Supreme Court Makes It Harder to Prosecute Corrupt Officials

While Williams never got the funding for the medical tests he so desired, it didn't stop Gov. McDonnell from going out of his way to promote the product to health officials and others. Perhaps it wasn't the result he wanted, but no one can say that Williams' gifts gave him no influence over McDonnell whatsoever:

“The gifts included nearly $20,000 in designer clothing and accessories for McDonnell’s wife, a $6,500 engraved Rolex watch, $15,000 in catering for their daughter’s wedding, and free family vacations and golf trips for their boys. Williams also provided three loans totaling $120,000.

As the gifts came in, McDonnell helped set up meetings with state health officials, appeared at promotional events and even hosted a launch luncheon for the dietary supplement at the governor’s mansion. Williams was seeking state money and the credibility of Virginia’s universities to perform clinical research that would support his company’s drug.

McDonnell insists that he never put any pressure on state officials and that Williams ultimately never got the official action he wanted — state funding for medical studies on the dietary pills. The former governor argued the Justice Department was unfairly criminalizing ‘everyday acts' that are a typical part of job, leaving every public official across the nation subject to the whims of prosecutors.

A federal appeals court unanimously upheld the former governor’s convictions last year.

McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, also was convicted of corruption and was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. Her appeal has been on hold while the Supreme Court considered her husband’s case.”

As experts point out, this makes it more difficult to prosecute corrupt politicians:

Jessica Tillipman, a lecturer at the George Washington University Law School, told Yahoo News that it’s going to be “much, much tougher” for prosecutors to gather enough evidence to reach this new standard of corruption. That is, authorities will need to establish documented, overt pressure.

“What’s shocking in this instance is that your average American looks at this case and sees corruption,” Tillipman said. “There’s a distance between the law and what citizens consider corruption.”

Tillipman said academics who teach and write about anticorruption were concerned that the ruling would come down this way as soon as the Supreme Court accepted it.

McDonnell maintains that he never took “official action” to help Williams or put any pressure on other public servants to take such actions. But McDonnell did help arrange meetings for Williams with Virginia health officials and appear at promotional events. He maintains that the Justice Department was persecuting him for doing something that came with the territory of his position.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion for the unanimous Supreme Court decision that the instructions to the trial jury for what constitutes an “official act” were broad enough that it might stop U.S. officials from interacting with their constituents.

“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes and ball gowns,” Roberts wrote. “It is instead with the broader legal implications of the government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute. A more limited interpretation of the term ‘official act’ leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, while comporting with the text of the statute and the precedent of this court.”

Source: Boston Globe, Yahoo

Photo: Eric Brown



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