CEPI Newsletter April 2017
This monthly compendium of news reports about corruption and ethics issues is brought to you by the Center for Ethics and Public Integrity (CEPI). Neither the National Association of Attorneys General nor the National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute express a view as to the accuracy of news accounts or affirm any position taken by the authors of the hyperlinked articles.
Cases: Investigations, Prosecutions, and Appeals
Alabama Governor Resigns, Pleads Guilty to Charges Tied to Allegations He Tried to Cover Up Affair With a Top Aide: Governor Robert Bentley pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges filed by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. Both charges related to an affair he had with a former top aide, and steps he took to conceal that affair. Bentley stepped down the same day that he pled, which was the opening of impeachment hearings against him by state lawmakers.
Ex-MSP Trooper Sentenced Over Embezzling $170K: Former Michigan State Police Trooper Seth Swanson was sentenced to one year in jail and five years’ probation for a 16-month scheme that netted him over $170,000, which he spent on plastic surgeries, credit card debt, vacations, and home improvements. Swanson, a salvage vehicle inspector, would sign Michigan state forms to certify that automobiles that had been involved in accidents were safe to be used on public roads. Swanson would then pocket associated cash fees that should have been provided to his employer and not fill out the proper paperwork, which prevented oversight of his decisions to give the vehicles clean bills of health. Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose Public Integrity Unit charged the case, said “Police officers are entrusted with upholding the law, so it is especially disappointing when they are the ones that break it.”
Albany’s Latest Scandal: Senator Robert Ortt Accused of Corruption: The New York Attorney General’s Office has charged state senator Robert G. Ortt in connection with an alleged scheme to pay his wife $20,000 of taxpayer funds for work she did not actually do. Former state senator George Maziarz has also been charged with violating campaign finance laws. These charges follow the guilty plea of one of Ortt’s associates, Henry Wojtaszek, for violating state election law.
Duncan Hunter Under Criminal Investigation for Ethics Violations: A California congressman is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for using his campaign fund to take family trips to Hawaii and Italy, pay for private school tuition and dance competitions for his children, and buy videogames. Rep. Duncan D. Hunter—who was considered for several national security posts earlier this year—is alleged to have spent tens of thousands of dollars and has already repaid $60,000 to his political campaign. The House Ethics Committee has put its own investigation of Hunter on hold at the DOJ’s request.
Nashville Judge Casey Moreland Resigns Amid Federal Corruption Charges: Now-former Tennessee state court judge Cason “Casey” Moreland has resigned days after his arrest on federal corruption charges. The charges allege that Moreland paid a woman more than $6,000 to try to induce her to recant allegations that he protected her from state charges in exchange for sex and then plotted to plant drugs in her car when she remained unwilling to recant. In an unsuccessful argument for pretrial detention because of concerns about continuing witness tampering, a federal prosecutor reported that the former judge had a list of 13 people in a document on his iPhone titled “witnesses.”
Bribery Trial Paints Stark Picture of Pennsylvania Politics: Former gubernatorial candidate Rob McCord, now a cooperating witness in a sprawling FBI investigation into Pennsylvania state government, testified about his abuse of the state’s “broken campaign finance system” at the federal trial of investment advisor Richard Ireland. Days after McCord’s testimony, the judge overseeing Ireland’s trial dismissed the charges, concluding that the prosecution didn’t prove a quid pro quo—a conclusion based in large part on McCord’s testimony that he did not believe that any of his conversations with Ireland contained an explicit agreement to trade campaign donations for government contracts.
New Sheriff to Take Over After Kosciusko County Sheriff Pleads Guilty: On the eve of trial, Kosciusko County (Indiana) Sheriff Aaron Rovenstine entered a guilty plea in state court to intimidating a detective. The charge stemmed from the detective’s investigation into allegations that the sheriff allowed an inmate to have unmonitored calls and visits; the sheriff was recorded threatening to “paint a story like” the detective was “some crook.”
Longtime Baltimore Legislator Oaks Charged with Federal Wire Fraud: Baltimore State Senator Nathanial T. Oaks has been charged with accepting cash to use his position to influence a development project. Oaks was recorded demanding thousands of dollars in exchange for using his legislative letterhead to misrepresent the status of state funding for the development project. In the late 1980s, Oaks was convicted of stealing more than $10,000 from his campaign fund, perjury, and misconduct in office. Oaks is one of several Maryland state politicians facing corruption allegations this year, including Delegate Michael Vaughn (pending federal corruption charges involving a liquor board) and former Delegate William A Campos (pled guilty in federal court to accepting bribes).
Former Pa. House Speaker Perzel Off Hook For $1M In Restitution: An intermediate appellate court in Pennsylvania reversed a trial court’s order that former House Speaker John Perzel pay $1 million in restitution to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The court relied on a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court case concluding that the state could not be considered a victim of a crime for restitution purposes under Pennsylvania state law. (<href="#search=%22perzel%22">Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Perzel, No. 1382 MDA 2014).
Hard-Nosed Former Prosecutor Walter Reed Catches a Break, Sentenced to 4 Years in Federal Corruption Case: Former Louisiana prosecutor Walter Reed was sentenced to four years in federal prison for campaign finance violations. His son received probation. One of Reed’s defenses was, in essence, that he should not be punished because there is an epidemic of campaign finance violations in Louisiana. Reed reported talking with two sheriffs, who told him “You've got to get this resolved or they can send all of us to prison.”
Judge Balances the Scales After Prosecution Bungle at John Wiley Price Trial: In the federal corruption trial of Dallas County (Texas) County Commissioner John Wiley Price, the judge ordered that two FBI agents return to the stand for additional cross-examination after prosecutors belatedly turned over documents related to the role the witnesses played in the investigation. The defense sought a mistrial; the government sought to recall the witnesses for both direct and cross-examination. The judge forbade the government from speaking with those witnesses prior to their testimony and did not allow prosecutors to ask additional questions of them after the cross-examination. This incident is one of several failures by the prosecution team to disclose what appear to be Jencks Act materials.
Ethics Complaint Against Jodi Arias' Prosecutor Juan Martinez has Been Dismissed: An ethics complaint against prosecutor Juan Martinez has been dismissed by the Arizona State Bar. Martinez published a book about the Jodi Arias murder trial that promised to provide details about the investigation that were not public. While noting that Martinez’s employer permitted him to write the book, the decision dismissing the complaint was critical of Martinez, observing that "[t]he perception created when a prosecutor attempts to immediately profit from his participation in a high profile case is also very concerning.”
A Defiant Prosecutor Stands by Her Work in a Notorious Murder Case: Boone County (Kentucky) Commonwealth Attorney Linda Tally Smith testified in a hearing to determine whether to reverse the conviction of David Dooley, who was convicted of the 2012 murder of Michelle Mockbee. Tally Smith failed to produce a surveillance video that contained potentially exculpatory evidence—an oversight that she blamed on a detective with whom she was, to complicate matters further, having an affair at the time. Some have called for her resignation.
Brooklyn Prosecutor Pleads Guilty to Rogue Surveillance in Love Triangle: Former Brooklyn County Assistant District Attorney Tara Lenich has pled guilty to forging over 20 judicial orders so she could conduct months of illegal wiretaps on telephones belonging to a detective with whom she was having an affair and a second ADA whom Lenich apparently suspected was also romantically involved with the detective. Lenich faces a maximum of ten years in prison, although her sentencing guidelines range is eight to fourteen months.
Illinois is considering a bill (HB 317) that would allow the convention of a statewide grand jury to investigate public corruption offenses.
Maryland General Assembly Passes Ethics Reform Bill: The Maryland State Legislature has passed the Public Integrity Act of 2017 (SB0683), which increases financial disclosure requirements for elected officials, public officials, and lobbyists and expands the definition of a conflict of interest. The bill was passed weeks after a poll revealed that nearly one-third of the state’s residents believe that corruption is a major problem in state government.
Why State Prosecutors Lag Behind Feds in Corruption Cases: With a focus on Pennsylvania, a former U.S. Attorney suggests concrete steps to improve the use of investigative grand juries by state prosecutors, particularly in corruption cases.
Editorial: High Stakes in Schneiderman's Corruption Cases: A Buffalo News editorial discussing the indictments of current (Robert Ortt) and former (George Maziarz) New York State Senators by the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman addresses, and largely dismisses, the defendants’ claims they were unfairly targeted because of their political party. The editorial praises the attorney general’s work in combatting corruption, and adds: “Prosecutors across the state should pursue government corruption doggedly, without regard for party. It’s the best way to earn back the public’s trust and to scare the criminals straight.”
Improving Organizational Culture: How Public Institutions Can Promote Integrity and Prevent Corruption: Columbia Law School’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity hosted two panels (video available at the link) to discuss how government agencies can promote transparent and accountable workplaces themselves and detect corruption in other organizations.
The Corruption Cases that Could Take Down Benjamin Netanyahu, Explained: In a lengthy piece, Vox describes the criminal investigations against Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that are being carried out by Israel Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. One investigation explores allegations that Netanyahu and his wife received expensive gifts—some of which they demanded—from wealthy businessmen. The second addresses claims that the Prime Minister and the publisher of Israel’s largest newspaper discussed legislation designed to hurt the newspaper’s competitor, in exchange for positive media coverage of the Prime Minister. Since the mid-1990s, every Israeli prime minister has faced criminal investigations while in office, although only one has actually been indicted.
Greek Corruption Prosecutor Resigns; Claims She was Targeted Over Novartis Probe: After a negative article was published about her in a newspaper, Greece’s Corruption Prosecutor Eleni Raikou stepped down, claiming that she has been targeted by “unofficial power centres.” She has been replaced by appeals court prosecutor Eleni Touloupaki, who will hold the position for the next two years.
As Brazil's 'Car Wash' Case Surfaces More Corruption, Will Scandal Fatigue Slow Progress?: As the investigation into the $3 billion scheme involving Petrobras turns three years old, some fear that “corruption fatigue” will cause Brazilians to stop mobilizing to demand accountability from their politicians.
Amie Ely is the Director of the Center for Ethics & Public Integrity and the Editor of the CEPI Newsletter and may be reached at 202-326-6041. The CEPI Newsletter is a publication of the National Association of Attorneys General. Any use and/or copies of this newsletter in whole or part must include the customary bibliographic citation. NAAG retains copyright and all other intellectual property rights in the material presented in this publication. For content submissions or to contact the editor directly, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.