The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute
CEPI Newsletter June 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.
Former Department of Public Health Employee Indicted on Ethics Charges: The Alabama Attorney General’s Office has charged a former Alabama Department of Health employee with soliciting or receiving a job from a business that he previously directly regulated and with requesting or accepting something of value as a regulatory body employee. Freddie V. Vengrouskie faces two to twenty years in prison and a substantial fine on each count.
Former Scottsdale Schools CFO Indicted on Felony Charges: Former Chief Financial Officers for the Scottsdale Unified School District, Laura Tenison Smith, has been charged by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office with violating the state’s conflict of interest laws. Smith is alleged to have approved purchase and charge orders between the school district she oversaw and a consulting company she and her sister controlled.
Arizona Attorney General Indicts Former Cottonwood Employee: Former Cottonwood, Arizona, city employee Hans Burnett has been indicted for allegedly forging drinking water bacteria test results to falsely reflect that the water was negative for coliform bacteria. While that bacteria does not, itself, pose an immediate risk to the public’s health, it is an indication of the water condition.
4 Officers from Local Police Departments Facing Charges: The New York Attorney General’s Office has charged Leslie Klein, Chief of the Galway Police Department; Mark LaViolette, a Sergeant in the Galway Police Department; David Goodwin, a Sergeant in the Galway Police Department; and Mark Kirker, a Deputy in the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office with falsifying documents to reflect that officers completed training that they had not, in fact, completed. The complaint describes the charges in more detail.
Former Oklahoma Police Pension Executive Facing Six Charges: The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has charged the former executive director of the Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System, Steven Snyder, with filing false claims against the state and violating the state’s Computer Crimes Act. Snyder is alleged to have, among other things, improperly requested reimbursement for personal travel.
Former State Lawmaker Pleads Guilty to Doling Favors for Bribes: Former Arkansas state legislator and county judge Hank Wilkins has pled guilty to accepting more than $80,000 in bribes. These charges, which follow similar charges to which he pled guilty in February, reflect his participation in schemes to steer Arkansas General Improvement Funds (GIF) to certain co-conspirators and to filing and voting for legislation in exchange for bribes. While it does not appear that Wilkins conspired directly with former state senator Jon Woods, whose case is profiled below, both exploited weaknesses in the state GIF grant system. The investigation that resulted in Wilkins’s conviction has shone a spotlight on letters that he and other legislators wrote in support of entities seeking GIF funds from state coffers and has also resulted in a guilty plea by a lobbyist, Milton Russell Cranford, who conspired with him.
Ex-Arkansas Legislator, Consultant Found Guilty on Multiple Counts in Kickback Trial: Former Arkansas State Senator Jon Woods was found guilty of 15 of 17 federal counts he faced in connection with schemes to direct state GIF moneys to nonprofits who provided him with kickbacks. One scheme involved funneling money obtained from taxing marijuana to a small “work college” in the state; that college’s president pled guilty to charges related to his role in a kickback scheme. Political consultant Randell Shelton Jr., who was tried alongside Woods, was also convicted of 12 of the 15 federal counts with which he was charged.
College Lecturer Pleads Guilty to Selling Fake Certificates: Mamdouh Abdel-Sayed, a tenured college lecturer at Medgar Evers College in New York pled guilty to wire fraud for selling students bogus course-completion certificates. Abdel-Sayed also taught unauthorized healthcare classes on the evenings or weekends, for which he charged students up to $1,000 for certificates of completion—money that he pocketed. The college discovered that Abdel-Sayed was offering unauthorized classes in 2015 and ordered him to stop; he did not, and the state inspector general sent in two undercover “students” in 2017 who attended his classes and purchased his certificates. When Abdel-Sayed learned he was under investigation, he provided one of those “students” with a rather different sort of instruction: the lecturer told his erstwhile student to “take the Fifth” if authorities questioned him.
Judge Pleads Guilty To Scheming To Plant Drugs: Former Tennessee judge Cason Moreland pled guilty to federal charges of obstruction of justice and theft in connection with his scheme to plant drugs on a woman after he was investigated for helping her with her legal issues in exchange for sex. Moreland is scheduled to be sentenced in August.
Raising the Bar: Ethical Problems and Possible Solutions in District Attorney Campaign Fundraising: Columbia Law School’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity has posted the video of its conference exploring potential ethics issues posed by campaign donations accepted by district attorneys.
Judge Theresa Brennan Removed From All Cases "Immediately and Until Further Notice”: The chief judge in Livingston County, Michigan, has removed County District Court Judge Theresa Brennan from hearing any cases after the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission filed a wide-ranging complaint accusing Brennan of misconduct. One allegation references Brennan’s alleged affair with the lead investigator in a murder trial over which she presided. Brennan had already been removed from hearing from a divorce case by the Michigan Court of Appeals after it found her behavior “egregious" and said she showed "apparent hostility" towards the female defendant in a divorce case.
NJ Judge Faces Ethics Charges Over Handling of Children's School Expulsion: In a case that is notable because it appears to involve only behavior off the bench, a New Jersey judge is facing ethics charges because of the actions she took after her daughters were expelled from their parochial school. The New Jersey Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct filed a complaint against Union County Superior Court Judge Theresa Mullen regarding her response to the decision by her daughters’ school to expel them after Mullen and her husband sued over the school’s refusal to let one of her daughters play on the boy’s basketball team after the girls’ team was discontinued. Mullen’s actions allegedly included “bullying, rudeness, intimidation, and harassment” of other families; her refusal to appear for a deposition (and, when she finally did, her refusal to answer most of the questions she was asked); and trespass on the grounds of the school.
Defense and Civil Attorneys
Lawyer Plotted to Get Killer Released, Cash in on Lawsuit: Queens, New York, criminal defense attorney Scott Brettschneider has been charged with a scheme to pay a witness to a murder falsely recant his testimony as part of an effort to cause a defendant to be released from prison so Brettschneider could file a bogus wrongful-prosecution lawsuit claiming the man was actually innocent. The investigation included a wiretap, over which Brettschneider and his co-conspirators discussed the instructions to give to the “recanting” witness to make him sound more credible, the plan to tell the defendant whose exoneration they intended to seek that he would have access to the false recantation only if he hired Brettschneider’s firm, and their expectation that the false exoneration would result in a payout of $22 million. Brettschneider was already facing other federal charges that stemmed from his alleged fabrication of a client’s drug problem in an effort to obtain that client’s early release from prison.
Prominent Dallas Attorney Appeals Sanction Over “Push Poll” to Texas Supreme Court: Dallas, Texas, attorney William Brewer III has appealed a $177,000 sanction imposed by a state district court judge who concluded Brewer engaged in an abusive litigation tactic by using a so-called “push poll.” The poll was “designed to influence or alter their opinions or attitude of the person being polled,” the judge found, and targeted trial witnesses, the parties, and potential jurors in an effort to sway the outcome of a product liability trial in which Brewer represented the defendant. An intermediate court of appeals affirmed the trial judge, and Brewer has appealed its decision to the Texas Supreme Court. (The lower courts’ decisions are included in the appendix to Brewer’s appeal.)
Best Practices for a “Database of Deals”: The Global Anticorruption Blog suggests that corruption could be reduced if states obtained data about companies that receive money from state governments and provided it to the public in a searchable “database of deals.” The author notes that this information is already available in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin, and has been considered as part of legislative packages in New York.
Corruption is Bad: A New Proposal Would Actually Do Something About It: An incoming Federal Trade Commission commissioner, Rohit Chopra, has written a paper proposing the creation of a new Public Integrity Protection Agency, or PIPA, which would be somewhat analogous to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—but with corruption prevention and anticorruption enforcement rather than consumer safety as its mandate. One goal of PIPA would be to consolidate anticorruption regulatory and enforcement powers in one agency, rather than have those powers spread out among a variety of inspectors general with oversight over only certain federal government bodies.
TRAC at Syracuse University Reports Reduction in Federal White Collar and Corruption Prosecutions: Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Clearinghouse reports that white-collar crime prosecutions at the federal level are at a 20-year low. Official corruption prosecutions are down nearly fifty percent from five years ago, and convictions have seen a similar decline. Bloomberg has an analysis of the data.
An Amazing Database: DIGIWHIST Strikes Again: The latest version of a European Union-funded digital whistleblowing project—DIGIWHIST for short—has recently been released by the European Public Accountability Mechanisms. That data set includes political financing, disclosure of officials’ finances, and information about public procurement in 34 European states plus the EU—including a compilation of the relevant laws in each area.
Spotlight on Beneficial Ownership: In a debate that echoes and perhaps presages conversations about efforts in the United States to provide for greater beneficial ownership transparency, writers in the FCPA Blog and the Global Anticorruption Blog debate the utility and wisdom of recent UK legislation that will, in the words of one, “make it harder for corruption officials to hide money offshore.” A lawyer who practices in the British Virgin Islands decries the new laws, and a retired World Bank attorney and current Harvard Law School professor argue in support of them.
How Corruption Slows Disaster Recovery: Public Radio International looks at recovery from last fall’s hurricanes in Sint Maarten and Puerto Rico, and Haiti’s experience after the 2010 earthquake, in describing how corruption can prevent generous aid from reaching its intended beneficiaries in the wake of natural disasters.
The Aftermath of the Senator Menendez Trial and Implications for Bribery Cases: What Comes Next?: Our friends at the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity break down the mistrial and subsequent dismissal of federal charges against Senator Robert Menendez, and note that the judge overseeing the case concluded that the “stream of benefits” theory of bribery survived the McDonnell decision.
Is 54 Months of Prison for Former Md. Delegate Will Campos Enough to Prevent Other Politicians From Taking Bribes?: An opinion piece in the Washington Post—which includes some of the pointed questions by the judge who sentenced former Prince George’s County, Maryland, City Council member William Campos to 54 months in federal prison—considers the deterrence effect of the relatively lengthy sentence imposed for Campos’s bribery scheme.
GDPR Implications for the Whistleblowing Process: The FCPA Blog published a piece about the potential implications for whistleblowers that may be posed by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, a privacy law that carries stiff penalties (including on purely American companies and institutions) for noncompliance. (For a description of the regulation and its requirements, see GDPR Is Here—What If You Didn’t Prepare?)
The Threat to Central America’s Prosecutors: The Economist discusses threats to prosecutors in Central America—particularly Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—who pursue allegations of corruption against other politicians.
Will France Expand the Scope and Reach of Its Anti-Corruption Agency?: France is considering strengthening its Agence Française Anticorruption (AFA) to provide it with, inter alia, more robust powers to cooperate with foreign regulators on investigations involving corruption.
UK Serious Fraud Office Told Not to Take “No” for an Answer When Attempting to Obtain First Account Interview Notes to Ensure Fair Trial for Individuals: The UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was criticized in an English High Court opinion about the SFO’s decision not to challenge a company’s refusal to provide interview notes of company employees for the purposes of parallel criminal proceedings against those employees. A description of the case by a law firm solicitor-advocate describes the case as follows: The SFO had a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the company, which compelled the company to cooperate fully with the SFO in the investigation and prosecution of employees in relation to the conduct underlying the DPA. Citing English precedent, the High Court concluded that (1) litigation privilege did not apply to the interview notes; (2) the SFO did not consider that any existing privilege may not have been waived; and—even more broadly—(3) if the SFO knows that material relevant to the prosecution of an individual is held by a third party who refuses disclosure, the SFO is required to apply to the Crown Court for an order compelling that third party to disclose the material.
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.