CEPI Newsletter August 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, nor as to the position expounded by the authors of the hyperlinked articles. The Op-Ed section, in particular, is included to provoke thought about the scope and scale of corruption.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin officially announced the NAGTRI Center for Ethics and Public Integrity on August 15, 2016, at the inaugural Anticorruption Academy in Colorado Springs. CEPI’s mission is to provide training, research, and technical assistance to prosecutors involved in the fight against corruption, and to provide training and other resources on the ethical practice of law by government attorneys. General Kilmartin’s remarks are on the CEPI website, which also describes the training and research that CEPI will offer. Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s keynote speech at the Anticorruption Academy is also on the CEPI website.
Did you know that most attorneys general offices have participated in joint corruption investigations with their local and/or federal counterparts? Learn more about CEPI and read an overview of state attorneys general offices' anticorruption work in this month's NAGTRI Journal.
Cases: Investigations, Prosecutions, and Appeals
Charges Dropped in Lamar Consolidated ISD Corruption Case: The Fort Bend County (Texas) District Attorney’s Office has dropped corruption charges that were filed earlier this year against current and former Lamar Consolidated Independent School District school board members and a former city commission member. The charges had alleged that a construction company—whose owner had also been charged—offered cash to school board trustees as part of a scheme to bribe them. Prosecutors told the court that they found new evidence after the indictment that caused them to dismiss the charges. Earlier media reports suggested that the case was presented to the grand jury by an attorney not affiliated with the district attorney’s office—a procedure to which both the district attorney’s office and the defense objected—and noted that the town’s mayor was the grand jury’s foreman.
Two More Enter Pleas in L.A. Coliseum Corruption Case: Prosecutors from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office offered misdemeanor plea agreements to two concert promoters who were originally charged with multiple felony counts for allegedly bribing a government employee for access to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The generous plea agreements follow harsh criticism of the prosecutors by the judge overseeing the case, who recommended that the district attorney's office seek advice on how to manage complex cases from their federal counterparts. One issue the court noted was that the original prosecutor violated a court order by continuing to communicate with the new prosecutors on the case after he was “walled-off” from the case because he viewed attorney-client privileged materials.
David Samson, Christie Associate and Ex-Port Authority Chief, Pleads Guilty to Felony: David Samson, the former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and former New Jersey attorney general, pled guilty in federal court to bribery. In his plea, Samson admitted that he used his position as Port Authority chair to pressure United Airlines to maintain a weekly flight between Newark and a small airport in Columbia, South Carolina, near a home Samson owned. United Airlines entered into a deferred prosecution agreement for its role in the scheme.
Convictions Upheld for Former Alabama Education Official Deann Stone, Husband: The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions of the former director of federal programs for the State Department of Education, Deann Stone, and her husband. The Stones manipulated the grant process to ensure that Dave Stone’s employer received millions of dollars in federal grant money. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said that the conviction “should send a strong message to those who are entrusted to serve the public,” and that his office was committed to holding accountable those who abused the authority of their positions.
Former Crystal City Mayor, City Attorney, Slapped with More Charges: The former mayor of Crystal City, Texas, and the former city attorney have been charged in a superseding indictment with wire fraud. Former mayor Ricardo Lopez and former city attorney James Jonas—and most members of the City Council—were charged in federal court with bribery-related offenses earlier this year. The new indictment alleges that Lopez and Jonas embezzled from funds intended for infrastructure improvement to pay Jonas’s salary and repeats the charges that the men solicited and accepted bribes from people who wished to do business with the south Texas city (2010 population 7,138) they represented. The new charges are the latest chapter in a remarkable saga, which has included the arrest of Lopez during a recall election not long after the original indictment, and Lopez’s decision—expressed during a wide-ranging interview with The Texas Tribune that included several inculpatory statements —to run for reelection even after stepping down during the recall effort.
Phila. Judge Overturns 158 Convictions Tied to Rogue Narcotics Cops: A state court judge in Philadelphia reversed the convictions of nearly 160 defendants who were convicted of narcotics charges that were tainted as a result of federal corruption charges filed against police officers involved in those cases. A total of seven police officers in the Narcotics Field Unit were alleged to have planted evidence, doctored paperwork, and beat and robbed suspects. One of those officers pled guilty and cooperated in a May 2015 trial against the other six, who were acquitted. The officers who were acquitted have been reinstated at the police department and have received $90,000 in back pay. So far, approximately 560 convictions that involved those seven officers have been vacated; more are expected.
McDonnell and Its Potential Progeny
Maureen McDonnell Case Put On Hold By Appeals Court: The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has, on consent of the parties, held Maureen McDonnell’s case in abeyance until late August, the same due date as a proposed briefing schedule or joint status report in her husband’s case. The Supreme Court remanded Bob McDonnell’s case to that court for it to determine whether to send the case back down to the district court for a retrial.
Indicted Summit County Councilwoman Says Corruption Charges Should Be Dismissed: Citing McDonnell, a Summit County (Ohio) councilwoman is arguing that federal charges should be dismissed against her as none of the actions she allegedly took as a result of bribes were “official acts” under the Supreme Court’s standard. Councilwoman Tamela Lee is alleged to have accepted cash, loans, campaign contributions, home improvements, cigarettes, and other gifts from a co-defendant affiliated with convenience stores in her district. She then allegedly promised to obtain favorable treatment for the co-defendant in court and official proceedings, including by securing a liquor permit for one of the stores.
Sheldon Silver Shouldn’t Remain Free During Appeal, Prosecutors Say: In early August, District Judge Kimba Wood ruled that former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son would remain free on bail during his appeal, concluding that the Skeloses proved a “substantial question” about whether the jury instruction in their trial were erroneous under McDonnell. Citing Judge Wood’s decision, lawyers for former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver requested that he, too, remain free on appeal.
Anticorruption Legislation: Discussed, Pending, and Passed
State Attorney: New Law Makes Fighting Corruption Easier: Anticorruption statutes recently signed into law in Florida will provide additional tools for the State Attorney’s Office there to prosecute bid tampering, bribery, official misconduct, and other corruption-related charges; the new laws are expected to increase accountability and transparency in local governments across Florida.
U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin has introduced S 3210 (the “Combating Global Corruption and Ensuring Accountability Act of 2016”), an anticorruption bill intended to identify and combat corruption in other countries. The bill is also intended to establish a tiered system of countries with respect to levels of corruption by their governments and their efforts to combat such corruption. Finally, the bill would assess United States assistance to designated countries in order to advance anti-corruption efforts in those countries and better serve United States taxpayers.
Ex-US Prosecutor Upbraided for Ethics Lapses: Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington James Santelle has been criticized in a report filed by the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Justice for hosting political fund-raisers over the years to support candidates for office. The DOJ OIG concluded that Santelle’s testimony arguing that he did not intend for the candidates’ events to be fundraisers “lacked candor and was unbecoming of the former chief federal law enforcement official in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.”
Legal Scholars Divided Over Criticism of ‘Freddie Gray’ Prosecutor: A George Washington University Law School Professor has filed a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland against Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore State’s Attorney who filed charges against six police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray. Prof. John Banzhaf, who has filed complaints against other prosecutors, alleged that Mosby and two of her deputies committed ethics violations, had no probable cause to file charges, and withheld evidence from the defense. Harvard Law School Professor Ronald S. Sullivan, however, argues that the criticism of Mosby is “wholly unfounded.”
Lawmakers Review Vague Sections of Idaho Purchasing Laws: Earlier this year, Idaho lawmakers requested additional training about purchasing rules and for the state legislature to adopt ethics guidelines for drafting contracts. This month, Idaho Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane provided advice to a legislative group as it fine-tuned proposed language so it would both adequately protect taxpayer funds and be fair to those who contracted with the state.
America’s Global Corruption Crusade: The New York Times dismisses criticisms of overreach directed at the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigations and prosecutions of kleptocrats and other corrupt overseas officials. The editorial reasons that because corruption is a major cause of global instability, it is a threat to American national security and impacts the American economy by, e.g., inflating the price of real estate in U.S. cities where dirty money is “invested.”
Why Businesses are Seizing the Corporate Transparency Movement: A consultant for TRACE International, an anti-bribery organization, opines on the reasons for corporate support for new transparency laws in the United States. The Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act (HR 4450) would require persons who form corporations or limited liability companies in the United States to disclose the beneficial owners of those corporations.
New St. Lucia PM Back in Legal Trouble: The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court reversed a lower court that dismissed charges against St. Lucia’s Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet, who was alleged to have embezzled public funds for the unlawful purpose of a campaign and political event. The case was remanded to a new judge for further proceedings.
Magical Scarves from Auditor-General to Fight Corruption: In Thailand, the Officer of the Auditor General (OAG) held a ceremony blessing 5,000 “magical scarves or scarves with supernatural powers” alleged to help their owners combat corruption. Four thousand of those scarves will be distributed to the OAG’s staff, and 1,000 of them will be given to people who help the OAG combat corruption. Along with 16 magical symbols, the cloths bear the OAG logo. A similar “magical scarf” was credited with the successes enjoyed by the Leicester Football Club.
New Law to Recoup Crime Money Needed, Say MPs: In Great Britain, lawmakers are arguing that refusing to turn over money and assets derived from crime should be subject to criminal charges.
Media: Investigative Journalism About Corruption
UC Berkeley Chancellor Under Investigation for Alleged Misuse of Public Funds, Personal Use of Campus Athletic Trainer: A whistleblower complaint resulted in a University of Berkeley investigation into allegations that its Chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, misused public funds for travel and made personal use of a campus athletic trainer without paying the trainer. The misuse of funds allegation stems from a trip to India allegedly made by the trainer and Dirks’s wife.
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.