Corruption News April - May 2016

The following is a compendium of news reports over the last month that may be of interest to prosecutors fighting corruption, particularly in the offices of attorneys general. Neither the National Association of Attorneys General nor the National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute expresses 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.

Media: Investigative Journalism About Corruption

Above the Law: Sheriff with Militia Ties Goes Wild in West Texas: Texas Observer article details allegations that Rocksprings, Texas, Sheriff Pamela Elliot has used the power of her office to retaliate against people in the opposing political party, intimidate voters, and file unjust charges.

Pre-Disciplinary Leave Extended for Medical Examiner’s Office Whistleblower: Virginia assistant chief medical examiner has made allegations of corruption in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Arkansas Judge, Accused of Coercing Defendants Into Spankings and Sex Acts, Resigns: Arkansas judge O. Joseph Boeckmann Jr. has resigned after a state judicial commission accused him of ordering male defendants to be spanked, engage in sex acts, and pose for photographs to fulfill their “community service” requirements. The investigation began with an inquiry about the judge’s possible conflict of interest in an unrelated case, which expanded to address allegations about his treatment of defendants in traffic cases.

Cases: Investigations, Prosecutions, and Appeals

Former Portland Police Chief Mike Reese Approved as Sheriff Dan Staton's Potential Replacement: County commissioners unanimously approved Multnomah County (Oregon) Sheriff Dan Staton's request to designate a former Portland police chief as interim sheriff in case Staton leaves office before the end of his term. Staton is under state criminal investigation and has faced considerable scrutiny and public criticism this year.

Attorney General Plans to File State Charges Against His Former Chief Deputy: Kentucky Attorney General Andrew Beshear has promised to prosecute his former chief deputy in state court following that deputy’s guilty plea to federal bribery charges. The former chief deputy arranged for illegal campaign contributions to, among others, the coffers of the attorney general who pledges to prosecute him.

Alabama Awash in Allegations of Corruption: Article discusses how the top three elected officials in Alabama—the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Governor, and the House Speaker—are facing removal or embroiled in scandal. The House Speaker faces 23 felony ethics charges filed by a district attorney after the attorney general recused himself.

De Blasio’s Office Gets Subpoenas as Inquiries Into Fund-Raising Continue: Federal and state prosecutors have subpoenaed a top aide and the campaign finance director of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, in connection with ongoing investigations into his fund-raising activities.

Utah Prosecutor Wants Grand Jury Probe of Harry Reid, Mike Lee, Feds, Others: Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has given Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings $50,000 from a state litigation fund in connection with Rawling’s proposed grand jury probe exploring allegations that federal prosecutors refused to pursue evidence that Senators Harry Reid and Mike Lee were corrupt.

Rhode Island's Growing Roster of Fallen Legislators: In the wake of the resignation of Rhode Island House Finance Chairman Raymond Gallison, Jr.—said to be the target of a federal corruption investigation—this article summarizes several of the many elected officials in Rhode Island who have faced censure or prosecution.

Ex-Legislator’s Corruption Case Gets Underway in District Court: A former New Mexico state senator, Phil Griego, made his initial appearance before a judge—the tenth judge assigned to the case, appointed by the state supreme court’s chief justice after other judges recused themselves and were disqualified by the defense. Griego is facing corruption charges filed by Attorney General Hector Balderas, which accuse him of using his position in the legislature to make a $50,000 broker’s fee on the sale of a building.

Jury Convicts Ron Paul Aide of Campaign Finance Violations: An Iowa jury found three campaign advisors for 2012 presidential candidate Ron Paul guilty of federal charges in connection with payments to a former Iowa state senator who endorsed Paul after being paid $73,000.

Sentencings Close Monroe County Bid-Rigging Case: Three defendants charged with diverting tens of millions of dollars of contracts in Monroe County (NY) to companies in which they had a financial interest were sentenced to terms ranging from probation to two and one-third to seven years in prison. The case was prosecuted by the New York Attorney General’s Office.

Bristol Virginia Utilities Shows Culture of Corruption, Entitlement and Greed: Federal prosecutors in Virginia have convicted nine former board members and contractors associated with Bristol Virginia Utilities in a wide-ranging scheme involving extortion, bid-rigging, kickbacks, fraud, and tax evasion. The defendants operated in a region where the median household income was under $34,000 and the poverty rate was 22 percent; rate increases on those impoverished customers helped fund schemes that provided BVU executives with trips to luxury resorts.

Sheldon Silver, Ex-New York Assembly Speaker, Gets 12-Year Prison Sentence: Former New York State Assemblyman Sheldon Silver was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison after being convicted of, among other crimes, honest services fraud. Southern District of New York Judge Valerie E. Caproni noted that Silver caused “incalculable, intangible harm” to the people of New York, and that the cumulative effect of public corruption “makes the public very cynical.”

Dean Skelos Is Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison in Corruption Case: Dean Skelos, a second former New York State Senator, was sentenced to five years in federal prison after being convicted of bribery, extortion, and conspiracy. Skelos’s son, Adam—the beneficiary of much of his corrupt largess—was sentenced to six and a half years in federal prison. The New York Times opined that the Silver and Skelos investigations and trials “exposed a culture of kickbacks, secret deals and nepotism in the State Capital in Albany.”

Vendor in Detroit Schools Corruption Case Lived Like a King: School supply vendor gave $1 million in kickbacks to school principals in a scheme in which the Detroit Public Schools paid him $5 million over 15 years. The vendor, who has pled guilty to federal corruption charges, then used the money to buy and renovate an estate in tony Farmington Hills.

Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s appeal from his conviction and sentence on federal corruption charges was argued to the Supreme Court on April 27, 2016. View the transcript from the argument, or the Supreme Court docket and briefs.

Anticorruption Legislation: Discussed, Pending, and Passed

Poll: 97 Percent Say Ending Corruption in State Government is Top Priority: A recent poll in New York state reveals that votes rank the passage of new laws to address corruption in state government above education, affordable housing, and combating the heroin epidemic.

Corruption? Here? Bill Would Require Ethics Training for N.J. Elected Officials: The New Jersey state senate unanimously passed a bill that would require every elected official in New Jersey to undergo ethics training upon being elected.

Justice Department Proposes Legislation to Advance Anti-Corruption Efforts: USDOJ is submitting to Congress proposals to amend (1) the federal bribery statute (18 U.S.C. § 666) to ensure it applies to gratuities as well as bribes, and to lower the monetary threshold for federal criminal jurisdiction to $1,000 from $5,000; and (2) various statutes and regulations addressing illegal proceeds of transnational corruption.

Obama Admin. Announces New Rules Aimed at Combating Tax Evasion: U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew urged Congress to pass a set of financial regulations designed to enhance transparency in the U.S. banking system, which would help law enforcement officers locate “bad actors who seek to hide their financial dealings and evade their tax responsibilities.”

Op-Eds

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Rolex: Zephyr Teachout, Fordham Law School professor and former Democratic candidate for New York Governor, argues that the Supreme Court’s apparent hostility to the Bob McDonnell prosecution may result in a decision that turns “corruption from a wrong into a right.”

The Face of American Political Corruption Might be About to Change: Henry Glass, staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor, argues that the Supreme Court’s response to the McDonnell case reflects “that many think” that prosecutors have been too aggressive in bringing corruption cases against politicians. He cites a criminal defense attorney who argues that “People sort of accept that our political system as it’s currently set up anticipates a certain amount of low-grade corruption.”

When it Comes to Politics, Corruption is Subtler Than You Think: Trevor Burrus, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, argues that corporate money supporting politicians during elections does not corrupt, and that paying higher wages to politicians and their staff and liberalizing campaign finance rules—which, he argues, will result in fewer long-term incumbents—will help reduce political corruption.

Bribery Tangles with Politics at Supreme Court: Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor, argues that the precedent set by Citizens United regarding “political favors” to PAC campaign contributors means that to affirm the McDonell conviction, the Court will likely be required to draw a distinction between favors to direct campaign contributors and to those who contributed to PACs.

International Issues

These 5 Cases Explain the State of Global Corruption: Author describes corruption scandals in Brazil, Malaysia, South Africa, China, and Russia.

What Will Happen When Everyone in the Panama Papers is Revealed Next Week: Article summarizing stories about the Panama papers in advance of the release of names of clients from a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca, which assisted wealthy politicians and others with hiding assets.

Brazil’s Senate Suspends President Dilma Rousseff: Brazil’s senate voted to suspend President Dilma Rousseff and begin an impeachment trial against her. Her vice president, Michel Temer, will replace her. Temer himself may be ineligible to run for office due to a recent conviction for campaign finance violations.

Arab Spring 5 Years On: Corruption Increased, Says Report: Polls in the Middle East and North Africa reveal that 61% of those surveyed believe corruption has risen in their countries over the past year. For people who dealt with the courts, one in three reported paying a bribe; one in four paid a bribe to police.

Crime, Corruption, and the King’s Dog: Risky Topics for Global Media: Article details the murders and prosecutions of journalists throughout the world for reporting on organized crime, political corruption, and even insulting a pet owned by the king of Thailand.

China Vows to Tackle ‘Family Corruption’ — But Even State Media Can’t Hide Its Skepticism: The Chinese government is making another attempt to tackle “family corruption”—that is, the corrupt amassing of wealth by family members with political ties to officials. Defendants convicted in “extremely serious cases” (those involving more than about $463,000) may face the death penalty.

Other Corruption News

State Provides Added Manpower After Kelly Asks to Reinstate Public Integrity Unit: St. Clair County (Illinois) State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly wrote to the Illinois governor to ask him to reinstate the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit, which was disbanded in 2013. Kelly pointed to the quadrupling of state corruption cases in the past four years, and to problems with conflicts of interest when local police investigate officials in their own jurisdiction.

Budget Battle Takes Shape in House Panel: Louisiana lawmakers are considering a bill that would, among other things, eliminate the Inspector General, the state’s public corruption watchdog.

FBI Puts 'Laser Focus' on Public Corruption in South Texas: FBI Special Agent in Charge for San Antonio describes fighting corruption as the number one priority for South Texas.


Amie Ely is the Editor of Corruption Newsletter and may be reached at 202-326-6041. The Corruption 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.

Faculty Spotlight

NAGTRI's faculty are top-rated experts in their field. Read about them.

Course Schedule

NAGTRI offers high-quality, responsive and innovative trainings.

Research & Newsletters

NAGTRI produces comprehensive research and newsletters on topical legal issues.