The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute
CEPI Newsletter April 2018
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 or affirm any position taken by the authors of the hyperlinked articles.
Conecuh County Commissioner Indicted on 6 Felony Drug Counts: Conecuh County, Alabama, Commissioner Johnny Andrews has been charged in an indictment that alleges he sold marijuana on six different occasions in the county where he served as a commissioner. Andrews was charged by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.
Attorney General’s Office Reviewing Request for Investigation into Corruption in Denver’s Public Safety Department: The Colorado Attorney General’s Office is reviewing a request by the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police for an investigation into alleged corruption in Denver’s police and sheriff’s department. The request appears to arise out of a scandal engulfing Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who allegedly sent sexually harassing text messages to a police detective assigned to his security detail.
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office has charged a now-former state judge with stealing over $433,000 in cash over seven years. Marjorie O’Brien allegedly used her position as a probate judge to steal funds that had been provided to satisfy various violations, obtain licenses—include to hunt and to marry—and for court filing fees. She faces two racketeering counts and over eighty separate counts of theft by taking.
State, FBI Investigating 'Public Corruption, Misappropriation' Allegations at OHA: In partnership with the FBI, the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office is investigating allegations of public corruption and misappropriation of funds at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). OHA’s trustees are debating the fate of the office’s CEO, Kamanao Crabbe.
State to Appeal Ruling on Former Munster Administrators Accused of Improperly Collecting $841K: A state trial judge has ruled that the statute of limitations will prevent the state from recovering the bulk of over $841,000 in overpayments to a former superintendent and former assistant superintendent who were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over what had been agreed to in their contracts. The Indiana Attorney General’s Office has indicated that it plans to appeal the ruling.
Phony Grant Writer Admits $200,000-Plus Scam of Buffalo Churches, Nonprofits: A Buffalo, New York woman faces up to 15 years in prison for scamming churches and nonprofit groups out of more than $200,000. Christina Sanford Gordon, who misrepresented herself as a grant writer and fundraiser, was paid “application fees” for grants, which she then spent on beauty treatments, cruises, jewelry, and apparel. Gordon will be sentenced to between 7 ½ and 15 years in prison, and will be ordered to pay restitution. The New York Attorney General’s Office prosecuted this case and a related civil suit that resulted in Gordon agreeing not to own or operate any business in New York.
Ex-Memphis Police Chief Facing 25 Felonies: Seven current and former police officers have been charged by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office with falsifying paperwork in connection with a scheme involving salvage vehicles. One of the defendants, Elena Danishevskaya, was a police chief in at least two towns earlier in her career. The FBI’s Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force and the Secretary of State’s Office partnered with the attorney general’s office in conducting the investigation.
St. Louis Judge Rejects Three Requests By Greitens’ Legal Team: A judge in St. Louis has denied requests by Missouri Governor Eric Greitens to dismiss his indictment, have a bench trial, and disqualify a special assistant prosecutor—a Harvard Law Professor brought in by the local prosecutors who are trying the case.
AG Shapiro Announces Charges Against Bedford County District Attorney: Now-former Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins has been charged in a lengthy indictment with obstruction, official oppression, reckless endangerment, victim/witness intimidation, and hindering prosecution. Higgins allegedly traded the powers of his office for sexual favors, and then told several female drug dealers to lie about the sexual relationship he had with them and information he provided them about investigations. Higgins also pressured a probation office not to issue a violation of probation after one female drug dealer within whom he had a relationship was arrested in a different county, and refused to approve a search warrant for which there was probable cause because it was for the house of a female drug dealer with whom he had a relationship. As that woman later told a grand jury, Higgins told her that he ad “saved her @§§.” The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office brought the case.
Ex-Top Aide to Paul Broun Guilty of Obstructing Congressional Probe: Federal prosecutors convicted a former aide to Georgia U.S. Representative Paul Broun of obstructing a congressional investigation into Broun’s campaign finances. David Bowser, who resigned his position as the top aide to California U.S. Representative Mimi Walters, was convicted of three counts of making false states, one count of obstruction, and one count of concealing material facts. Among other things, Bowser told a former strategist and debate coach who worked with Broun that he should lie to the Office of Congressional Ethics about his role in Broun’s campaign.
U.S. Attorney Announces New Public Integrity Special Investigations Unit: The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia has announced the formation of a new unit that will be charged with investigating political corruption, misuse of public money, and violations of campaign and election laws. That office has also launched an online tool to allow members of the public to report suspected corruption.
Westmoreland Officials Ask State Lawmakers to Impeach Sheriff: Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, County Commissioners have asked state lawmakers to impeach Sheriff Jonathan Held. Held faces criminal charges filed by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office that allege he forced his staff to perform campaign and political chores while they were on duty; he also faces a handful of civil lawsuits filed by members of his staff. A search warrant was executed at Held’s courthouse office, and the investigation into the full scope of his behavior is, according to the attorney general, continuing.
Nathaniel Oaks is the Latest Maryland Politician to Be Convicted. Is Enough Being Done to Prevent Corruption?: Former Baltimore Senator Nathaniel Oaks pled guilty to federal corruption charges hours after he resigned from the state senate. Oaks, who was convicted of perjury, misconduct, and of stealing from his campaign in 1989, admitted he accepted bribes in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Oaks also admitted that he tipped of the target of an investigation in which he had agreed to assist prosecutors after being confronted about his bribery scheme. Oaks’s attempts to argue that McDonnell applied to his case were unsuccessful.
Recent NPAs Set ‘Troubling Precedent’: The Global Investigations Review (GIR) argues that recent federal non-prosecution agreements (NPAs) in which defendants were not required to admit to any criminal liability are “troubling” because they undermine goals of criminal accountability. GIR argues that if a company committed crimes, it should be required to admit them in connection with an NPA; if the government cannot prove that the company committed crimes, it should dismiss the case rather than requiring the company to consent to an NPA. In at least one recent “neither admit nor deny” NPA, McDonnell concerns allegedly animated federal prosecutors willingness to agree that a company not be required to admit criminal wrongdoing.
Star Witness at Skelos Trial Broke Non-Prosecution Deal, Attorneys Charge: Attorneys representing former New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his co-defendant son have alleged that a prosecution witness violated the terms of a non-prosecution agreement that required him to commit no additional crimes. They cite a decision by the state Department of Financial Services (DFS) to strip Anthony Bonomo of his authority to run the state’s second-largest medical malpractice insurance firm. The attorneys request the court issue a subpoena so they can obtain documents from DFS before the Skeloses’ June retrial, which was set after the Second Circuit reversed his conviction on McDonnell grounds.
Slip-Up Almost Keeps Key Government Witness Off Stand in AT&T Trial: In a federal case brought by the government to stop AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner, a judge considered preventing one of the U.S. Department of Justice’s witnesses from testifying. The witness’s lawyer had provided him with a transcript of opening statements and another witness’s testimony. When the government learned about the disclosure, it reported it to the judge. The judge allowed the witness to testify, but warned that other violations would result in witnesses not being permitted to testify and their attorneys potentially being held in contempt.
Plaintiffs’ Firms Held In Contempt Over OT Rule Suit Targeting Chipotle: A federal judge in Texas found four attorneys and their local counsel in contempt for ignoring his November 2016 ruling enjoining the Obama administration’s update to overtime pay standards under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The firm, the judge wrote, “repeatedly and summarily dismissed the injunction’s bearing on them and on their clients,” as they were clearly aware of the injunction when they filed a proposed class and collective action in New Jersey federal court that argued that the overtime rule was still in force. The decision is notable in that it also holds in contempt associates who “had no decision-making authority in bringing” the case in New Jersey, writing “[a]fter three years of law school and eight to thirty-five years of practice, a lawyer should know that signing his or her name to a document has consequences.”
Dead Lawyer's Family to Appeal Prosecutor Immunity Ruling: A federal district judge has ruled that a prosecutor was not required to answer questions about his decision-making process in concluding that there was insufficient evidence of murder. Danbury, Connecticut State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III invoked executive privilege during a deposition held in connection with a lawsuit filed by family members of Gugsa Dabela, who was found fatally shot in his head in his wrecked Mercedes in April 2014. A medical examiner and Sedensky both concluded that the death was a suicide; Dabela’s family members sued police, arguing that they did not investigate the case properly because Dabela was black.
Federal Appeals Court Upholds Dismissal of MacIver Suit Over John Doe II Probe: In a 21-page decision, the Seventh Circuit affirmed a federal district court’s finding that Wisconsin state prosecutors were entitled to immunity in a civil suit that alleged they improperly obtained search warrants under the Stored Communications Act during “John Doe” proceedings. (John Doe proceedings are similar to grand jury investigations, but conducted before a judge instead of a body of grand jurors; during the relevant time, that judge also had authority to permit prosecutors to issue search warrants in connection with the investigation.) Counsel for the targets of that investigation filed a civil suit against prosecutors and investigators that argued that the judge did not have jurisdiction to issue the search warrant; in dismissing the case, the Circuit observed that “[p]rosecutors should not be vulnerable to lawsuits every time they lose in court.”
Ethics Board Deals Record Fine to Former DA For Abusing Office During Campaign: Former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes has been fined after admitting that he abused his government email during his unsuccessful bid for reelection in 2013. Hynes sent more than 5,000 emails from his district attorney’s office email address to “newspapers, campaign managers, political consultants, donors, allies, employees and a New York State Supreme Court judge.” Hynes was fined $40,000; four of his employees, one of whom still works for the office, were fined between $1,000 and $6,000.
Lawyer Reprimanded for Explicit and Demeaning Comments, Including Calling Prosecutor 'Kurvacious': A criminal defense attorney in Delaware has been ordered to take a professionalism course and reprimanded for making sexually explicit, anti-Semitic, and rude remarks to prosecutors and suggesting a former client who filed a disciplinary complaint against him was a “nutball.”
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Customer Due Diligence Requirements for Financial Institutions: The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCen) has published FAQs addressing questions about bank and other financial institutions’ customer due diligence requirements. The guidance may be useful for prosecutors as it reflects some of the information that banks are obligated to collect, and thus might be available to obtain in the course of an investigation.
Peruvian President Kuczynski Resigns Amid Corruption Scandal: Peru President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has resigned from office amid revelations that he lobbied for Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction firm targeted in Operation Carwash. Kuczynski was not yet president when he provided “‘verbal’ products and ‘contacts’” to the firm in return for nearly $700,000, but his positions as prime minister and economy minister raised concerns about conflicts of interest and influence-peddling. The resignation also came amid a videotape of one of his allies in congress appearing to offer kickbacks on public works to other politicians in return for voting against impeachment.
Nicolas Sarkozy: France's Ex-President to Face Corruption Trial: Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy will be tried for corruption and influence peddling related to his alleged attempt to induce a judge to reveal information about a 2007 investigation. That investigation was into whether Sarkozy’s campaign had been illegally funded with cash from a L’Oreal heiress; while the former president was not prosecuted for the campaign finance issue, his attempt to obtain information from the judge was captured on wiretaps. Sarkozy’s lawyer and the judge will also be tried in that case. Sarkozy also faces a second criminal case in which he is accused of receiving funding from the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi; a third alleges that he engaged in accounting fraud to exceed the limit for campaign expenditures in his failed 2012 reelection attempt.
The Missing Piece in UK’s Unexplained Wealth Order Mechanism: The Global Anticorruption Blog discusses the United Kingdom’s Criminal Finances Act, a recently-enacted law that permits the government to seek an “Unexplained Wealth Order” (UWO) to obtain information necessary to forfeit property that appears to have been purchased with ill-gotten gains. The UWO applies if (1) there are reasonable grounds to believe a target owns property worth more than 50,000 pounds; (2) the target is a “politically exposed person,” involved in a serious crime, or connected to someone who has been involved in a serious crime; and (3) the target’s lawfully-obtained income is not sufficient to obtain the property. If the government shows reasonable grounds to believe that all three of these conditions are true, the high court may issue an order requiring the target to provide information about his interests in the property and how he lawfully obtained the property. If he does not provide a reasonable explanation, the UK government can seek to forfeit that property.
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.