CEPI Newsletter January 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

Former Lowndes County Mayor Pleads Guilty for Taking More than $25,000 for Personal Gain: Walter Hill, the former mayor of the town of Mosses, Arkansas, admitted to stealing over $25,000 from the town over a three-year period, which he used to, among other things, make his child support payments. This case follows Hill’s 2014 conviction on unrelated misdemeanor ethics violations. Attorney General Luther Strange, whose Special Prosecutions Division brought the case, called Hill’s abuses of the public trust “flagrant.”

Former Eloy School District Employee Embezzled $23K: An elementary school payroll clerk in Pinal County, Arizona, has been indicted on charges brought by the office of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Denise Burden is alleged to have paid herself over $23,000 in unearned overtime pay over a three-year period.

Despite Criminal Case, State Rep. Dawnna Dukes Sworn in: Texas state representative Dawnna Dukes, who pledged last fall to resign her seat on January 10, 2017, was instead sworn in as a Texas state legislator on that date. Dukes is the subject of an investigation by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, which is considering allegations that she tampered with government records and abused the public trust.

State Rep. Micah Neal pleads guilty to taking kickbacks from government grants: In Arkansas, a state representative has entered a guilty plea in federal court to taking nearly $40,000 in kickbacks in connection with providing over half a million dollars in state money to two Arkansas nonprofits. Micah Neal—who abruptly dropped out of a race to become a county judge last summer—has agreed to cooperate in the federal investigation which, based on the charges, appears likely to target other elected officials.

A Look Back at Harris County's Big Year in Criminal Justice — and Lawsuits: In a “Top Ten” list, the Houston Press details 2016 Harris County (TX) criminal justice ethics issues and lawsuits, such as the firing of 37 prosecutors by the incoming district attorney, including a deputy district attorney responsible for jailing a rape victim for nearly a month to ensure her testimony, and a prosecutor who made secret arrangements with jailhouse witnesses who then testified falsely during a murder trial.

A year of crisis: Top Alabama political stories of 2016: The top story in Alabama in 2016, according to the Montgomery Advisor, was the conviction of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard on ethics charges that were brought by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

Flaherty Reflects On Year As DA, Launching Political Corruption Unit: Buffalo, New York, Acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty, Jr.—who was defeated at the polls last fall—expressed regret at being unable to see through some of the public corruption investigations started under his watch. Flaherty launched a Public Integrity Unit as acting district attorney. His successor, John J. Flynn, has pledged to keep the unit fully staffed.

McDonnell and Its Potential Progeny

McDonnell Case Casts Long Shadow in Public-Corruption Prosecutions: The National Law Journal discusses the impact of McDonnell on federal bribery cases.

Appeals Court Overturns Convictions in Probation Department Scandal: Citing McDonnell, the First Circuit reversed the 2014 federal convictions of three former Probation Department officials who were accused of rigging the hiring system in their department for their own personal gain. The decision concluded that the government didn’t establish that the defendants violated Massachusetts state law. The defendants had been convicted of racketeering and mail fraud.

Ethics

Prosecutors' Evidence Missteps Drawing More Scrutiny: Law 360 summarizes some recent disciplinary opinions addressing prosecutors in an article that argues that “some of the historical deference enjoyed by prosecutors is breaking down among judges and attorney regulators.” Fordham Law Professor Bruce Green opines that while there is probably less actual prosecutorial misconduct, “the movement is towards greater professionalism and more oversight of prosecutors.”

Homer and Harold: In 1924, a Connecticut prosecutor named Harold Cummings concluded the man who had been charged with murdering a priest was not, in fact, guilty. Cummings argued for the release of the defendant, Harold Israel, in a “presentation that, in the words of legal titan Felix Frankfurter, ‘will live in the annals as a standard by which other prosecutors will be judged.’”

Feds charge porn-troll lawyers in major fraud, extortion case in Minneapolis: Federal prosecutors charged two lawyers, Paul Hansmeier and John Steele, in an 18-count, 36-page speaking indictment. In the words of that indictment, Hansmeier and Steele “orchestrated an elaborate scheme to fraudulently obtain millions of dollars in copyright lawsuit settlements by deceiving state and federal courts throughout the country.” The duo used sham entities to obtain copyrights to pornographic movies—some of which they even filmed themselves—and uploaded those movies to file sharing websites. When people downloaded those movies, Hansmeier and Steele sued them for copyright violations. In addition to his criminal charges, Hansmeier’s license to practice law has been suspended and he is facing the ire of a bankruptcy judge; both defendants are also the subject of a Seventh Circuit decision that addresses their “dissembling” and “discovery shenanigans.”

Legislation

Another Attempt to Fight State Corruption: New York’s governor—and former state attorney general—Andrew Cuomo has again asked the legislature to pass a series of ethics reforms that he proposed after the 2015 convictions of two state legislators. The reforms would, among other things, limit lawmakers’ outside income and impose a system of public financing for elections.

Media: Investigative Journalism About Corruption

Navy repeatedly dismissed evidence that ‘Fat Leonard’ was cheating the 7th Fleet: A Washington Post Freedom of Information request revealed that, starting in 2006, the Naval Criminal Investigation Service opened and closed 27 separate fraud investigations into Singapore-base contractor Leonard Glenn Francis, a/k/a “Fat Leonard.” Each case was closed after NCIS failed to uncover sufficient evidence to charge Francis, who has now pled guilty to defrauding the Navy of $35 million. Francis secured federal contacts by bribing Navy personnel—including at least one rear admiral—with alcohol, prostitutes, and lavish dinners.

International Issues

A paper published by the Anti-Corruption Resource Centre describes specialized courts and prosecutors around the world that investigate corruption.


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 aely@naag.org.

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