WILBURN’S DISAPPOINTMENT with the liquor board seemed to spur him into action. In February 2007, one month after his first hearing before the board, he began meeting with the FBI. By May 2007, according to subsequent testimony from the bureau’s agents, Wilburn had signed an agreement to be a cooperating witness, to rat out Dianne Wilkerson and whoever else might be corrupt. The agreement paid Wilburn, in total, $29,099.
Wilburn portrays his cooperation as the last and most significant act of his civic-minded career. But he also needed the money. His Social Security benefits and an annuity he had barely covered basic expenses. And his new nightclub, Dejavu, couldn’t get off the ground. So Wilburn seems to have used what he had — information on Wilkerson, whom he claims had already taken three bribes from him — to wrangle what eventually became a $3,000-a-month stipend out of the FBI, which would keep him going until he could find his next gig.
In 2007 Wilburn recorded Wilkerson taking five bribes from him, ranging from $500 to $3,000, in exchange for her help with a liquor license for his proposed club. Among Wilburn’s damning evidence was the now infamous photo of Wilkerson stuffing cash into her bra just steps from the State House.
Wilburn didn’t seek out Chuck Turner until Wilkerson suggested it to him at some point in July. Turner was an activist who relished representing Boston’s poorest neighborhood. He didn’t have the political juice to deliver a liquor license, but if the issue were framed properly, Turner could raise a stink, start a protest. And that’s how Wilburn approached him: Why couldn’t he, a black businessman, get a liquor license? Why was it that none of the previous year’s 20 liquor licenses went to establishments south of Massachusetts Avenue? In his first meeting with Turner, Wilburn intimated that Wilkerson thought it might be helpful for Turner to set up a City Council hearing to examine the issue. Turner said he’d look into it.
On August 3 Wilburn got a call from Turner at home. Turner said he’d like to meet Wilburn in his district office. Wilburn took that to mean that he might be open to a bribe. So he called the FBI, which gave him $1,000 in cash and two recorders. Then Wilburn headed out to Turner’s district office in Roxbury.
If Turner knew the bribe was coming, he certainly didn’t give Wilburn any preferential treatment. When Wilburn got to the office, he had to wait. The woman in front of him talked about “educational issues,” he would later testify. A man waiting in line behind Wilburn wanted to build shrines to kids who had been killed in Roxbury. In all, Wilburn waited for nearly 40 minutes.
When Wilburn’s turn came, he took a seat opposite Turner and talked about how grateful he was for Turner’s support. Moments later, with money buried in his palm, Wilburn reached for Turner’s hand, shook it, passed along the money, and said Turner should take his wife out for a nice dinner. Wilburn said there was more gratitude where that came from.
What’s revealing — when it comes to how business really gets done in this town — is that the bribe to Turner wasn’t necessary. Dianne Wilkerson, by that point, had helped put Wilburn in touch with Stephen Miller, of McDermott, Quilty & Miller, to assist with the license. Wilkerson was also holding up legislation that included pay raises for the Boston Licensing Board, and she kept holding it up until she had assurances from the board that Ron Wilburn would get his liquor license. Once that happened, the three-member board received a 42 percent pay raise; Pokaski’s pay alone jumped from $60,000 to $85,000 a year. The board was so quick to approve Wilburn’s liquor license — the public debate lasted mere seconds — that it overlooked the fact that Wilburn no longer even had an address for his club. “I have never heard of that happening,” says a longtime lawyer who specializes in liquor licenses. “Whenever I’ve done an application, you have to provide an address and…a floor plan.” Pokaski retired in June of last year and, despite repeated attempts, could not be reached for comment. The acting board chairman, Michael Connolly, as well as Stephen Miller, say Wilburn had claimed when the liquor license was granted to him that he hoped to have a lease for his club at the address 15 Melnea Cass Boulevard, which at one point was listed as the proposed site. Connolly adds that “it’s very uncommon” but probably not unprecedented for the Boston Licensing Board to grant a liquor license without an address.
But the irony in all this is that Wilburn didn’t need to bribe Wilkerson, either. As far back as January 2007 — before Wilburn ever met with the FBI — the Boston Licensing Board told Wilburn that all he needed to do was change his club’s floor plan from a nightclub to a more traditional restaurant, and the license was his. In the end, that’s what Stephen Miller had Wilburn do, and that’s what the board approved. “It was pretty easy,” Miller says. “It was actually one of the easier [approvals] we’ve had.”