CEPI Newsletter June 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.

Legislation

Pa. Senate Proposal Could Expand Attorney General's Prosecutorial Powers: Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are planning to introduce bills that would expand the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office to prosecute local officials for corruption. Currently, unless cases are referred to him, the attorney general cannot prosecute corruption by local officials.

Ethics

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office has filed a request for a writ of injunction against the state’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel (ARC), which asks that the Colorado Supreme Court enjoin ARC from filing ethics charges against government attorneys who supervise investigators engaged in lawful undercover activities. As a result of a prior investigation by ARC, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has suspended all undercover investigations in her office. On Law360, a Colorado private attorney provided an analysis of the issues and suggests that an amendment to Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c)—perhaps one similar to changes made to the equivalent rule in Oregon—would be appropriate.

Fattah Jr. Can Sue Feds for Leaks to the Media: Chaka Fattah Jr.—the incarcerated son of the disgraced (and also incarcerated) eponymous congressman—has survived the government’s motion for summary judgment in his federal civil lawsuit alleging that leaks to the media damaged his reputation and cost him a job. Fattah Jr. claimed that a federal agent contacted the media prior to a raid at his office, which resulted in articles about and photographs of agents serving him with search warrants and seizing evidence. Fattah Jr., who is serving a five-year federal sentence, will have the chance to try to persuade a jury that the leaks led to him being fired from his legal marketing job prior to his conviction for bank fraud. Somewhat relatedly, in the appeal of his conviction, Fattah Jr. argued that the same leaks violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights—a claim that the Third Circuit recently rejected.

Mel Reynolds Says Feds Dragged His Name Through Mud with Sex Tape Talk: Federal prosecutors in Chicago asked a district judge to order former U.S. Representative Mel Reynolds to stop tweeting negative things about a key witness in Reynolds’s upcoming trial on misdemeanor tax charges. The judge—who described himself as not a “Twitter person”—instead reminded both sides that they are bound by the rules of professional standards. During the hearing, Reynolds, who is representing himself, also complained about an October 2016 motion filed in court that referenced “certain sexually explicit videos involving the defendant” that had been found on Reynolds’s laptop when it was searched. Reynolds was convicted in 1995 of criminal sexual abuse, child pornography, and obstruction of justice for having sex with a 16-year-old former campaign intern.

Philly Prosecutors Sick of Williams, Worry About Backlash: Several assistant district attorneys in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office shared their concerns about continuing to work under District Attorney Seth Williams, who has been charged in federal court with eleven counts of travel and use of interstate facilities to promote and facilitate bribery contrary to Pennsylvania law, two counts of Hobbs Act extortion under color of official right, two counts of honest services wire fraud, twelve counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud. Williams has refused calls for him to step down and, in a work-around like that used by now-convicted former Attorney General Kathleen Kane, has appointed a deputy to handle legal decisions in pending cases. In related news, a judge dismissed a lawsuit that attempted to oust Williams from office, concluding that neither of the plaintiffs (Lynne M. Abraham, Williams’s predecessor, and another attorney) proved they suffered a cognizable harm by Williams’s decision to remain in office. The plaintiffs indicated they will appeal the judge’s finding that they had no standing to the state’s Supreme Court. Finally, in ongoing litigation in the criminal case against Williams, federal prosecutors are seeking to introduce evidence at his trial of his campaign finance director’s attempts in 2008 to require vetting of all funds he might seek to spend and of Williams’s zeal in prosecuting “elected officials who think it’s OK to sell their office” at the same time that he was accepting bribes from people in exchange for using the powers of his office to benefit them and their associates.

The New York State Bar Association has released updated Social Media Ethics Guidelines. This 40-plus page document reports that, among other things, 27 state bars have adopted some duty of technical competence. It also opines that, at least in New York, jurors’ social media profiles may be viewed by a lawyer as long as there is no communication with the juror or deceit used to gain access to the social media.

Cases

Hood: Settlement Reached with Medical Corporation: Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced a $2 million settlement between the state and Branan Medical Corporation, which recovers the state’s cost for drug testing cups that were purchased by a corrupt Department of Corrections Commissioner. That commissioner, Christopher Epps, was recently sentenced in federal court to nearly twenty years’ incarceration for his long-running and vast scheme to accept bribes and kickbacks from companies doing business with the state prisons. Epps, who cooperated with the investigation into the bribers, drew the ire of the judge by breaking into his own house—which had been forfeited to the government—several months ago to steal lights and a control panel. Epps also did himself no favors by calling himself the “tallest hog at the trough” of greed during an intercepted telephone call.

Bribery In New Jersey: Councilman Pleads Guilty, Barred From Office: A New Jersey town councilman, Elias Chalet, pled guilty to soliciting and accepting a $15,000 bribe from a local businessman. Chalet told the man he would use his position on the town’s council to ensure that the town purchased the man’s commercial property. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office charged the case and will recommend that Chalet receive a sentence of two to five years in state prison, forfeit $15,000 and his public position and be permanently barred from elected office and public employment.

NYC Vocational Counselor Gets Prison For Taking Bribes: A New York State Department of Education vocational counselor, Keisha Relf Davis, has been sentenced to two to six years in prison for taking bribes to approve students for commercial driving classes meant for disabled students. Davis took bribes of $300 to $500 from 540 able-bodied drivers, who she falsely described in paperwork as having substance abuse problems. She and her coconspirators at a driving school then billed the state $5,000 for each student—for total of nearly $2.4 million—for training that the students did not even receive. The New York Attorney General’s Office’s Public Integrity Bureau brought the case.

NYC Rehab Chain Narco Freedom Pleads Guilty to Corruption: In another case prosecuted by the New York Attorney General’s Office, a trustee for a chain of drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, Alan Nisselson, has pled guilty to charges of enterprise corruption, grand larceny, and filing false paperwork. Nisselson admitted that Narco Freedom—for which he served as a trustee—defrauded Medicaid of millions of dollars.

Utah AG Files Charges Against San Juan County Sheriff, Deputies, for Criminal Misconduct: The Utah Attorney General’s Office has filed charges against a sheriff and two of his deputies for criminal misconduct and other charges related to an incident during which the sheriff pointed an unloaded assault rifle at a sheriff’s department employee and pulled the trigger and the resulting cover-up of that incident by the deputies he assigned to investigate it. San Juan County Sheriff Richard Eldredge and deputies Robert Wilcox and Alan Freestone face several misdemeanor charges, and Eldredge and Freestone each face a felony charge for retaliating against the victim.

Ex-Kane County Treasurer Guilty in Funds Theft: In another case charged by the Utah Attorney General’s Office, a former country treasurer pled guilty to embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the county that employed her. Georgia Baca will be required to pay over $35,000 in restitution and serve 30 days in jail.

Aaron Schock’s Request for Grand Jury Transcripts Denied: A federal judge has denied a motion by lawyers representing former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock for access to grand jury transcripts. The district judge characterized the request for transcripts as “extraordinary,” given the presumption of regularity afforded to federal grand jury proceedings.

Juror: 'Holy Spirit' said Former Rep. Corrine Brown Not Guilty: A juror was dismissed during deliberations in the federal trial of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown after he reported that the “Holy Spirit” told him that Brown was not guilty on all charges. After that juror’s dismissal and replacement by an alternate, the jury found Brown guilty of 18 of 22 charges.

Former Windsor Police Officer Convicted in Massive Drug Trafficking Operation: Former Windsor, North Carolina, policeman Antonio Tillmon became the last of fifteen defendants to be convicted in connection with a large-scale drug trafficking scheme. A jury found that Tillmon agreed to provide armed transportation for nearly 100 kilograms of heroin. Thirteen of the fourteen other defendants—all of whom pled guilty—were law enforcement or correctional officers when they agreed to participate in the drug trafficking ring.

Internal Investigator Is Removed Over Rikers Spying Claim: Gregory Kuczinski, the head of internal affairs for New York City’s Department of Corrections, was fired during an investigation into whether he spied on city investigators who were conducting undercover anticorruption operations at the Rikers Island jail complex. Kuczinski’s firing came after the city’s Department of Investigation notified the mayor that Kuczinski and his subordinates listened in on DOI calls with informants even after they were directed to stop. Within days of firing Kuczinski, DOC commissioner Joseph Ponte stepped down himself amid allegations that he misused his city vehicle, spending extended weekday periods at a second home in coastal Maine while city jails became increasingly chaotic and unsafe.

Collin County Judge Exonerated Five Years After Bribery Conviction: In Collin County, Texas, a former judge has been exonerated five years after being convicted of bribery. Suzanne Wooten had been charged as a result of allegations about $150,000 received by her campaign manager from a couple who was said to have financed the campaign in exchange for favorable rulings from Wooten in a contentious custody case between the husband and his ex-wife. The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the original case, agreed earlier this month that the charges should be vacated.

DeKalb Sheriff Asks Judge to Block Governor’s Commission Investigating Alleged Misconduct: An attorney for DeKalb (GA) County Sheriff Jeffrey Mann is attempting to block a governor-appointed commission from investigating his recent arrest for public exposure. The commission is comprised of the Georgia Attorney General and two sheriffs appointed by Governor Nathan Deal. Mann’s attorney has argued, among other things, that the statute that allows for the appointment of such a commission does not cover the acts that Mann has alleged to have committed, as he did not commit “misconduct in his official capacity.” Mann is said to have asked for, by name, the supervisor of the policeman who arrested him while, allegedly, committing a lewd act while he was alone in a park. Mann has suspended himself for one week and has pledged to send one week’s pay to charity.

McDonnell

Specter of 'McDonnell' Haunts Skelos' Appeal of Bribery Conviction: During oral arguments before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, federal prosecutors conceded that the jury instructions in a pre-McDonnell case were not consistent with the formulation announced by the Supreme Court when it reversed former Governor Bob McDonnell’s conviction. The government argued that, in light of the overwhelming evidence that former New York state senator Dean Skelos demanded benefits for his son and co-defendant Adam in exchange for official acts, any jury instruction error was harmless. Media reports of the argument suggest that the panel was skeptical of defense arguments for a new trial.

The Trend of Tawdry Tales: Public Corruption Prosecutions in the Wake of McDonnell: In a recent article in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law Amici Briefs, a federal prosecutor and a law student survey the effect of McDonnell on recent federal public corruption prosecutions.

Policy

New Jersey Offering $25,000 Reward for Corruption Tips: The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has announced a limited-time-only opportunity for civilians and government employees alike to report corruption. Civilians serve to gain a $25,000 reward for tips that result in chargeable cases, and government employees who provide information used to charge more culpable officials may receive immunity for their low-level corruption crimes.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has issued charging and sentencing guidelines for federal prosecutors, which generally require them to charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense. The requirement—which deviates significantly from the charging and sentencing memorandum issued in 2013 by Eric Holder—is similar to that set forth in the 2003 Ashcroft Memorandum, but the Sessions Memorandum provides prosecutors with greater flexibility to “seek justice” when they believe a lesser punishment is warranted. Specifically, unlike Ashcroft, Sessions permits prosecutors who conclude in a specific case “that a strict application of the . . . charging policy is not warranted” to seek supervisory approval to file a lesser charge and/or recommend a shorter sentence.

International

The International Olympic Committee’s Revised Host City Contract: Another Failed Attempt at Preventing Corruption: As a result of massive corruption-related overruns in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the International Olympic Committee made changes to its Host City Contract that include anticorruption standards and human rights requirements. While the terms it uses are sweeping, however, the new contract does not require independent oversight, does not allow to IOC to levy fines or rescind funds from a noncompliant city, and does not require the host cities to monitor whether its agents, contractors, suppliers, or consultants are participating in corrupt practices.

Joburg Prosecutor and Wife Arrested for Corruption: A prosecutor in Johannesburg, South Africa, has been arrested after he allegedly demanded a bribe of 6,000 rand (about $460) to make two firearms cases “disappear.” The prosecutor’s wife, who joined him in the shakedown attempt, was also arrested.

Mexico’s Runaway Governors Help a Tradition of Corruption Survive: Focusing on the Mexican state of Quintana Roo—whose current governor is under investigation and former governor is in federal prison in the United States for laundering drug dealers’ money—this article discusses recent corruption allegations against Mexican governors who are part of an estimated $100 billion corruption problem in the country.

Investigative Journalism

Editorial: Strong Message Against Corruption: The blowout defeat of Providence, Rhode Island, councilmember Kevin Jackson in a recall election “sent a message that there is little tolerance for perceived corruption.” Jackson had repeated campaign report violations and faces pending charges that include allegations he embezzled over $100,000 from a youth track program he ran.

California Politicians Stole Their Money. Will That Make Them Care About Democracy?: In an article about the so-called “corridor of corruption” in southeast Los Angeles County—including towns where taxpayers continue to pay high property taxes to dig out from the years-old debt caused by unethical officials—an investigative journalist suggest that “voter ambivalence, sorely lacking oversight, and human temptation” can “hollow out” democracy.


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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