Attorney General Martha Coakley announced last week she is creating a task force to focus on public corruption that has permeated the Massachusetts political establishment.
The Democrat told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce she will split an existing fraud and corruption unit in her office and refocus its workers. One new unit will focus on financial crimes, the other on public corruption.
The focus comes after the bribery convictions of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner. Turner was sentenced last Tuesday to three years in prison after U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock blasted what he termed the former councilor’s “ludicrously perjurious testimony” at trial.
Coakley told the business leaders attending the Chamber breakfast: “If we cannot ensure the integrity of our markets and of our government, then most of our efforts to rebuild our economy, at this stage, are undermined.”
Besides Wilkerson and Turner, former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi is also facing federal corruption charges, following criminal prosecutions against his two predecessors.
And Coakley herself is investigating allegations of fraudulent hiring practices within the state Probation Department, the Middlesex sheriff’s office and with Massachusetts Lottery advertising during last fall’s gubernatorial campaign by independent candidate Timothy Cahill.
Coakley has been accused of ignoring many corruption cases, especially involving her fellow Democrats who compose most of the state government, but she has said that in many cases, the federal government has better law enforcement tools to prosecute the crimes.
She also highlighted for her Chamber audience the more than 40 public corruption cases brought by her office — against members of both parties — and her focus on falsified training by EMTs seeking extra pay; false workers compensation and unemployment claims; and her successful recovery of more than $250 million during the past four years through Medicaid fraud prosecutions.
Coakley said both of the new units would be staffed with prosecutors trained in public corruption techniques, as well as the white-collar crime that will be targeted by the financial crimes unit.
The attorney general encouraged business leaders to cooperate with her efforts by turning in employees suspected of embezzlement, hacking and theft of company secrets.
“Sometimes it makes sense for you, in your businesses, to send a line to your employees, to send the message, that we do not take this lightly, we are not just going to write it off after we fire you — and, by the way, send you out in the world so you can go do it someplace else at another business,” she said.
Coakley kicked off her speech with a reference to the high-profile U.S. Senate race she lost a year ago to Republican Scott Brown. Noting she had been re-elected in November and sworn in last week, Coakley quipped that “twice now in the past year, the voters have said they want me to stay as attorney general.”
She also provoked murmurs as she repeatedly highlighted the good-citizenship theme highlighted in regular Citizens Bank television ads — as she stood in front of a Bank of America banner in recognition of its sponsorship of the breakfast.
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