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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, May 05, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Could Soon Have Good News For Fed Ed

A federal investigation of political corruption in both Allentown and Reading is in high gear. In Allentown alone, three former City officials, and entrepreneur and a high-powered political consultant have all entered guilty pleas. Things look very bad for Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski. Several sources, including his own lawyer, say his indictment is inevitable. But the very same group that brought us Citizens United might very soon throw a legal monkey wrench into what on the surface appears to be an overwhelming case. I'm speaking about the Supreme Court, which is poised to gut "honest services" prosecutions. In the view of The New Yorker, the High Court may soon legalize political corruption.

Last week, the Supreme Court heard an appeal by former Virginia Governor Rob McDonnell. He and his wife were $90,000 in debt and needed money. Wealthy businessman Johnnie R.Williams, CEO of Star Scientific (Star), had developed a dietary supplement made out of tobacco, but wanted to dodge the cost of clinical studies required by the FDA. He could do so if Virginia medical schools conducted those tests.

Williams began to pressure McDonnell, telling him he "needed help" and "needed testing." Not long after that, the Governor's wife asked Williams to take her on a $20,000 shopping spree in Manhattan, and he obliged. She later began telling him about her financial problems, and he helped to the tune of about $175,000. But he made clear that he needed Virginia medical schools to help with testing his product. The Governor did push for testing, and when medical schools would lose interest, he or his wife dunned them  He also wanted to have the product pushed on state employees. But did he take "official action," whatever that might be?

Both were convicted of "honest services" fraud and extortion. McDonnell was sentenced to two years, while his wife got a year. They are both out on bail pending this appeal.

None of the gifts given to the McDonnells was afoul of Virginia law.

According to one account of the oral argument, Justice Kennedy ridiculed the prosecution as "reaching even a janitor who took a bottle of beer for doing some extra cleaning in an office. Justice Breyer said it was so open-ended that no member of Congress could ask any government official to look into the private matter of interest for a political donor."

Though there's no telling what the Supreme Court will decide, it seems very possible that the Court is going to find that "honest services" fraud is too broad. If that happens, that will have a very significant impact on how the indictment is phrased. Bribery and extortion are still very much in pay, but the Supreme Court's decision will impact what charges can be filed.


Anonymous said...

honest services theft is very nebulous. while well-intentioned, it can be so ill-defined you prosecute thought crimes.

Anonymous said...

The U.S. Supreme Court already has a history of taking a dim view of the "honest services" fraud statute. In the famous Enron case, they completely shredded it regarding charges against Jeffrey Skilling. Admittedly that involved a corporate officer rather than a public official, but the Court's sentiment is rather clear about the vagueness of that law.

Anonymous said...

Good post and very interesting. But CU was the right decision, just as Obamacare-as-a-tax was the the right decision. CU also allowed unlimited money from unions. And look what happened. Republican establishment super PACS spent wildly to derail Trump - and failed. Kasich spent something like $160 per vote in the NY primary and Trump spend around $7 each. Hillary has tens of millions and, without super delegates, would be close to losing to a guy who raised equal sums at $27 per average individual donation. If people want big money out of government, they should focus on removing government from big money.

Anonymous said...

It's all flecks fault anyway. Why is his wife not in jail for tax evasion? She signed the paper and she did the taxes and the spending. What kind of deal did fleck make for his wife if he would only wear a wire and walk people into statements that can be seem as implicating?

Ray Nemeth Sr said...

I am not sure this supreme court will affect the Pawlowski case, there is a problem with vagueness in many laws, that allow for selective enforcement on political enemies. It is difficult to link campaign contributions to special favors, even if we know it is a factor. Kickbacks, payoffs, are another matter. I see no way to limit ads and other political speech without limiting the 1st amendment. The citizens united lawsuit overturned McCain Feingold which limited the amount of money that could be given to candidates and third parties, It in effect allowed unlimited money to be contributed to parties, who then would give to favored candidates, It stacked the deck in favor of party endorsed candidates, Jeb bush would now be the republican nominee. The $2700 limit on federal candidates should be eliminated. All contributions should be on line within 48 hours of the contribution. There should no contributions in the last 7 days of an election. I believe that transparency is better than limits on free speech. Let everyone see who is contributing to who and let the voters decide. Campaign money should be regulated so that it can only be used for the political speech, not for ones own use. Hillary is paying herself large sums from campaign contributions. I believe Jesse Jackson Jr went to jail for misuse of campaign contributions. One of the writers above is correct, take the money out of the government, and the vultures will not be circling.

Anonymous said...

This one is for 6:22am, a five hundred dollar campaign CONtribution was made to mayor palumpa to cover up murder in the ACT of another circus sideshow ACT crime?!($ Than there would be ACTs after that fact that were and are criminal to say the least that entail the 5th ammendment to the constitution!? ($ This particular circus sideshow took a collective effort in the public sector ACTors as well as private sctor ACTors too?! ($
This was and is a multifaceted democratical disfunction that has TRANSpired and CONspired this pos entire tenure from begining to end?! ($ This all the while claiming street gangs are the issue when infact the street gang intact is the Notorious Hamilton Street Gang o Thugs colluding to dillude otherwise; hence "Hamilton" being a name of this infamous indictable indictment?! ($ Previous predicessors can and will not be blamed for this one?! ($
Now 622am, go in peace and serve your dark underlords in the bowells of the palumpadome!!!
Republican redd

Anonymous said...

751 PM: might wanna double down on those prozacs...