A Department of Justice official expressed strong support on Tuesday for the “Clean Up Government Act of 2011,” telling lawmakers that it would make it easier to prosecute corrupt officials and send them to prison for longer terms.
“Our citizens are entitled to know that their public servants are making their official decisions based on the best interests of the citizens who elect them and pay their salaries, and not based on bribes, extortion, or a public official’s own hidden financial interests,” Mary Patrice Brown, deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division, said at a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
Despite recent successes of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, including a conviction growing out of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and convictions and guilty pleas in a sprawling New Jersey corruption case, Brown said prosecutors have been hobbled by time restrictions and by recent court decisions.
“Allegations of public corruption may not surface until years after the crime was committed,” she said, making the current five-year statute of limitations a big hurdle for investigators and prosecutors — and underlying the need to lengthen the statute of limitations, as envisioned in the statute.
Another section of the law that Brown said the DOJ wholeheartedly endorses would make it easier for investigators to use wiretaps and prosecute under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO. And she said the proposed law would undo the harm caused by recent court decisions, including one involving Jeffrey Skilling, a key figure in the scandal that grew out of the collapse of Enron.
The Supreme Court held last year that prosecutors couldn’t simply allege that a defendant wasn’t doing his job honestly; they had to show that he had actually taken a bribe or kickback. The proposed law, Brown said, would make it easier to go after dishonest public officials, some of whose illegal schemes have been “ingenious,” and do so fairly.
“The Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting public corruption offenses at all levels of government,” Brown said.