“There’s the red carpet — must be another celebrity indictment.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office does not have a uniform system for prosecuting public officials charged with criminal violations. The disparity creates the strong impression that Lady Justice has regained her sight, winking at some miscreants and scowling menacingly at others.
The indictment last week of former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi was a prime example of prosecutorial decorum. DiMasi’s attorney, Thomas Kiley, was invited by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to present his client before the federal magistrate to respond to the public corruption charges. DiMasi and his entourage appeared at the designated hour, declared their innocence and were released pending further proceedings on $10,000 bond. The occasion was solemn and exceedingly civil.
According to the indictment, DiMasi received $57,000 and his alleged co-conspirators received much more from Cognos ULC, a software company doing business with the state. When he became aware of the federal investigation of the software contracts, DiMasi stepped down from political office — to the accolades of his peers.
In a despotic society, the prosecutorial procedure is much more traumatic. Those under investigation expect a knock on their door in the middle of the night or in the early morning hours. With maximum disruption, the police or soldiers handcuff the accused and violently take him in custody.
That scenario sounds more like the arrest of Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner. When the FBI did not find him at home in the early morning, they went to City Hall, where he was already at work. They handcuffed him and charged him with extortion for accepting $1,000 as payment for his efforts to obtain a liquor license for a planned nightclub. The arrest of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson on similar charges preceded a search of her home that left the premises devastated.
The charges against DiMasi are far more destructive of the public welfare than the petty allegations against Turner and Wilkerson. Yet the treatment of DiMasi was civil, while the treatment of Turner and Wilkerson was hostile. The Justice Department is supposed to set the national standard for prosecutorial equality. The Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office has some ’splaining to do.
Those admitted to prestigious universities are presumed to have left the world of crime and violence behind. The recent shooting of an alleged drug dealer in Harvard’s Kirkland House abruptly alerts the public that the ivy-covered halls are not always a pristine environment.
Harvard seniors Chanequa Campbell and Brittany Smith of New York have been denied the privilege of graduating because of their relationship with Jabrai J. Copney, the accused killer. Now there seems to be the suggestion, often unstated, that such violence is a black phenomenon.
How soon people forget the case of Philip Markoff, the 23-year-old Boston University medical students who was charged in April with robbing and fatally shooting a woman who provided erotic services. In 2003, Alexander Pring-Wilson, then a Harvard graduate student, was charged with fatally stabbing a man following an incident on the street. Both Markoff and Pring-Wilson are white.
Those involved in such crimes are not due special consideration because of their race or their academic achievement. No one is immune from the lure of the seedier side of life.