Honest Services Fraud Statute Diminished by Supreme Court Ruling

The public corruption statute, which has been used by the federal government to prosecute lobbyists in the JackScales of justiceAbramoff case (among myriad other bribery and kickback cases), was narrowed in definition by the Supreme Court on June 24.

The decision, according to Roll Call, “limit[s] the use of a public corruption statute known as the ‘honest services’ law to only those cases involving bribery or kickback schemes.”  The Court decided on three separate cases: Skilling v. United States, Black v. United States, and Weyhrauch v. United States. According to Covington & Burling, a DC law firm, the fraud statute is now “co-extensive with existing bribery and kickback statutes, meaning that the Government will need to prove that gifts, political contributions, or other things of value were provided to federal officials as a quid pro quo for specific official acts.”

Judge Ellen Huvelle, US District Court for the District of Columbia, ordered the re-trial of former Abramoff associate Kevin Ring to be delayed until October, citing the Supreme Court decision in Skilling as narrowing the scope of the applicable statute under which Ring was charged.  But the Department of Justice isn’t changing their approach to prosecuting Ring, who was mis-tried in the fall and re-scheduled for trial this summer.  Ring’s prosecution is for a bribery scheme. Federal prosecutor Peter Koski said the high court’s ruling in Skilling v. United States has “no impact whatsoever” on Ring’s prosecution.

Because the prosecutor must now prove specific quid pro quo actions in order to correctly use the Honest Services Fraud statute, Huvelle told prosecutors that they must outline specific official actions and their intended outcomes in the next few weeks; she also ordered Ring’s attorneys to file a new motion to acquit.

Roll Call article is here; Covington & Burling update is here. (PDF)  See our previous post on Skilling, et. al, here.

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