Leonardo Angiulo: A Good Day for FBI, A Bad Day for Politicians
Monday, March 31, 2014
The three cases involve local politicians in North Carolina, California, and Rhode Island. Each one made national news for a minute, but considering the significance of federal agents raiding statehouses and legislators allegedly trafficking firearms, a more involved review may be warranted. To be certain, none of the parties involved have been convicted so any accounts in the public realm at this point are mere accusations. That being said, they are some pretty heavy allegations.
Similar cases making headlines
Take State Senator Leland Lin Yee of California for example. According to a press release issued by the San Francisco FBI office on March 26, 2014 that gentleman is accused of conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms as well as involvement in a scheme to defraud citizens of honest services. According to the same FBI press release, some of the allegations in that case include Senator Yee offering to make phone calls and write a letter of support for an undercover officer's state contract bid in exchange for campaign donations.
Similarly, the case of Charlotte, North Carolina Mayor Patrick DeAngelo Cannon involves allegations of theft and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, honest services wire fraud, and extortion under color of official right. According to the March 26, 2014 press release of the FBI's Charlotte Division that city's mayor is accused of an American Hustle-ish set of circumstances. Namely, the mayor allegedly accepted cash and other things of value and, in return, used his official position to benefit a commercial developer to do business in Charlotte. The developer, however, turned out to be an undercover federal agent.
Interestingly, federal agents and state police also stormed the Rhode Island State House on Friday March 21, 2014 and, according to GoLocal reports, seized records after entering the office of the speaker of the state house of representatives. When asked, the Federal Prosecutors' limited explanation for their actions include the service of federal search warrants. As of the time of this writing, neither the United States Attorney's Office for Rhode Island nor the Boston office of the FBI had issued any press releases on the topic.
Honest services fraud
Honest services violations under Federal Law are specifically implicated in two of the three circumstances discussed above and the press release about Senator Yee cites two specific statutes in alleging “Scheme to Defraud Citizens of Honest Services.” The first is 18 USC §1343 and the language of that code section criminalizes the transmission of any interstate or foreign communication to execute a “scheme or artifice to defraud.” The second statute is http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2010-title18/pdf/USCODE-2010-title18-partI-chap63-sec1346.pdf " target="_blank">18 USC §1346 that defines “scheme or artifice to defraud” as any “scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.” One logical interpretation of these statutes is that using the powers of a public office to secure personal financial benefit, through actions like kickbacks or bribes, is criminalized by these laws.
The scope of this honest services fraud statute, along with other issues, was tested in 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court case of Skilling v. United States. In that case, the “honest services” language had been used to prosecute Mr. Jeffrey Skilling for his involvement in the failure of the Enron Corporation. Specifically, as quoted on page 3 of that case, the indictment contended Mr. Skilling and his co-conspirators “enriched themselves . . . through salary, bonuses . . . other profits, and prestige” while making false public statements about the vitality of the corporation resulting in shareholders and members of the public from being denied honest services. To roughly break that down, they charged him with puffing up the value of corporate stock and pocketing the benefit.
When the Supreme Court reviewed the case, they declined to extend the statute to cover the described behavior. In doing so, the Supreme Court also gave an interesting explanation for how the statute came to be including an examination of mail fraud during the 1800's. In the end, the Court chose to focus the term “honest services” to mean at least those circumstances involving bribery and kickback schemes. Since Mr. Skilling was not alleged to have accepted or solicited side payments in exchange for making misrepresentations the court decided he did not commit honest services fraud. In short, it's not the lie or the fraud that is the problem. It's the making money on the side that does it.
Returning to the recent national events, the broad scope of action focused on elected officials within a short period of time raises some big picture questions about the health and sovereignty of our local, state and Federal Governments. I'll leave that for someone else to answer. For the purposes of this column, the limited question of what may have prompted federal action in North Carolina and California is answered with an evaluation of relevant statutes and precedent. What happened in Providence, on the other hand, is yet to be seen.
Related Slideshow: 16 Questions for President Obama
With the announcement that President Barack Obama will be giving the commencement address at Worcester Technical High School's graduation in June, GoLocal asked elected officials and community leaders in Worcester if they had the opportunity to ask the President one question -- what would it be, and why?
"Mr. President, you're here to highlight a successful vocational tech high school -- what can you do as President to lead to more voc-tech opportunities for students across the country, and help bring the resources to help make that happen?"
"Mr. President, Democratic and Republican Senators and Congressman describe you as aloof and dis-engaged, more interested in "The View" than in their views. Are you aloof and disengaged?
Why: "The reason for the question is to challenge the President to become more engaged with the legislative branch. If he did so, he could forestall his inevitable slide toward lame-duck status."
Tom Finneran, Former Massachusetts Speaker of the House of Representatives
“What is the role of the Federal government in building an educated citizenry?”
Why: "As states and school districts debate the adoption of national standards in K-12 education, the responsibilities, resources, and powers of the Federal government in the field of education have been challenged. While restricted from direct involvement in student curriculum since the 1960s, the Federal government includes a U.S. Department of Education and plays a critical role in coordinating and funding educational policy. In the President of the United States’ view, what are, and what should be, the limits of Federal jurisdiction in public education?"
Tim McGourthy, Greater Worcester Research Bureau Executive Director
"I don't have an ask, it's more of a statement, and it goes towards creating policy for our public schools. If the President is asking cities and states having to do whatever to conform to education standards, see how it will be funded first, then create policy. I would broach that respectfully."
Tony Economou, Worcester City Councilor
"I would want to ask him why is he supporting Common Core and National standards, doesn't he think the local school boards know whats best for our children and their schools?"
Why: "As a single mom whose daughter is enrolled in WPS, I am very concerned about common core and the deviation from local control into federal hands."
Carol Claros, Nurse, Former Republican Candidate for State Representative
Jordan Berg Powers
"Why are your pushing the same failed education policies of the Bush Administration with a focus on privatization and meaningless bubble tests instead of focusing on the skills that will enable our kids to create their job of the future?"
Why: "Worcester Tech is both the best and worst parts of our education system. It shows that providing quality education is not rocket science, schools need to be well resourced, they need to be fun, relevant to what the kids themselves believe will be their future plans. And Worcester Tech is an elitist institution that fails the promise of universal quality public education that should be available to all."
Jordan Berg Powers, Worcester activist
The Girls' Inc CEO, one of GoLocal's "14 to Watch in 2014," opted to let girls in the program ask their own quetions instead. Here is what Waterman reported for what they wanted to know:
Why is the United States in so much debt?
Do you ever wake up scared that something will happen to your family because you’re the President of the USA?
Why are you sending troops across the sea if it has nothing to do with us or is going to affect our country?
Why are people in debt and what will you do to help them?
What is your life like? Is it fun? Is it tiring?
Is being a president stressful?
Who inspired you to be what you are now?
What inspired you to be the president of the United States?
What middle school did you go to?
What do you like to do in the White House?
How do you sleep at night with everything you have to worry about?
Why did you run for President?
Do you like classical music?
Who do you want your pastry chef to be?
Can you convince my mom to give me an Ipod or a Pandora bracelet?
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