counsel’s investigation into the charges.

Related Topic: Politicians caught on tape

While clearly rare, catching lawmakers breaking the law on tape is hardly unheard of. Famously, Florida Republican Congressman Richard Kelly was caught on tape stuffing $25,000 in cash into his suit during a 1980 federal investigation called ABSCAM, involving agents posing as Middle Eastern businessmen.

“Six congressmen, Democrats John Jenrette of South Carolina, Raymond Lederer of Pennsylvania, Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, John Murphy of New York and Frank Thompson of New Jersey, and Republican Richard Kelly of Florida, and one senator, Democrat Harrison Williams of New Jersey, were convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges in 1981," according the “Newshour.” 

The year 2006 saw a similar FBI cash sting, though without the video proof, when federal authorities closed in on La. Rep. William J. Jefferson, finding over $90,000 in cash in his home freezer. Having accepted bribes for personal favors and for arranging business deals, Jefferson was charged with a series of corruption charges, though he remains free and is still on the Louisiana ballot for Nov. 4.

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