Program Counsel, NAGTRI Center for Ethics and Public IntegrityCoeditor, The Anticorruption Manual
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Prison Sought for Arizona Official in Ballot Harvesting Case: Guillermina Fuentes, a school board member and former mayor of San Luis, Arizona, and Alma Juarez pleaded guilty to one charge each of ballot abuse and admitted that they collected early ballots for people who were not family members or people receiving their care. Fuentes and Juarez are accused of ballot harvesting, which is a practice that was legal until 2016. The 2016 law bars anyone but a family member or caregiver from returning early ballots for another person. Prosecutors are seeking a one-year prison sentence for Fuentes, but if probation is imposed, prosecutors are requesting that Fuentes be barred from holding public office while on probation. The case is brought by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
Delaware State Auditor Kathy McGuiness Acquitted on Felony Public Corruption Charges, Found Guilty of Misdemeanor Counts: Kathy McGuiness, Delaware State Auditor, was tried and convicted of conflict of interest, official misconduct, and structuring a contract to avoid a procurement rule, which are misdemeanors. McGuiness was acquitted of felony theft and witness intimidation charges. At trial, the prosecution alleged that McGuiness abused her position by hiring her daughter and giving her special privileges, by structuring payments to a consultant to avoid bidding requirements, and by intimidating employees who were cooperating with investigators. McGuiness remains state auditor despite her conviction; other government officials are considering how to remove her from office. The case was brought by the Delaware Attorney General’s Office.
Former Pickens County School Superintendent, Wife Indicted: Carlton Wilson, former school superintendent in Pickens County, Georgia, and his wife, Cindy Wilson, were indicted on charges of racketeering, theft by taking, and theft by conversion. Carlton Wilson was separately indicted on charges of six counts of theft by taking by a fiduciary and one count of theft by deception. Cindy Wilson was separately indicted on one count of tampering with evidence. Allegations against Carlton Wilson include that he defrauded Pickens County of government funds. The case is brought by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.
Ex-State Senator Charged with Stealing Gun from Constituent: Dean Tran, former Massachusetts state senator, was indicted on charges of larceny of a firearm, larceny over $250 from a person over 60, filing an application for a license to carry containing false information, obtaining a signature by false pretenses with intent to defraud, misleading a police investigation, and stealing by confining or putting in fear. Tran allegedly used his position to intimidate an elderly constituent into selling him her late husband’s guns, then returned the guns to the constituent, and later forced his way back into the constituent’s home and demanded the key to the gun safe. The case is brought by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.
Mississippi Woman Brought Back to Massachusetts to Face Unemployment Fraud Charges: Kachina Abrams, former remote customer service sub-contractor in Mississippi for the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA), was indicted on charges of identity fraud, unemployment fraud, larceny over $1,200, attempted larceny over $1,200, and money laundering. Abrams allegedly misused her access to the government computer system to access over $50,000 in unemployment funds and direct them to bank accounts she owned and controlled. She was extradited to Massachusetts from Mississippi. The case was investigated by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development’s DUA and is being prosecuted by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.
Former Ossipee Police Officer Accused of Misusing State Police System to Run License Plates, Attorney General’s Office Says: Justin Swift, former police officer in Ossipee, New Hampshire, was indicted on charges of misuse of a computer or computer network information. Swift was also charged with an official oppression misdemeanor and a certification-and-records misdemeanor. Swift allegedly misused the state police database of driver information and criminal backgrounds for his personal benefit. The case was brought by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.
Port Lavaca Woman Sentenced for Voter Fraud: Monica Mendez pled guilty to 26 felony counts of voter fraud (three counts of illegal voting, eight counts of election fraud, seven counts of assisting a voter to submit a ballot by mail, and eight counts of unlawful possession of a mail ballot). According to the indictment, Mendez marked ballots belonging to other people, failed to sign envelopes of other voters’ ballots while assisting those voters, illegally possessed ballots of other voters, influenced other voters, and caused voters to cast their votes under false pretenses. The case was brought by the Texas Attorney General’s Office, Election Integrity Team, in cooperation with the Victoria County District Attorney’s Office.
Husband of Bluffdale Mayor Charged with Assault, Stalking, Threats to Opponent: Jason C. Hall, spouse of the current mayor of Bluffdale, Utah, Natalie Hall, was charged with assault by threatening elected officials, stalking, and threats to influence official or public action. The charges are based on alleged threats made against Bluffdale City councilman Jeff Gaston, who was running against Natalie Hall for mayor at the time. Gaston dropped out of the election because of the threats. The case was charged by the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
LA Real Estate Developer Convicted of Bribing Former Councilman José Huizar: Dae Yong Lee, a Los Angeles, California real estate developer also known as David Lee, was tried and convicted of bribery, honest services fraud, and obstruction of justice. Lee gave former Los Angeles city councilman, Jose Huizar, a $500,000 bribe in exchange for help with Lee’s condominium development. At the time of the bribery, Huizar was involved in reviewing development proposals for the city of Los Angeles. Lee also altered records to conceal the bribe as a legitimate expense. Huizar was named in the same indictment and is scheduled to go to trial in 2023.
Former Adelanto Councilman Found Guilty of Taking $10,000 Bribe in Undercover FBI Operation: Jermaine Wright, a former councilman in Adelanto, California, was tried and convicted of one count of bribery of programs receiving federal funds and one count of attempted arson of a building affecting interstate commerce. The bribery conviction is based on Wright’s acceptance of a $10,000 bribe from an undercover federal agent posing as the owner of a cannabis business owner in exchange for granting an exemption to the business so it could operate outside of the city’s designated cannabis zone. In addition to accepting the $10,000 payment, Wright had requested 10% of the profits from the business. The arson conviction is based on Wright’s hiring someone to burn down his restaurant for an insurance payout.
Former Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro Indicted as Part of Public Corruption Scandal: Keith Kaneshiro, former Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney in Honolulu, Hawaii, was indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and federal program bribery and conspiracy against rights. The charges arise out of allegations that Kaneshiro accepted bribes of more than $45,000 in campaign contributions in exchange for prosecuting and violating the civil rights of a former employee of Dennis Mitsunaga, owner and CEO of Mitsunaga & Associates, Inc., an engineering and architectural firm. Mitsunaga and three of his other employees were also indicted on the same charges. An anonymous employee of Mitsunaga had been fired and filed a federal discrimination suit against Mitsunaga’s company. To persuade the prosecutor’s office to prosecute that employee, Mitsunaga steered campaign contributions to Kaneshiro, circumventing campaign contribution limits by asking other people to make the contributions. The accusations against the employee were allegedly baseless.
1 Convicted of Paying Kickbacks to Disgraced Ex-Bloomingdale Township Road Commissioner: Mario Giannini, an employee of an excavation company Bulldog Earth Movers, Inc., was tried and convicted of 14 counts of wire fraud for his participation in a kickback scheme with former road commissioner in Bloomingdale Township, Illinois, Robert Czernek, who previously pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. A third defendant, Debra Fazio, who also worked at the excavation company, was acquitted at trial. Over eight years, Giannini paid over $280,000 in kickbacks to Czernek in exchange for Czernek using his official position to approve payment of invoices from Bulldog Earth Movers. Czernek would leave notes for Giannini about information to include on fraudulent invoices and would then approve the invoices for payment even though Bulldog completed only some of the invoiced services and work.
Federal Prosecutors Allege Former Hogan Aide Forged Document to Justify Severance Payment: Roy C. McGrath, who was originally indicted in 2021 on federal wire fraud and program theft and state wiretap violation, has been additionally charged with falsification of records. McGrath is the former chief of staff to the governor of Maryland. Prior to that role, McGrath was the director of the Maryland Environmental Service (MES). The charges against McGrath arise from a $200,000 severance payment he received from MES when he resigned to join the governor’s office. The new allegation is that McGrath falsified a document to indicate that the governor had approved the severance payment when he had not.
Lawyer Charged with Trying to Bribe Medford Cop in Marijuana Case: Sean O’Donovan, an attorney in private practice, was indicted on two counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. O’Donovan allegedly attempted to bribe the police chief in Medford, Massachusetts, on behalf of his client, which was a company involved in the cultivation and sale of marijuana. Massachusetts law requires recreational marijuana retail businesses to sign a Host Community Agreement (HCA) with cities to obtain an operational license. The police chief was a member of a committee in Medford that considered applications for an HCA. O’Donovan allegedly offered $25,000 to a family member of the police chief in exchange for favorable treatment.
General Services Administration Contracting Official Pleads Guilty to Accepting Bribes: Charles Jones, former contracting official with the General Services Administration based in Norfolk, Virginia, pleaded guilty to bribery. From 2015 to 2019, Jones accepted bribes from government contractors—Contractors USA and SDC Contracting LLC—in return for awarding them contracts for construction and renovation projects at federal buildings. Over those four years, Jones received over $400,000 in bribes.
Moses Lake Man Pleads Guilty in Unemployment Benefits Case: Reyes De La Cruz, an employee with the Washington State Employment Security Department, pleaded guilty to wire fraud, bribery, and aggravated identity theft. Cruz was an intake agent processing claims for pandemic unemployment benefits. He used his access to the claims database for his own benefit and he accepted bribes in exchange for falsifying benefit claims that were paid to friends, family, or acquaintances. He fraudulently distributed more than $360,000 and personally enriched himself by $130,000.
State Bar Files Disciplinary Charges Against Former Director Joe Dunn: The California State Bar filed disciplinary charges again Joe Dunn, the former executive director of that agency, charging him with three counts of moral turpitude for conduct that occurred while he was working for that agency. Dunn was fired from that position in 2014. Allegations against Dunn include that he used agency funds for personal travel, that Dunn misrepresented whether there was any opposition to a proposed bill, and that the misleading statements were a breach of fiduciary duty to the Bar.
Board Recommends Disbarment for Former Prosecutor in Drug Lab Scandal: The Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers (BBO) recommended disbarment for former assistant attorney general Anne Kaczmarek. Kaczmarek oversaw the prosecution of Sonja Farak, a state chemist who was prosecuted and convicted in 2014 for personally using drug samples she was supposed to test in a state lab. The BBO found that Kaczmarek misled others in the attorney general’s office in an attempt to contain the damage from Farak’s misconduct and, in doing so, she disregarded the rights of criminal defendants. In a related civil suit in federal court brought by one of those criminal defendants, a judge recently rejected Kaczmarek’s claim of qualified immunity.
South Carolina Supreme Court Takes ‘Unusual Step’ in Issuing Warning to Bar Applicants After Influx of Students Omitting Criminal Information: The South Carolina Supreme Court published an opinion warning law students and bar applicants not to omit criminal backgrounds, including expunged offenses committed as a minor, from their applications to practice law. The court explained that in recent years, a growing number of bar applicants have omitted from law school applications information plainly required to be disclosed, such as expunged juvenile offenses. Such applicants frequently fail to amend their law school applications and the issue of nondisclosure arises again during the bar application process. The court published its decision to admit such an applicant, anonymous in the opinion, to publicize the need for bar applicants to be honest and forthcoming.
Washington Justices Blast Racist Questioning by Prosecutor: The Washington Supreme Court unanimously overturned Joseph Zamora’s conviction for assaulting police officers because of improper remarks the prosecutor made during trial. Although Zamora is a U.S. citizen and the case was unrelated to immigration, the prosecutor repeatedly asked prospective jurors how they felt about illegal immigration and crimes committed by illegal immigrants. The court found that the prosecutor’s questions intentionally appealed to jurors’ racial or ethnic bias, prejudice, or stereotypes and therefore constituted race-based prosecutorial misconduct.
What’s Happening in Sri Lanka and What Comes Next: The president of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has resigned and fled the country after protesters converged on the presidential palace. The country’s economy is nearly bankrupt, food and medicine are scarce, and perceived political corruption has caused mistrust of government. The wealth of the president’s family, which has dominated Sri Lankan politics for decades, has been the subject of public attention. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ investigation into the Pandora Papers included information suggesting that the family had concealed wealth in offshore accounts and properties in other countries.
Ohio Ethics Commission Announces the Top Five Categories for Investigations in 2021: The Ohio Ethics Commission released its 2021 Annual Report. It lists the top five categories for ethics investigations as outside employment and business interests, hiring or supervising family members, securing things of value, gifts, and land use issues. It identifies investigation trends including acting on matters that benefit an outside business or job, nepotism, regulators inspecting their own family’s businesses, and public school district coaches, teachers, board members selling goods or services to the school district.