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.
State Gift Law Map and Summary Table: CEPI’s newest resource is an interactive map and sortable table displaying the types of statutes that govern when a public official may or may not accept a gift. The gift statutes apply to instances where a thing of value is given to an official without a clear quid pro quo and without adequate consideration given in return. They tend to fall into three different categories, which are shown in the map and table: general restrictions, source-based restrictions, and intent-based restrictions. Many states have more than one type of gift restriction. CEPI welcomes any feedback on this new resource. Please contact Marissa Walker at email@example.com with comments or questions.
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.
Houston County Assistant District Attorney Mark David Johnson Indicted for Ethics Charges: Assistant District Attorney for Houston County, Alabama, Mark David Johnson, was indicted on charges of three counts of soliciting anything for the purpose of corruptly influencing official action and three counts of using his official position or office for personal gain. Johnson is accused of using his position to obtain a female companion or escort and to obtain sexual pictures in exchange for influencing official action in the female’s criminal case. This case was brought by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.
Jasper County Health Department Worker Charged with Forgery, Official Misconduct: A Health Department employee in Jasper County, Illinois, Hillary Robertson, was charged with one count of vendor fraud, one count of official misconduct, and one count of forgery. Robertson is accused of creating false records to bill the state for more than $10,000 in work she did not perform. This case was brought by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
Southfield Clerk Resigns Before Trial on Election-Related Charges: Clerk of Southfield, Michigan, Sherikia Hawkins pleaded no contest to misconduct in office and resigned her position. Hawkins was charged in 2019 with violating election law (falsifying returns/records), forgery of a public record, misconduct in office, and three counts of using a computer to commit a crime, all felony charges. When Hawkins entered her plea, the other five charges were dismissed. The charges against Hawkins derive from her attempt to cover up a mistake made during the 2018 election. Election inspectors mistakenly put 193 absentee ballots in the locked ballot container without running them through the ballot tabulator machine. As a result, the count in the tabulator was short 193 when compared with the record of ballots received by the clerk’s office. Hawkins tried to conceal this discrepancy by deleting 193 names from the list of absentee ballots returned. When county election officials opened the locked ballot box, they realized that the count had been altered. This case was brought by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.
Former City Councilor’s Wife Convicted on Three Charges Related to Mayoral Campaign: Laura Seeds, wife of a former Espanola City (New Mexico) Councilor Robert Seeds, was convicted of three additional charges relating to a 2018 election when her husband was running for mayor. In November 2019, Laura Seeds was convicted on five counts of voter fraud for forging signatures on absentee ballot applications. This month, Laura Seeds was tried and convicted on additional related charges of engaging in intimidating conduct during a municipal election, coercing a voter, and disturbing polling places. This case was brought by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office.
Prosecutors: Ex-Richland One Official Took $23,000 in School Funds for Personal Use: A former Richland District One (South Carolina) procurement manager, Travis Antonio Braddy, was indicted on 12 counts related to misusing public funds: one count of misconduct in office, three counts of embezzlement less than $10,000, one count of embezzlement more than $10,000, four counts of use of official position for personal gain, and three counts of forgery. Braddy is accused of misusing state-issued “P-cards” (purchase cards) to make personal purchases totaling over $20,000. Braddy resigned from his position in May 2021 on grounds of insubordination. This case was brought by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office.
Former FBI Agent Found Guilty of Accepting Bribes Paid by Corrupt ‘Lawyer’: Babak Broumand, a former FBI special agent based in California, was found guilty by a jury of one count of conspiracy, two counts of bribery of a public official, and one count of monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity. Evidence presented at trial showed that Broumand accepted cash, checks, private jet flights, a motorcycle, hotel stays, escorts, meals, and other items of value from a lawyer connected to Armenian organized crime in exchange for providing sensitive law enforcement information to that lawyer.
New Details Show Sprawling Web of Corruption in Southern California Cannabis Licensing: Gabriel Chavez, a former San Bernardino County (California) planning commissioner and owner of an internet marketing company, agreed to plead guilty to a one-count information charging him with federal program bribery. Ricardo Pacheco was a member of the City Council for the City of Baldwin Park, California, and previously pleaded guilty pursuant to a recently unsealed plea agreement. Baldwin Park began permitting the sale, cultivation, and manufacture of marijuana within the city limits in 2017. Pacheco exploited his official position to solicit bribe payments from companies seeking marijuana permits in the city. The bribery scheme involved Pacheco requiring the permit-seeking companies to use Chavez’s company as an intermediary providing “consulting” services to the permit seeker. Chavez then split the money paid to his company with Pacheco. California Assemblymember Cristina Garcia has requested that the California Attorney General’s Office create a task force to investigate corruption in local cannabis licensing.
Former City Councilman José Huizar’s Brother Pleads Guilty to Felony: Salvador Huizar, the brother of former Los Angeles (California) City Councilman Jose Huizar, agreed to plead guilty to one count of making false statements to federal investigators. Salvador Huizar admitted that he accepted envelopes of cash from his brother on at least 20 occasions and, in exchange, wrote check or made electronic payments to his brother, directly or indirectly by paying his expenses. Salvador Huizar asked his brother about the source of the cash, but was told it was better if he did not know. Salvador Huizar admitted that he lied to the FBI about the payments. Jose Huizar has been indicted on multiple corruption-related charges. Salvador Huizar testified in a trial against real estate development company Shen Zhen New World I, which was recently convicted of five bribery-related counts and three counts of wire fraud for paying Jose Huizar over $1 million in bribes in exchange for his support of a proposed skyscraper in Los Angeles.
FBI Agent, DC Realtor Convicted of Bribing Federal Official for Confidential Information: David Paitsel, a former FBI agent, and Brian Bailey, a DC-area real estate developer, were found guilty by a jury of bribery and conspiracy. The evidence showed that the developer, Bailey, gave thousands of dollars in bribes to an official from the DC Department of Housing and Community Development in exchange for confidential information about tenants who had a right to purchase their homes and who could assign that right to a third party. The evidence also showed that Bailey paid Paitsel bribes in exchange for researching the contact information for those tenants, which he did using an FBI database. The DC official, Dawne Dorsey, pleaded guilty to a bribery charge in 2019.
Former State Attorney Sentenced to More than 3 Years in Prison: Former Third Circuit (Florida) State Attorney, Jeffrey Siegmeister, was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for conspiracy to use a facility of commerce for unlawful activity, conspiracy to commit extortion, wire fraud, and tax fraud, to which he pleaded guilty in February 2022. Siegmeister was also ordered to forfeit $518,893.30, which were proceeds of wire fraud that Siegmeister committed while serving as voluntary guardian of a now-deceased individual. Siegmeister diverted assets of that individual for Siegmeister’s personal use. The other charges against Siegmeister related to accepting bribes in exchange for performing official acts, such as favorable disposition of charges and delay of official actions.
Former Riviera Beach Housing Authority chairman charged with extortion, accused of kickback payments: Delvin Thomas, former chairman of the Riviera Beach Housing Authority (Florida), was indicted one count of extortion. According to the indictment, while Thomas was the chair, the Housing Authority sought to purchase real estate for low-income housing. Thomas introduced a real estate broker to the person at the Housing Authority who was responsible for the transaction. The broker received a 3% commission on the deal and, after the transaction was completed, Thomas demanded half of that commission. Thomas received the payment through a straw party.
Ex-Atlanta Watershed Commissioner Found Guilty in Bribery Scheme: Jo Ann Macrina, former commissioner of the Atlanta (Georgia) Department of Watershed Management, was found guilty of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery for accepting cash, jewelry, a luxury hotel room in Dubai, and landscaping work at her home from Lohrasb Jafari, who was an executive of a design, engineering, and construction management company. Jafari also discussed possibly hiring Macrina. Macrina did not disclose the gifts on her city financial disclosure statement. In exchange for these benefits, Macrina supported the company that received city contracts worth millions of dollars.
Former Congressional Candidate Sentenced to 2 Years, 6 Months for Misuse of COVID Funds: Nicholas Jones, a former candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Idaho, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and falsification of records. As a small business owner, Jones applied for pandemic relief funds and certified that the funds would be used for business expenses, but Jones spent the funds on car payments, life insurance payments, and his political campaign. When Jones was running as a congressional candidate, he had employees of his small business work on his congressional campaign, paying them in part with pandemic relief funds, but Jones did not report any in-kind contributions to his campaign in the form of employee time and work. Jones was sentenced to 30 months in prison and was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine and $90,564.84 in restitution.
AT&T Charged with Trying to Illegally Influence Ex-Speaker Michael Madigan, Who Now Faces More Conspiracy Charges: Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was charged in a superseding indictment with an additional conspiracy charge based on allegations that Madigan carried out a scheme to receive payments from Illinois Bell Telephone Company, LLC (AT&T) through an associate in exchange for influencing legislation in AT&T’s favor. AT&T entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, admitted the facts alleged in an information, and agreed to pay $23 million to resolve an investigation into its attempts to influence Madigan. The former president of AT&T, Paul La Schiazza, was indicted on charges of one count of conspiracy, one count of corruptly giving something of value to reward a public official, and three counts of using a facility in interstate commerce to promote unlawful activity.
U.S. Labor Official from Bloomfield Admits to Collecting Thousands in OSHA Training Scam: Alvaro Idrovo, a federal official with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging conspiracy to defraud the government. Alvaro Idrovo and his brother, Paul Idrovo, engaged in a scheme where Alvaro Idrovo threatened construction sites in New Jersey with false infractions and suggested they could avoid penalties by taking training courses. Alvaro Idrovo provided contact information and fake names for his brother Paul Idrovo. Paul Idrovo solicited thousands of dollars from contractors in return for certificates even though no training occurred. Paul Idrovo previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
Former Tribal Official Pleads Guilty as Bribery Trial Was Set to Start in Fargo: Randall Jude Phelan, a former tribal government official of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, honest services wire fraud, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. Phelan carried out a years-long bribery scheme in which he received payments from a contractor operating on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota in exchange for Phelan using his official position to help the contractor’s business through official acts including awarding contracts, fabricating bids, advocating for the contractor with other officials, and facilitating submission and payment of fraudulent invoices.
Nashville Club Owner Pleads Guilty in Campaign Finance Case Against State Sen. Brian Kelsey: Joshua Smith, owner of a social club in Nashville, Tennessee, pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting the solicitation, receipt, direction, transfer, and spending of soft money in connection with a federal election. Smith secretly funneled $67,000 of soft money from former state senator Brian Kelsey’s Tennessee State Senate campaign committee to a national political organization that funded advertisements urging voters to support Kelsey in his unsuccessful 2016 federal primary election.
Two Puerto Rican Public Works Officials Sentenced for Accepting Bribes: Ramon Conde-Melendez, former director of public works for Guyana, Puerto Rico, was sentenced to two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. Pedro Marrero-Mirada, former director of public works for Cataño, Puerto Rico, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit federal program bribery. Both officials separately directed asphalt contracts to an asphalt company that paid each official kickbacks based on every square foot of asphalt the company removed. These cases are part of a broader effort by the U.S. Department of Justice to combat municipal corruption in Puerto Rico.
DOJ Announces COVID-19 Fraud Strike Force Teams: The U.S. Department of Justice has created three strike force teams to deter, detect, and disrupt pandemic-relief fraud. The Justice Department has seized over $1.2 billion in relief funds and has charged over 1,500 defendants with pandemic-relief-related crimes. It has performed civil investigations into alleged pandemic-related misconduct involving over 1,800 individuals and entities and more than $6 billion. The strike force teams will operate out of U.S. Attorney’s offices in the Southern District of Florida, the District of Maryland, and the Central and Eastern Districts of California. The Department of Justice also announced multiple new charges, convictions, and sentencings in connection with various pandemic relief programs.
Veolia Exec to Be Deposed Over Alleged Flint Juror Targeting: A class of Flint, Michigan, residents alleges that water contractors should be liable for harm caused by switching Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, which caused lead pipes to corrode and leach lead into the drinking water supply. A first bellwether trial ended in mistrial after jurors reported that their mental and physical health was in danger. Retrial is set for February 2023. A Detroit News article in September reported that Veolia North America, one of the water contractor defendants, “ramped up a digital advertising campaign to push its messaging in late 2021 ahead of jury selection in a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit over the firm’s culpability in Flint’s lead-tainted drinking water crisis.” The trial court is allowing plaintiffs to depose the chief communications officer for Veolia.
Court of Appeals Suspends Embattled Whitehall Judge: In September 2022, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct decided to remove Robert J. Putorti from the bench. Putorti’s removal resulted from him pointing a handgun at a defendant in his court and later bragging about it in racial terms, as well as participating in prohibited fundraising activities. The Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals ordered Putorti suspended with pay while the New York State Court of Appeals considers the Commission’s decision. If the Court of Appeals upholds the decision, Putorti will be permanently barred from serving as a judge in New York.
Judge Is Removed After She Is Accused of Presiding ‘in a Manner Befitting a Game Show Host’: The Ohio Supreme Court indefinitely suspended Cleveland municipal judge, Pinkey Suzanne Carr, from the practice of law and removed her from judicial office without pay. According to the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion, “Carr’s unprecedented misconduct involved more than 100 stipulated incidents that occurred over a period of approximately two years and encompassed repeated acts of dishonesty; the blatant and systematic disregard of due process, the law, court orders and local rules; the disrespectful treatment of court staff and litigants; and the abuse of capias warrants and the court’s contempt power.”
Sanctions for Lawyer’s Plagiarism of Opposing Side’s Motion: In a case where the plaintiff’s lawyer sent a motion in limine to the defendant’s lawyer the evening before the deadline for motions and the defendant’s lawyer filed a motion in limine the next day using word-for-word copied passages from plaintiff’s motion, the trial court found that plagiarism is an ethical violation. Plagiarizing a brief violates the ethical duty of candor to the tribunal (Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 3.3), is a misrepresentation in violation of Rule 8.4(c), and is a disservice to the client in violation of Rule 1.1 (duty of competent representation). The Eastern District of Pennsylvania district court sanctioned the plagiarist and awarded fees and costs to the plaintiff’s counsel.
DA Yvonne Rosales’ Trial to Remove Her from Office Set for March: A jury will decide if Yvonne Rosales, the elected District Attorney for El Paso, Texas, will be removed from office. In August 2022, a criminal defense attorney petitioned to remove Rosales for alleged incompetence and official misconduct. That petition alleged prosecutorial vindictiveness, a decline in family violence prosecutions, dismissal of hundreds of cases, and the handling of a prosecution of a mass shooting. El Paso County Attorney, Jo Anne Bernal, on behalf of the State of Texas, accepted that petition and filed a notice of intent to proceed with the removal trial.
‘Reply All’ in Electronic Communications Can Imply Consent, New ABA Ethics Opinion Says: The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued a formal opinion finding that “[i]n the absence of special circumstances, lawyers who copy their clients on an electronic communication sent to counsel representing another person in the matter impliedly consent to receiving counsel’s ‘reply all’ to the communication.” This ruling relates to the “no contact” rule (Model Rule of Professional Conduct 4.2), which prohibits a lawyer from communicating about the subject of the representation with a represented person absent the consent of that person’s lawyer. This opinion finds that consent of that person’s lawyer may be implied to some extent. If a lawyer sends an email openly copying the client on the email to opposing counsel, that lawyer is implying consent for the opposing counsel to communicate directly with that client by way of a reply-all response.
Chinese Intelligence Officers Charged with Obstructing Huawei Prosecution as DOJ Reveals 2 More Cases of China Interference: Two Chinese intelligence officers, Guochun He and Zheng Wang, have been charged with attempting to obstruct a criminal prosecution of Huawei global telecommunications company. Defendant He is also charged with two counts of money laundering relating to $61,000 in bribe payments made in Bitcoin. The defendants are accused of directing an employee of a U.S. government law enforcement agency to steal confidential information relating to the prosecution of Huawei in exchange for the Bitcoin payments.
British Businessman Charged Over Helping Russian Oligarch Evade U.S. Sanctions: Graham Bonham-Carter, citizen of the United Kingdom, was indicted on charges of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions placed on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, violating those sanctions, and wire fraud. The charges relate to Bonham-Carter allegedly providing services to and for the benefit of Deripaska in connection with real estate and artwork located within the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice will be seeking Bonham-Carter’s extradition. Deripaska was previously charged with U.S. sanctions violations.
NOAA Employee from Michigan Allegedly Concealed Ties to Taiwan to Obtain Security Clearance: Yifei Chu, also known as Philip Chu, was charged with making false statements and falsification of records in a federal investigation. Chu is accused of applying for a detail assignment to the U.S. Embassy in Singapore working for the U.S. Navy Office of Naval Research Global, which requires a “Secret” security clearance. Chu allegedly made several written and oral false statements in applying for the security clearance, including failing to disclose extensive contacts with members of the Taiwanese Navy and failing to disclose that a Taiwanese company had hired him to provide consulting services on a classified Taiwanese Navy project. Chu also concealed that he is still a citizen of Taiwan.
How Russia’s War in Ukraine Helped the FBI Crack One of the Biggest Cybercrime Cases in Years: Mark Sokolovsky, a citizen of Ukraine, was indicted on charges of one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and related activity in connection with computers; one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; and one count of aggravated identity theft. Sokolovsky allegedly operated an illegal malware business known as Raccoon Infostealer, which is a malware-as-a-service or “MaaS.” Programmers who develop MaaS programs do not directly steal people’s sensitive information themselves, but they license the malware to other cybercriminals who use it to steal information and money. Like other software companies, Raccoon Infostealer offered customer support, issued software updates, and retained a copy of all the stolen information. Sokolovsky resided in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine before Russian forces invaded. When the Russian invasion began, Sokolovsky fled to Europe and was arrested in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The FBI and law enforcement partners in Italy and the Netherlands have dismantled the digital infrastructure supporting Raccoon Infostealer. The FBI has identified more than 50 million unique credentials and forms of identification in the stolen data from potentially millions of victims. Potential victims of Raccoon Infostealer can find more information at www.justice.gov/usao-wdtx/victim-assistance-raccoon-infostealer and can check to see if a specific email address has been compromised at https://raccoon.ic3.gov/home.
Supreme Court Clears Way for Graham Testimony in Georgia: The United States Supreme Court determined that United States Senator Lindsey Graham could not quash a subpoena compelling his testimony before a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, relating to phone calls that Graham made to Georgia election officials regarding the results of the 2020 presidential election. While the Court recognized that the Constitution’s speech or debate clause would prohibit questions about his legislative activities, the clause did not justify quashing the subpoena completely.
SDNY Forms Committee to Help Get Innocent People Out of Prison: The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is forming a new committee to correct wrongful convictions in cases brought by that office and in other jurisdictions by providing assistance and access to information from SDNY cases that may bear on innocence of defendants. Cooperating witnesses are often required to reveal all information about any crimes known to that witness, regardless of any connection to that witness’s underlying case. Through lengthy investigations, authorities learn a great deal of information about a broad range of criminal cases, including learning about defendants who may have been convicted of crimes they did not commit. The new committee institutionalizes the existing practice of supporting credible claims of factual innocence.
Denial of Records Is Improper If Court Action Is Not Active for Further Litigation: The North Dakota Attorney General issued an opinion relating to the open records law. The question presented was whether Pelican Township violated the open records law when it denied a request for records citing pending litigation. The opinion found that although the request concerned meetings that led to civil litigation, there was no issue remaining for a court to review and no appeal or remand pending. Therefore, Pelican Township violated the open records law and improperly denied the request.
FinCEN Renews and Expands Real Estate Geographic Targeting Orders: The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced renewal and expansion of its Geographic Targeting Order (GTO) that require U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies used in non-financed purchases of residential real estate in certain counties within specific U.S. metropolitan areas. Those areas include Boston; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Miami; New York City; San Antonio; San Diego; San Francisco; Seattle, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Northern Virginia (DMV) area; the City and County of Baltimore, the County of Fairfield, Connecticut, and the Hawaiian islands of Honolulu, Maui, Hawaii, and Kauai. FinCEN newly expanded coverage to the Texas cities of Houston and Laredo.