This 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 expresses a view as to the accuracy of news accounts, nor as to the position expounded by the authors of the hyperlinked articles.
The Anticorruption Manual: A Guide for State Prosecutors: CEPI’s comprehensive Anticorruption Manual was published in August 2021. This is the first publication in thirty years to guide prosecutors who investigate and charge public corruption crimes. It is the first-ever book designed to address the needs of state and local corruption prosecutors. The book is available for purchase; members of the attorney general community should log into to their NAAG accounts to access a discount code, and other prosecutors should email Zayn Hasan at email@example.com for their discount code. A free sample chapter addressing judicial corruption is available for download. A series of articles further describes the purpose and contents of the manual.
Former State Employee Indicted for Allegedly Embezzling Over $33,000 Meant to Help the Elderly: Selentria Kendrick, former senior employee with the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, a state planning and development agency, was indicted on one count of theft by taking for allegedly stealing $30,000 in state funds. Kendrick was responsible for transitioning nursing home clients into independent homes, including moving furniture and goods for them. Kendrick allegedly invoiced fraudulent transactions with a moving company owned by her incarcerated boyfriend, and the invoices were paid by the state back into accounts allegedly controlled by Kendrick. The case is being prosecuted by the Public Integrity and White Collar Crime Unit of the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.
Winnebago County Coroner Hintz Pleads Guilty: Winnebago County, Illinois Coroner Bill Hintz pleaded guilty to charges of theft and official misconduct. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case based on a referral from the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office. Hintz fraudulently used a Winnebago County gasoline card and credit card and also stole from families of deceased people who had been cremated at the county’s expense.
Maryland Delegate Charged with Theft of State Funds for ‘District Office’ Outside His District: Rick Impallaria, a state representative for parts of Baltimore County and Harford County, Maryland, was charged by criminal information with multiple counts of misconduct in office, theft, and embezzlement. Impallaria allegedly used state funds to pay for his personal residence and storage facility by characterizing the storage facility as a “district office” and requesting double the reasonable amount of rent for the facility, thereby covering his rent to the same landlord for his personal cottage next door. Both properties were located outside of his district. Impallaria allegedly stopped independently paying rent on his neighboring personal cottage in the same month the state began paying double rent for the district office. Impallaria also allegedly fraudulently obtained state funds to pay for campaign fundraising letters through a sham invoice scheme with an office supply vendor. The case is being prosecuted by the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor.
Bronx Politician Guilty of Helping Alleged Genovese Associate: Luis Diaz, former county clerk in the Bronx, New York, pleaded guilty to one count of offering a false instrument for filing based on his knowing falsification of a court document claiming that Thomas Poli, an alleged associate of the Genovese crime family, satisfied a community service requirement. Diaz also resigned his position as county clerk and is permanently banned from holding public office or working for nonprofit organizations registered in New York. The case was brought by the New York Attorney General’s Office.
Former New York State Supreme Court Justice Sentenced to Prison in Bribery Scheme: Former New York State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek, and former Erie County, New York, chair of the Democratic Committee Steven Pigeon were sentenced to prison for their roles in a bribery scheme involving judicial decisions and official appointments. Michalek received a sentence of one year and four months, but the sentence was postponed until September 2022. The bribery scheme involved Pigeon giving Michalek tickets and promises of future employment in exchange for information and influence in cases pending before Michalek. Michalek pleaded guilty and resigned in 2016. Pigeon pleaded guilty in 2018. Pigeon’s state sentence will run concurrently with a four-month federal sentence he received in a separate case. The federal sentence is based on Pigeon’s conviction for conspiracy to cause a foreign donation in a state election. The state cases were prosecuted by the New York Attorney General’s Office.
Butler County Auditor Faces Additional Charge in Corruption Case: Roger Reynolds, auditor in Butler County, Ohio, has been charged in a superseding indictment with an additional charge of having an unlawful interest in a public contract. Reynolds was already charged with bribery, unlawful interest in a public contract, unlawful use of authority, and conflict of interest. The new count alleges that Reynolds was involved in a land transaction with Lakota schools and attempted to benefit a golf club of which he is a member. The case is being prosecuted by the Special Prosecutions Section of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and was investigated by the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and Ohio Ethics Commission.
Fired West Linn Cop Who Pursued Wrongful Arrest of Michael Fesser Sentenced to Probation, Diversity Training: Tony Reeves, a former police officer in West Linn, Oregon, was sentenced to eighteen months of probation, 85 hours of community service, and 15 hours of diversity training after pleading no contest to official misconduct. The plea is based on Reeves’ role in the wrongful arrest of Michael Fesser. Fesser was an employee of a towing company and had complained of a racially hostile work environment. The owner of the towing company was a friend of the police chief, Terry Timeus. Reeves arrested Fesser at Timeus’s direction. The official misconduct consisted of withholding evidence, illegally recording Fesser, and deleting racist and vulgar text messages he received from Fesser’s boss. The case was brought by the Oregon Attorney General’s Office, which assumed responsibility for the prosecution after the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office concluded it had a conflict of interest because it charged Fesser with a crime based in part on Reeves’ grand jury testimony.
Bay Area Men Charged with Bribing Vallejo City Official: Steven Chu and Ben Guan were indicted on one charge of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and one count of federal program bribery. Chu and Guan ran an illegal marijuana grow facility in Vallejo, California and were notified in 2020 that their business violated multiple laws, including city codes. Chu and Guan paid a city building inspector a total of $27,000 in bribes to prevent the city from interfering with their business.
Former Lawmaker Kalani English Sentenced to 40 Months: Jamie Kalani English, former Hawaii state Senate Majority Leader, was sentenced to 40 months in prison and a $100,000 fine for honest services wire fraud. English pleaded guilty in February 2022 and admitted accepting bribes in exchange for influencing legislation on behalf of an industrial services company seeking to benefit from state cesspool regulations and policies. English solicited money, dinners, and lodging from a business owner identified as “Person A.” English failed to disclose benefits received from Person A, while simultaneously disclosing small gifts from legitimate sources.
Former County Employee Charged in Multi-Million Dollar Affordable Housing Scheme: Alan Rudo, former employee of the County of Hawaii’s Office of Housing and Community Development, pleaded guilty to bribery. The county required developers to include affordable housing in or near any proposed new project. A developer can earn excess affordable housing credits (AHCs) by building affordable housing beyond what is required by the law, and they can sell or transfer those AHCs to other developers. Rudo was responsible for enforcing that rule and he abused his position by using companies he owned with three other people to apply for and obtain AHCs without actually building any affordable housing. Rudo sold those ACHs to developers in exchange for nearly $2 million in bribes and kickbacks.
Ex-Cook County Official Patrick Doherty Pleads Guilty to Corruption Schemes: Patrick Doherty, former chief of staff to Jeff Tobolski, the former commissioner of Cook County, Illinois, pleaded guilty to various corruption-related charges. The indictment against Doherty charged him with one count of conspiracy to use an interstate facility to facilitate bribery and two counts of using an interstate facility to facilitate bribery. Doherty worked as a sales agent for a red-light camera company that had a contract with a Chicago-area suburb, Oak Lawn, Illinois. Doherty conspired to pay money to a relative of an elected official in Oak Lawn to influence the official to approve installation of additional red-light cameras. According to media reports, Doherty’s plea agreement included multiple additional corrupt schemes involving Tobolski who pleaded guilty to extortion and false tax returns in 2020, former state senator Martin Sandoval who also pleaded guilty to bribery and false tax returns in 2020, as well as other local officials and business people.
Former U.S. Congressman Pleads Not Guilty to Insider Trading Charges: Stephen Buyer, a former congressman from Indiana, was indicted on charges of securities fraud. Buyer allegedly purchased shares of Sprint telecommunications company on inside information before it merged with T-Mobile US Inc. in 2018. Buyer had been a consultant for T-Mobile at that time. Buyer also allegedly traded in shares of Navigant Consulting, Inc., knowing through his consulting work that a different firm, Guidehouse, was about to acquire Navigant. These trades on inside information allegedly resulted in personal gain of nearly $350,000. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the case against Buyer as part of four separate insider trading cases, collectively charging nine defendants with securities fraud and other related charges. The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed related civil proceedings against Buyer and his wife, seeking disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, penalties, a permanent injunction, and an officer and director bar against Buyer.
Former Louisiana Police Chief and City Councilmember Plead Guilty in Vote-Buying Conspiracy: Jerry Trabona, former police chief of Amite City, Louisiana, and Kristian Hart, current Amite City Council member, pleaded guilty to paying and offering to pay voters in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, to vote in elections in which the defendants were candidates. Federal candidates were also on the same ballot, making the vote-buying scheme a federal offense. Trabona pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to pay voters and Hart pleaded guilty to three additional counts of the same crime.
Former President of the Madison District Public Schools Board of Education and a Local Contractor Charged in $560,000 Bribery Scheme: Albert Morrison, former president of the Board of Education for Madison District Public Schools in Michigan, was indicted on three counts of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. Morrison allegedly awarded $3.1 million in maintenance and construction projects to a company owned by his long-time friend John David. In exchange, David secretly paid Morrison over $550,000. David was also indicted on the same bribery charges. When confronted at a public meeting, Morrison denied any financial connection to David and failed to disclose that income to the IRS.
Former Catawba County Utilities Director Sentenced for Bribery Conviction: Barry Edwards, former Director of Utilities for Catawba County, North Carolina, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud. Edwards admitted that he awarded public contracts to businesses associated with a specific private contractor who provided Edwards with gifts such as expensive meals, tickets to sporting events, and wine-tasting tours, totaling more than $30,000, which influenced his decisions.
Verdict Announced in P.G. Sittenfeld Trial: P.G. Sittenfeld, former city councilmember in Cincinnati, Ohio, was tried by a jury and found guilty of one count of bribery and one count of attempted extortion. He was acquitted of two counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of bribery, and one count of extortion. Sittenfeld was accused of promising to support development of property in downtown Cincinnati in exchange for $40,000 in campaign donations.
Former Ottawa County Prosecutor Pleads Guilty After Seeking Sexual Favors from Defendants: Daniel Giraldi, a former Ottawa County, Oklahoma Assistant District Attorney, pleaded guilty to one count of possession of oxycodone with intent to distribute and four counts of honest services fraud. Giraldi agreed to forfeit his bar license and to be barred permanently from public office. Giraldi admitted to bribery consisting of criminal defendants providing Giraldi sexual acts in exchange for Giraldi giving the defendants drugs and favorable treatment in court. He will be sentenced later.
Ex Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Charged with Bribery: Former Governor of Puerto Rico Wanda Vazquez Garced was indicted on charges of conspiracy, federal programs bribery, and honest services wire fraud for her role in a bribery scheme relating to her 2020 campaign. Other individuals involved in the scheme included Julio Martin Herrera Velutini (a Venezuelan-Italian citizen residing in London, UK, and owner of an international bank in San Juan, Puerto Rico), Frances Diaz (president of Herrera Velutini’s bank), Mark Rossini (former FBI Special Agent who provided consulting services to Herrera Velutini), and John Blakeman (political consultant who worked on Vazquez Garced’s 2020 campaign). Herrera Velutini and Rossini are named in the same indictment as Vazquez Garced. Blakeman and Diaz have already pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme. The scheme outlined in the indictment consisted of Herrera Velutini paying more than $300,000 in support of Vazquez Garced’s campaign in exchange for official action by Vazquez Garced to appoint a new commissioner personally selected by Herrera Velutini to lead the regulatory body that oversees Herrera Velutini’s bank, which was engaged in an examination of the bank. Vazquez Garced, in fact, demanded the resignation of the then-commissioner of that regulatory body and appointed the new commissioner selected by Herrera Velutini.
Former South Carolina Sheriff, Deputies Sentenced to Prison on Corruption Charges: Former Chester County, South Carolina Sheriff George Alexander Underwood, Chief Deputy Robert Andrew Sprouse, and Lieutenant Johnny Ricardo Neal Jr. were convicted of various corruption related offenses in April 2021 and recently sentenced. Underwood was convicted of conspiracy to violate federal law, conspiracy to commit federal program theft, deprivation of rights, and wire fraud. Sprouse was convicted of conspiracy to violate federal law, conspiracy to commit federal program theft, falsifying records, and making false statements. Neal was convicted of conspiracy to violate federal law, conspiracy to commit federal program theft, deprivation of rights, wire fraud, and falsifying records. Underwood and Neal were sentenced to 46 months in prison. Sprouse was sentenced to 24 months in prison. Evidence at trial showed that Underwood, Sprouse, and Neal used their positions to enrich themselves and to avoid consequences for misconduct. Underwood and Sprouse required public employees to perform manual labor that personally benefited them and paid for family travel expenses with public funds. Underwood and Neal skimmed money from payments owed to other Sheriff’s Office employees for work performed at public safety checkpoints. Underwood and Neal violated the rights of a resident by detaining him without probable cause in retaliation for the resident recording the officers’ response to a collision.
San Antonio Man Sentenced for Giving Out 200+ Fraudulent CDLs While Working for Texas DPS: Alonzo Blackman, former Texas Department of Public Safety employee, was sentenced to 24 months in prison. Blackman pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and honest services fraud in 2020. Blackman was responsible for issuing commercial driver’s licenses that allow people to drive and operate large commercial vehicles or buses. Although a written exam and skills test is required, Blackman did not administer the skills tests for 215 people, but passed them as if the test had been conducted. Those people each paid about $1,000 for the license instead of passing the test. The Texas Department of Public Safety has reportedly revoked the fraudulently issued licenses.
Embattled San Luis Valley District Attorney Alonzo Payne Resigns, Polis Appoints Interim: Colorado Governor Jared Polis appointed Attorney General Phil Weiser to serve as interim district attorney for the 12th Judicial District following the resignation of Alonzo Payne, former San Luis Valley District Attorney. Earlier in 2022, Payne was the subject of a recall petition, which received sufficient public support in June 2022 to trigger a recall election. The governor’s executive order appointing Weiser cited staffing shortages and a backlog of cases and enabled Weiser to appoint special assistant attorneys general and access resources. An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office found that the 12th Judicial District and Payne violated the Colorado Crime Victim Rights Act by failing to notify and consult with victims as required by law and, in some cases, failing to treat victims with dignity and respect. The 12th Judicial District agreed to allow an independent monitor to oversee that District Attorney’s Office.
Georgia Prosecutor Fani Willis Disqualified from Investigating Trump ‘Fake Elector’ in Criminal Probe: Fani Willis, District Attorney for Fulton County, Georgia, was disqualified from investigating Georgia Senator Burt Jones for his alleged involvement in possible interference with the 2020 presidential election. Willis is prohibited from issuing a subpoena to Jones, from categorizing him as a subject or target of the grand jury probe, and from asking the grand jury to include any recommendation about him in its final report. A different prosecutor’s office, to be selected by the Georgia Attorney General, may handle those tasks. Burt is the Republican candidate for the Georgia Lieutenant Governor election that will occur in November 2022. In June 2022, after Willis’s District Attorney’s Office began grand jury proceedings relating to election interference, Willis was the featured speaker and host of a fundraiser for Charlie Bailey, who, at the time, was involved in a runoff election to determine the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. The fundraiser was characterized as a “runoff fundraiser” in favor of Bailey over the other Democratic contender, but it occurred after Burt had already won the Republican nomination. The Fulton County Superior Court determined that Willis’s political opposition to Burt’s candidacy created a conflict of interest disqualifying her from any investigation or prosecution of Burt.
A Prosecution that Started with Fanfare Ends with $2,000 Fine for Robert Morgan: A federal prosecution brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York in Buffalo, New York, which began with a broad, 114-count criminal indictment for various mortgage fraud related crimes, ended with no prison time for any of the four defendants. In 2019, real estate developer Robert Morgan and three of his associates, Frank Giacobbe, Todd Morgan, and Michael Tremiti, were accused of participating in a half billion dollar mortgage fraud scheme. The first indictment was dismissed in 2020 because prosecutors mishandled the discovery process, which involved voluminous documents and electronic discovery. The defendants were re-indicted in 2021 and, in 2022, pleaded guilty: Todd Morgan, Giacobbe, and Tremiti pleaded guilty to bank larceny and Robert Morgan pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Todd Morgan, Giacobbe, and Tremiti were sentenced to no prison time and were fined $500 each. Robert Morgan was fined $2,000 and agreed to forfeit $16.3 million in proceeds from the fraud. The district judge handling the case noted that the indictment was returned by the grand jury “with a lot of fanfare, a lot of public announcements, and at the end of the day, the four defendants are left with three misdemeanors and a felony conviction.”
Former Oyster Bay Town Attorney Disbarred for ‘Corruptive Practices,’ Appeals Court Order Says: Former Oyster Bay, New York Town Attorney Leonard Genova was disbarred for corruptive practices and serious misconduct while in office. When Genova’s former boss, Town Supervisor John Venditto, was tried for corruption alongside former County Executive Edward Mangano and his wife Linda Mangano, Genova cooperated with the prosecution and admitted to taking bribes from a restauranteur Harendra Singh. Venditto was acquitted of federal corruption charges of federal program bribery, honest services wire fraud, and conspiracy, but pleaded guilty to state corruption charges of official misconduct and corrupt use of position of authority. The Manganos’ first trial resulted in a mistrial, but they were later convicted of the federal corruption charges. The New York Appellate Division, Second Department, found that Genova violated New York Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4(c) and 8.4(h) for his handling of public contracts with Singh and for accepting bribes from Singh.
Appeals Court Calls Out Federal Judge Who ‘Belittled’ a Prosecutor ‘Based on Her Sex’ and Tried to Ban Her for Life: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated an order from District Judge Lynn Hughes permanently excluding an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) from his courtroom. While a district court may impose sanctions under its inherent power, to do so it must make a specific finding that the attorney acted in bad faith and, in this case, there was no such finding. Rather, the exclusion of the attorney was based on Judge Hughes’s prior experience with the AUSA. In 2018, the AUSA was prosecuting a case before Judge Hughes against defendant Simone Swenson. In the Swenson case, the prosecutor delivered new discovery to the defendant weeks after the final discovery date set by the judge. The judge dismissed the Swenson case for the faulty discovery and commented, “It was a lot simpler when you guys wore dark suits, white shirts and navy ties,” and “We didn’t let girls do it in the old days.” The Government appealed the dismissal. The Fifth Circuit reinstated the Swenson case, reassigned the case to a different district judge, and stated in a footnote that “such comments are demeaning, inappropriate, and beneath the dignity of a federal judge.” In 2022, when the same AUSA appeared before Judge Hughes, Judge Hughes issued a verbal order from the bench permanently barring the AUSA from appearing in his courtroom. Concurring with the Fifth Circuit’s decision to vacate that exclusion, Fifth Circuit Judge James Ho noted that the exclusion order was apparently intended to punish the AUSA for the appellate briefing in the Swenson case accusing Judge Hughes of sex discrimination.
U.S. Accuses Russian of Election Interference Campaign: The U.S. Department of Justice indicted Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, a resident of Moscow, Russia, on a charge of conspiring to have U.S. citizens act as illegal agents of the Russian government. Ionov allegedly orchestrated a pro-Russian propaganda campaign within the United States to create political discord for Russia’s benefit. Ionov allegedly worked under the support and control of the Russian government to recruit political groups within the United States, to direct them to publish pro-Russian propaganda, and to coordinate and fund action by these groups.
Supes Hope New Funding Can Weed Out City Hall Corruption: San Francisco City Board of Supervisors received $800,000 in additional funding to expand the office of the Budget and Legislative Analyst (BLA) in the hope that the office will help reduce corruption in the city government. The BLA is under the Board of Supervisors’ control. The additional funding will amount to 2,600 additional hours of staff time.
Tallahassee Officials Approve 10-Year Ban on Corruption-Related Felons Lobbying: Tallahassee, Florida city commissioners unanimously passed a resolution prohibiting anyone convicted of a corruption-related felony—such as bribery, theft, and honest services fraud—from registering as a lobbyist for ten years. The resolution follows a federal investigation into corruption in Tallahassee government, which resulted in guilty pleas from former Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox and his former business partner Paige Carter-Smith, and a twenty-one count indictment against former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and his associate Sharon Janet Lettman-Hicks.
Prosecutors Want Enhanced Punishment for Public Corruption: The Hawaii Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct held a forum and heard recommendations from FBI agents, former state attorneys general, and county prosecutors regarding how to reduce public corruption in Hawaii’s government. Recommendations included mandatory jail time under state law for public servants that commit corruption-related offenses as well as additional resources to fund units within the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office to investigate white collar crimes and human trafficking.