Behind the scenes of Wilkerson, Turner arrests

Or, the case of the mysterious white van:

Federal prosecutors have offered a behind-the-scenes look at the arrests of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and District 7 City Councillor Chuck Turner in response to a judge questioning their methods in hauling the two politicians in on corruption charges.

In affidavits filed in U.S. District Court at the Moakley Courthouse in Boston and obtained by the Reporter, prosecutors defended their early-morning arrests of Wilkerson, a Democrat, and Turner, a member of the Green-Rainbow Party. Judge Douglas Woodlock, at a July 2 hearing, asked for the documents to see whether prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office were trying to “gin things up a bit” in the media through their arrests.

Both Wilkerson and Turner have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Turner, who is running for re-election against former City Hall aide Carlos Henriquez and perennial candidates Althea Garrison and Roy Owens, has been vocal about his part of the case, accusing prosecutors of targeting him at the behest of former U.S. Attorney John Ashcroft as part of a Republican conspiracy that allegedly also involves former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Julia Cowley, a special agent with the FBI who accompanied the arrest of Wilkerson on October 28 and Turner on November 21, wrote in an affidavit attached to the filing: “I can state unequivocally that the arrests of Ms. Wilkerson and Mr. Turner were not intended to attract or to encourage media attention. To the contrary, the executions of the arrest warrants in these cases were designed to ensure agent safety, the safety of the defendants, and the swift and seamless custody and transport of the defendants.”

But the attempt to gain “custody and transport” of Turner wasn’t exactly swift and seamless, according to her affidavit.

When FBI agents arrived at Turner’s Beech Glen Street home at 6:25 a.m., an unmarked white van was parked on the street by his home. Cowley wrote that “an individual with a video camera got out of the van when we arrived and filmed us as we approached his door.” The van did not follow the agents to City Hall, where Turner turned out to be, and prosecutors said in their filing that the “arresting agents have no information indicating how this cameraman came to be in that location on the morning of Mr. Turner’s arrest.”

After Turner was picked up at his office in City Hall, he was driven to the U.S. Courthouse in Worcester, with an initial appearance before a magistrate judge who was sitting there that day.

“We arrived at 8:11 a.m. Mr. Turner initially refused to get out of the vehicle,” Cowley wrote. “He stated that agents would have to carry him out of the vehicle. Agents ultimately persuaded him to cooperate and leave the vehicle on his own. To my observation and knowledge there were no members of the media present outside the United States Courthouse in Worcester when we brought Mr. Turner there in custody.”

The prosecutors’ filing also includes an affidavit from Christina DiIorio-Sterling, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office. She said she did not provide reporters any advance warning of the arrest of either Wilkerson or Turner since the federal charges against them were under seal at the time.

A generic media advisory was sent out after Wilkerson’s arrest letting reporters know of a press conference, she said, prompting calls from reporters who wanted to find out who had been charged. DiIorio-Sterling wrote that she did not divulge Wilkerson’s name before the press conference. “No reporter mentioned Ms. Wilkerson to me as a possible subject of the press conference prior to that press conference,” she wrote. “In fact, several reporters commented to me after the matter was unsealed that the investigation and prosecution were a complete surprise to them.”

Wilkerson’s arrest went quieter: She was arrested at 7:43 a.m., and “was initially taken back inside her home where she was given the opportunity to leave her personal belongings and to give agents access to search her home pursuant to a search warrant,” according to Cowley’s affidavit.

The filing does not appear address the release of the now-infamous photos, which included Wilkerson allegedly stashing cash bribes up into her bra and Turner also allegedly taking a bribe.

Four affidavits are not available to the public and are placed under seal. In a foot note, prosecutors say they “detail internal deliberations by the United States Attorney’s Office, including a candid and detailed discussion of investigatory strategy, mental impressions, and decisions regarding the charging of the defendants…”

The filing does include an affidavit from Elaine Driscoll, a Boston Police Department spokeswoman, and a letter from William Sinnott, the city’s corporation counsel. Sinnott detailed a Nov. 21 public records request from WBZ-TV asking for a City Hall surveillance video showing Turner getting arrested.