Strange things can happen when state legislators play foreign diplomat —especially, it would seem, if they are Illinois state legislators.
Exhibit A: the ongoing federal trial of Chicago businessman C. Gregory Turner on charges he illegally lobbied on behalf of the government of Zimbabwe to lift U.S. sanctions on the African regime.
Federal prosecutors contend a key component of Turner’s crime was to enlist in his effort two Democratic state lawmakers from Chicago, Sen. Donne Trotter and Rep. Ken Dunkin.
Trotter and Dunkin each made trips to Africa as part of what Turner described in an email as part of his lobbying team.
Part of the alleged strategy was for the state legislators to build support through their African-American colleagues in other states, while also working their hometown relationship with a then newly-elected Barack Obama to win over the president’s backing.
In the end, this really wasn’t much of a plan, which Turner seemed to concede in secret government phone recordings when he told an associate that they had “made cash on b.s.” (He didn’t use the initials.)
Federal prosecutors have not accused any of the Illinois politicians of wrongdoing in connection with the case, and I’m not trying to imply otherwise.
Still, it’s all very curious. Nobody has explained how the foreign trips were funded, and Trotter and Dunkin appear to have been extremely eager to help out Turner and his co-defendant, Prince Asiel Ben Israel.
Turner and Israel were allegedly to be paid more than $3.4 million for their efforts, but no evidence has been offered that they ever collected anything beyond an initial $80,000 payment — and Turner disputes he received any of that.
Trotter has been named as a prosecution witness for this trial, so we may yet hear from him. For whatever reason, Dunkin is not. He declined to discuss the case with me this week.
In court Tuesday, FBI agent Steve Noldin confirmed that the whole investigation was triggered after Dunkin pressed Obama’s transition team in Dec. 2008 for a meeting to discuss his trip the prior week to Zimbabwe.
Somebody on the transition team thought Dunkin had violated the federal sanctions with his trip, which apparently turned out not to be the case but got the Justice Department interested.
Before it was over, they were wiretapping Turner’s phones and reading his emails, a lot of which come across in court as a lot less sinister than what you might imagine.