CEPI Newsletter May 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

The U.S. Combating Global Corruption Act Is a Worthwhile Proposal that Deserves More Attention: A bipartisan group of Senators has introduced a bill titled the Combatting Global Corruption Act of 2017. That Bill would establish tiers of countries with different levels of corruption (and take into account their efforts to combat corruption), and then restrict U.S. financial assistance to the countries that are most corrupt and appear to be making no efforts to fight corruption. (Harvard Law Prof. Matthew Stephens, who runs the Global Anticorruption Blog, describes and interprets this proposed law in the first link.)

Criminals Who Use Bitcoin Targeted Under Proposed Florida Law: Florida lawmakers are considering a bill (CS/HB 1379) that would add “virtual currency” to the state’s money laundering statute, approximately nine months after a Miami-Dade state judge dismissed money laundering charges against a man who sold bitcoins he believed would be used in criminal activity. The office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle helped draft the bill.

In Montana, Senate Joint Resolution 15—which has been passed by the House and Senate—will forbid the state’s Supreme Court from enacting the American Bar Association’s new Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(G), which instructs lawyers not to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or socioeconomic status. Two spirited editorials in the Billings Gazette (both of which refer to kangaroos and their dung) detail arguments <href="#tncms-source=article-nav-next">for and against the Bill.

Represent South Dakota Hosts Anti-Corruption Forum: In South Dakota, a group calling itself “Represent South Dakota” is providing information about the South Dakota Voter Protection Act and Anti-Corruption Amendment, which would prevent politicians from repealing laws that were passed by the voters. The impetus for the proposal was the repeal by lawmakers of a voter-passed Initiated Measure 22 (IM22), which was repealed by lawmakers and the governor just months after its passage. IM22 would have revised state campaign finance and lobbying laws and created both a publicly funded campaign financial program and an ethics commission.

Cases

Former Shelby Police Chief Pleads Guilty After Being Charged with Embezzlement: Robert Wilson, the former police chief of Shelby, Michigan, pled guilty to embezzling more than $20,000 worth of funds he received by inspecting salvage vehicles. Rather than turning the fees over to Shelby, Wilson pocketed the funds. The Michigan Attorney General’s Office charged the case.

Longtime State Director Embezzled $73K in Public Funds, AG Says: Eighty-year-old Maria Louisa Mason, the long-time director of the Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan, has been charged with stealing money from a state fund designated to build a memorial statue in honor of Cesar Chavez. She faces a maximum sentence of 15 years for embezzling over $50,000. The investigation, also by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, allegedly revealed that Mason transferred the stolen funds first to a non-profit and a local community center and then to her personal bank accounts—where she used it to pay her credit card bills and taxes, among other things.

Michigan AG: Convicted Ex-Detroit Principals Won't Get Full Pensions: Eight school principals in Detroit—who have already been sentenced to federal prison—have been required to forfeit portions of their pensions. The principals, who were involved in a $2.7 million kickback scheme, will be required to repay a total of $258,748 to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System.

Constable Pressured Women for Sex, AG Says: Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has announced charges of promoting prostitution, bribery, obstruction of justice, and involuntary servitude against Carbon County Constable George T. Bottomley, Jr. Over a five-year period, Bottomley allegedly offered to pay court costs and fines—including for one woman’s boyfriend—for at least seven women in exchange for sex. Two women agreed to Bottomley’s proposal.

Former SCDOT Officials Plead Guilty to Corruption, Bribery-Related Charges: Three former South Carolina Department of Transportation employees have pled guilty to bribery and other corruption-related charges brought by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office. The three defendants—Joe Butler, Curtis Singleton, and Allen Ray—all agreed to cooperate in the state’s ongoing investigation.

Appeals Court Upholds Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year Prison Sentence: In his appeal of a resentencing that imposed the same 168-month-term of imprisonment as the original sentence, disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was unable to convince the Seventh Circuit that the new sentence was substantively unreasonable. The Court rejected his arguments that “extraordinary” post-conviction rehabilitation, the dismissal of several counts of conviction, or sentencing disparities warranted a shorter sentence. The Court also summarily dismissed Blagojevich’s McDonnell arguments, noting that he never contended that appointing someone to a vacant Senate seat, signing legislation, or the other activities the jury determined he sought to profit from, were not “official acts.” United States v. Blagojevich, 16-3254 (7th Cir. Apr. 21, 2017).

The conviction of former Arizona congressman Richard Renzi has once again been upheld by the Ninth Circuit. The unpublished opinion affirmed the district court’s finding that no Brady or Giglio violations occurred, although it echoed the trial court’s “properly critical” assessment of the Government’s failure to disclose certain matters prior to Renzi’s trial. The investigation of Renzi included a wiretap, and the 2010 decision suppressing for substandard minimization, which resulted in the invasion of attorney-client privilege, is an important one for prosecutors to read. (U.S. v. Renzi, 772 F.Supp.2d 1100 (D. Az. 2010)).

How the Federal Case Against John Wiley Price Fell Apart: An article that is one part Monday morning quarterbacking and one part cautionary tale details the problems that derailed the federal criminal case against Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. After an eight-week trial, and around a week of jury deliberations, Price was acquitted of the most serious corruption charges; the jury hung on tax fraud charges.

Unsealed Bridgegate Document Shows Juror Sought Dismissal: A recently unsealed document in the “Bridgegate” case—which resulted in the convictions of Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly, who orchestrated “traffic problems” to retaliate against a New Jersey mayor who refused to support Gov. Chris Christie—details issues with a trial juror. The juror sought to be dismissed, a request for which, according to defense counsel, the defendants were improperly not present. The defense moved for a mistrial on those grounds during the jury’s deliberations, which was not granted.

Ex-Rendell Top Aide gets Probation in Fraud Case: A federal judge who characterized the proceeding as “both a sentencing and a pep talk” and told the defendant “this can’t be a pleasant thing for you” has imposed a year of probation on John H. Estey, the former chief of staff to former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Estey pled guilty to wire fraud after taking thousands of dollars from a company as part of an FBI sting. Estey accepted $20,000 in what he believed were campaign donations and agreed to hide the company’s involvement; he then pocketed $13,000 of those funds and sent only $7,000 to the state lawmakers to whom they were intended. Estey promised the “donors” than the funds would help them get legislation passed. While he is on probation, Estey is not permitted to work as a lobbyist.

Judge in CPS Case: 'Can Chicago Ever Be A City That Works For Its People?': Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the former head of Chicago Public School, was sentenced to 4 ½ years in federal prison for defrauding the school system she led. Byrd-Bennett defrauded the schools of nearly $3 million as part of a kickback scheme with a firm for which she’d previous worked and to which she intended to return—at which point she expected to be receive a kickback for the $23 million worth of contracts she’d steered to the firm. In an email cited in her indictment, Byrd-Bennett told the former firm, “I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit.” During her sentencing, the judge said, “It is distressing that Chicago seems unable to shed its tradition of public corruption."

Ethics

DA Williams Blasts Predecessor's Legal Push to Boot Him From Office: Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who was charged with federal corruption offenses for accepting bribes from criminal defense attorneys who had pending cases with his office, has refused to step down. A lawsuit filed by two of his predecessors seeks to oust him from office, noting that, among other things, his law license has been suspended. Williams’s attorney has responded to that attempt by arguing that these former district attorneys do not have standing and did not follow statutes that direct that requests for officeholder removal be filed with the attorney general or the state disciplinary board before filing the lawsuit.

Federal Judge was Diagnosed with Brain Disorder Caused by Alcohol Abuse, Court Filing Says: Louisiana federal judge Patricia Minaldi has been diagnosed with a brain disorder caused by several alcohol abuse. In December 2016, Minaldi was required to agree to 90 days of treatment after she was removed from a case, mid-trial, when she tried to require a prosecutor to take over certain judicial functions. Minaldi is now in an assisted living facility to treat her cognitive impairments. A magistrate judge to whom she gave a power of attorney in 2007 is trying to—over Minaldi’s objection—take control of Minaldi’s affairs.

Families of Homicide Victims, ACLU, Janet Cruz Join Filers in Aramis Ayala Case: Orlando, Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala has appealed the decision by the state’s Governor, Rick Scott, to remove her from 23 first-degree murder cases due to her blanket refusal to seek the death penalty. The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association has filed an amicus brief supporting the Governor; also in the case is a letter signed by over 40 former judges and prosecutors that supports Ayala. Ayala has both petitioned the Florida Supreme Court for the cases to be returned to her docket and filed a lawsuit in federal court.

Should Prosecutors Chastise Those They Don’t Charge?: After federal and local prosecutors decided not to charge New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio with campaign finance violations, both released statements explaining their decisions. In what the New York Times characterized as “an extraordinary 10-page letter,” New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance called some of the acts “contrary to the intent and spirit” of campaign finance laws. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York issued a much shorter statement, but also described instances where the mayor strayed close to the line. Legal experts weigh in on whether it is ethical for prosecutors to issue fulsome statements criticizing the would-be-defendant’s behavior when they decide not to bring criminal charges.

Roy Moore's Suspension Upheld by Alabama Supreme Court; Decision Next Week on Senate Race: The Alabama Supreme Court has affirmed a decision removing now-former Chief Justice Roy Moore from the court. Moore had attacked a federal district court decision finding unconstitutional Alabama’s “Sanctity of Marriage Amendment,” which—contrary to Obergefell v. Hodges—permitted marriage only between a man and a woman. Among other things, Moore instructed state probate judges to disregard the federal decision and forbade them from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Moore was among those considered by disgraced now-former Governor Robert Bentley to replace the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. Moore is now considering running against former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange for that seat.

Chief Federal Judge Moves to Prevent Marcus Mumford from Practicing in Federal Court in OR: The lawyer for Ammon Bundy, the leader of the armed militants who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, is the subject of a motion by Oregon’s Chief U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman that would revoke the lawyer’s ability to practice law in any federal court in Oregon. Marcus Mumford, who was originally facing criminal contempt charges, repeatedly failed to observe court rulings, argued with the judge in a raised voice, and gave inappropriate commentary on a witness in front of the jury during the trial that resulted in Bundy’s acquittal. After the trial was over, Mumford then sought Bundy’s release, even though he knew that Bundy was subject to a detainer because he was facing additional charges. Mumford also hid from the judge that a member of his defense team was facing criminal charges—for which Mumford represented him.

ABA Needs A New Model Legal Ethics Rule: Responding to the Financial Action Task Force’s recommendations that lawyers be subject to the Bank Secrecy Act and other anti-money laundering regulations—including reporting suspicious financial activity—a defense lawyer argues that the ABA should set ethics rules to stave off statutory regulation by Congress. Specifically, he argues that a Model Rule should set “some form of basic ‘client due diligence’ obligation on lawyers” to prevent them from facilitating money laundering.

The Case of the Missing Murder Witness: The Conviction Integrity Unit at the Bronx District Attorney’s Office reviewed the file from the investigation of Steven Odiase, who was convicted of murder several years ago. That review revealed redactions in a canvassing report completed hours after the victim was killed, which deleted information from an eyewitness who described a shooter who did not resemble Odiase. Prosecutors agreed to release Odiase based on the failure to provide this exculpatory information to the defense and are determining whether to retry him.

Rudy Giuliani’s Client Dealt with Ex-Iran President, Prosecutor Says: In a case that is notable for the procedures being used to assess defense counsel conflicts of interest and determine whether the defendant can waive those conflicts, federal prosecutors have argued that the judge should carefully consider whether Rudy Giuliani and former attorney general Michael Mukasey should stay in the case. Reza Zarrab, who is charged with allowing the Iranian government to evade U.S. sanctions, has hired Giuliani and Mukasey in an effort to seek a “political” resolution to his charges, which allege that he funneled tens of millions of dollars to Iran’s former president and others. The judge has appointed independent counsel to advise Zarrab about the potential conflicts of interest, which include Giuliani’s firm’s representation of the Iranian government and both firms’ representation of a number of banks allegedly victimized by Zarrab.

Policy

AG Sessions: “We Will Continue to Strongly Enforce the FCPA”: Attorney General Jeff Sessions described enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other white collar statutes as priorities of the current administration. A week or two earlier, in an effort to “dispel the myth” that the U.S. Department of Justice is no longer interested in white collar crime, the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General discussed some of the work the Criminal Division is doing to combat money laundering, healthcare fraud, and public corruption.

Independent Inspectors General Under Siege: A Tale of Two State Inspectors: Our friends at Columbia Law School’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity have profiled state inspectors general in New Jersey and Louisiana who were attacked by their state’s politicians for aggressively trying to root out corruption.

International

China Says Interpol "Red Notice" Issued for Tycoon Guo Wengui: Guo Wengui, a tycoon who has made claims of corruption in China’s Communist Party, is the subject of an INTERPOL “Red Notice,” which will allow his arrest on pending Chinese criminal charges. INTERPOL notices—which are color-coded—are international requests for cooperation or alerts that permit police to share information about a crime.

Training

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is hosting a three-day financial analysis training for law enforcement in Vienna, Virginia. The training is from June 13-June 15, 2017, and free of charge.


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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