CEPI Newsletter November 2016

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.

CEPI Updates

Save the date: CEPI will partner with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (AFMLS) to provide intensive financial investigations training from March 14-16, 2017. This training will bring together state and federal prosecutors and investigators, in a first-ever partnership between CEPI and AFMLS, and is part of CEPI’s five-year anticorruption curriculum. More information will be provided in the next CEPI newsletter and on the NAGTRI website.

Cases: Investigations, Prosecutions, and Appeals

Captain Licorish, Agent Pickles, Swamp Justice: Highlights from the Bridgegate Trial: A New York Times article details the “grubby politics” on display during the “Bridgegate” trial, including a police union official’s statement about wanting to send a rival “for a dirt nap” and the question posed by a defendant when she was notified there were catastrophic traffic jams as a result of the decision to close lanes on a bridge to punish an intransigent mayor: “is it wrong that I’m smiling?” (Both defendants were convicted.)

Niagara Falls Councilman Walker Charged with Failure to File Financial Forms: Niagara Falls City Councilman Charles A. Walker was charged by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman with failing to file financial disclosure forms for his 2014 and 2015 political campaign.

Ohio Attorney General Reviewing Possible Criminal Charges Against Akron Councilman: The office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is investigating Akron Councilman Bob Hoch for ethics violations. Hoch is alleged to have voted on legislation that would benefit his two sons, who are city firefighters.

Former State Trooper Charged with Embezzlement: Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has charged former Michigan State Police Trooper Seth Swanson with embezzlement and “uttering and publishing.” Swanson, then a state-certified salvage vehicle inspector, incorrectly filled out forms that reflected vehicles had a clean title on 1,701 different occasions, pocketing a bribe of $100 for each vehicle.

Comedian Drew Hastings, Mayor of Hillsboro, Acquitted of Abuse-of-Power Charges: Drew Hastings, a stand-up comedian who is also the mayor of a small Ohio town, has been acquitted of charges of election falsification concerning his residency and charges associated with alleged misuse of city trash bins.

McDonnell and Its Potential Progeny

Our friends at the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School are sponsoring a lunch in New York City on November 21 titled “Prosecuting Corruption After McDonnell: Perspectives on the Impact of the Supreme Court Decision.”

Ex-NY Senator’s Conviction and 7-Year Sentence Upheld: The Second Circuit has affirmed the conviction of Malcolm Smith, a Democrat who tried to pay off local Republican leaders so he could join the GOP ballot in the 2010 New York City mayoral race. Smith’s lawyers argued, among other things, that his jury was improperly instructed on the contours of “official act”; the Court of Appeals concluded in a summary order that, under a plain error analysis, any error in the jury instructions was harmless.

Filing: Put Off Arkansas Businessman's Prison Term Till Appeal: Arkansas businessman Ted Suhl, who has been sentenced to seven years in federal prison after a jury convicted him of bribing a state official, has requested to remain free pending a decision by the Eighth Circuit on his appeal. Suhl’s lawyers argue that McDonnell will require a reversal of his conviction and that he shouldn’t be required to serve his sentence until and unless the conviction is affirmed.

Ethics

Vineyard Prosecutor Accused of Misconduct in Three Cases: An Assistant District Attorney in Martha’s Vineyard is facing disciplinary action in three criminal cases in which she allegedly failed to disclose evidence to the defense and attempted to interfere with defense witnesses. The ADA disputes the charges and has asked that the disciplinary action be dismissed, and the district attorney for whom she works has stated that he “fully supports” her.

Denver City Attorney Guidelines Called Into Question: A 2013 internal policy manual used by the Denver City Attorney’s Office as a guide for giving plea offers in traffic cases is being criticized by defense counsel for appearing to approve of proceeding with a charge even if it is not supported by the facts. The manual states “If there is a factual basis for careless [driving], bargain it the same as any other charge. … If you do not feel the facts support careless, ignore it when making an offer, but do not dismiss it until [the defendant] pleads or the trial date.” A City Attorney’s Office spokesperson said that the language would be “clarified” to make clear that the office does not expect its prosecutors to proceed on charges for which there is no probable cause.

Alabama DA Hit With Ethics Complaint Over Campaign Letter: District Attorney Brian Jones has admitting to sending a letter on campaign letterhead to members of a grand jury to which he presented cases that thanked them for their service and asked them to vote for him. An ethics complaint has been filed with the Alabama Ethics Commission about the letter. Jones—who was in the news earlier this year when his county-issued AR-15 was stolen from the back seat of his state-owned vehicle earlier this year—was reelected.

International Issues

Brazil Senate Police Chief Arrested for Thwarting Corruption Probe: The head of Brazil’s Senate police was arrested for “counter-intelligence” activities, including sweeping the homes of senators for bugs and ordering his officers to “intimidate” federal policemen who came to a senator’s house to execute a search warrant. In related Petrobras news, former Brazilian finance minister and chief of staff of Workers Party governments Antonio Palocci was ordered to stand trial on corruption and money laundering charges. Nearly 200 executives and former politicians have been charged in the case; so far, 83 have been convicted.

Argentina Looks to Battle Corporate and Public Corruption with New Laws: Argentina is said to be considering laws that would sanction businesses found guilty of corruption involving the public sector by providing for fines or a temporary suspension from doing business. Businesses that cooperate in the investigation or adopt internal policies that make future corruption unlikely can seek reduced punishments.

Montreal Mayor Who Promised to Erase Stain of Corruption Was on the Take Himself, Trial Hears: Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum—who “solemnly vow[ed]” to “erase this stain” of corruption on Montreal when he was sworn into office in 2012—is on trial for breach of trust and conspiracy in connection with soliciting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from real estate projects.

Media: Investigative Journalism About Corruption

Fewer Watchdogs in Era of Corruption Worrisome, Sullivan Says: Former newspaper editor Margaret Sullivan, during a fundraiser for the Investigative Post, warns that fewer journalists watching politicians in state capitals and in Washington may cause corrupt politicians to escape scrutiny.

An Interview With the Founder of PolitiFact, During a Season of Distorted Reality: The founder of PolitiFact discusses fact-checking during an election season.

FBI Executes Search Warrants in Paterson Amid Federal Corruption Probe: Sources: Federal agents executed search warrants at the offices of the economic and community development departments in Paterson, New Jersey in connection with an alleged federal corruption investigation. The warrants follow investigative journalism that uncovered city workers allegedly billing taxpayers for private work at the Paterson mayor’s home and at a business belonging to one of his relatives.

Tools and Tips

FinCEN has issued an Advisory to Financial Institutions on Cyber-Events and Cyber-Enabled Crime, which is accompanied by FAQs. While the Advisory is designed to guide banks through the decision of whether to file a Suspicious Activity Report about cyber-events (defined as attempts “to compromise or gain unauthorized electronic access to electronic systems, services, resources, or information”) and cyber crime, it provides a useful guide to prosecutors whose docket includes money laundering or similar financial crimes.


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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