A former Alabama lobbyist pleaded guilty on Monday to conspiring to bribe legislators in exchange for their favorable votes on a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would legalize electronic bingo, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and Special Agent in Charge Timothy J. Fuhrman of the FBI’s mobile field office announced.
In October, Jarrod Massey of MANTA Governmental was one of 11 individuals — including the owner of the state’s largest casino and four state lawmakers — arrested as part of a public corruption probe.
Massey, along with Thomas E. Coker of Coker & Associates and Robert B. Geddie Jr. of Fine Geddie & Associates allegedly promoted the passage of the electronic bingo amendment on behalf of their clients by offering bribes and campaign contributions to several state lawmakers.
The probe, which the Justice Department first disclosed in April, inflamed tensions between state Democrats and Republican-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, who prosecuted former Gov. Don Siegelman (D) and whose husband has close ties to Gov. Bob Riley (R), who strongly opposed the amendment.
Massey alleged in a letter to DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility that he was harassed by federal agents. He requested that Canary’s office be barred from participating in the investigation because of her husband’s political ties to Riley.
Massey pleaded guilty on Monday to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery and five counts of federal program bribery. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge, while each of the five bribery counts carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Massey is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 26, 2011. This spring, he is expected to testify for the prosecution when the other defendants come to trial. (One of Massey’s assistants pleaded guilty earlier to a conspiracy charge.)
“Jarrod Massey has admitted that he bribed members of the Alabama State Legislature in exchange for their votes in favor of electronic bingo gambling legislation,” Breuer said in a news release. “In a democracy, votes should be cast on the merits and in the best interests of constituents, and not influenced by bribes and the possibility of personal gain. Mr. Massey has admitted his wrongdoing, and will now face the consequences of his corrupt conduct.”
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Deputy Chief Peter J. Ainsworth and trial attorneys Eric G. Olshan, Barak Cohen and E. Rae Woods of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section; Senior Litigation Counsel Brenda K. Morris of the Criminal Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Louis V. Franklin and Steve P. Feaga of the Middle District of Alabama.
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U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel on Wednesday warned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is facing criminal charges in a public corruption case, to stay within the rules as his corruption case heads toward trial, The Associated Press reported. Zagel said he couldn’t allow the legal equivalent of head butts — a dirty tactic — to take place at the trial, which is slated to begin in June in the Northern District of Illinois.
The hearing came a day after the impeached governor taunted Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to show up in court Wednesday for a pre-trial hearing, if he is “man enough.” Fitzgerald wasn’t in court on Wednesday.
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Eastern District of Michigan U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade has launched an “internal inquiry” to find out who is leaking information to the news media about a federal investigation of public corruption in the Detroit City Council.
McQuade said she won’t stand for leaks by federal officials or criminal defendants, according to The Associated Press. But the U.S. Attorney said she can’t prevent witnesses from speaking to the press.
“Investigations are kept confidential for a number of important reasons, including protecting the integrity of the investigation, protecting the safety of witnesses and protecting targets of investigation from public suspicion when no charges have been filed,” McQuade said in a statement, according to The Detroit News. She also called on other federal agencies such as the FBI to also conduct internal inquiries on the leaks.
Former Detroit Councilwoman Monica Conyers, the wife of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), was sentenced to three years and one month in prison last month as part of the public corruption probe. Nine others have pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
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The corruption trial of former Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz), scheduled to begin this Tuesday, has been postponed until June.
After a hearing last week, the judge in the case, U.S. District Judge David Bury, decided to postpone the trial, citing Roll Call reported Monday. The trial is now scheduled to start on June 22.
The trial, in U.S. District Court for Arizona, was initially set to begin in April 2008, but has been postponed several times at the request of both the defense and prosecution.
Renzi, who served in Congress from 2003 to 2009, was indicted in February 2008 on a number of federal corruption charges.
In a ruling last week, Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco found that government investigators improperly recorded privileged conversations between Renzi and his lawyers. In the ruling, the magistrate judge granted Renzi’s request to suppress evidence from the disputed wiretaps but denied his request to dismiss the case.
A former New Jersey lawmaker on Monday will release information about alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the handling of a public corruption case, The Hudson Reporter of New Jersey reported Friday.
In July 2009, 44 individuals – including 29 New Jersey elected or public officials — were arrested on charges of of public corruption and money laundering. The Associated Press reported last year that the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility had opened an internal investigation into comments made by then acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra at a news conference announcing the sting case.
Former state Assemblyman Lou Manzo, who was among those arrested, said that on Monday he will hold a press conference at which he will present “evidence documenting issues of prosecution misconduct in the Bid Rig III investigation and prosecution,” according to a news release from Manzo.
Last week, Manzo told the newspaper that his evidence relates to campaign donations to then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie from attorneys working on the sting. Christie was waging what turned out to be a successful campaign for governor. According to the newspaper, the case ultimately benefited Christie’s campaign.
This post has been updated since it was first posted.
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Disagreement over whether a woman representing now-ex-Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) in a public corruption investigation was an attorney or a “political operative” led the government to unlawfully record privileged conversations, a federal magistrate judge found.
In a ruling released Thursday, Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco granted Renzi’s request to suppress evidence from the disputed wiretaps but denied his request to dismiss the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino supervised the surveillance team that in 2006 recorded four conversations between Maria Baier, an attorney, and Renzi. From the ruling:
The Court agrees with Renzi’s assertion that it appears that Restaino personally concluded that Baier was a “political operative,” as opposed to a licensed attorney, although it is not evident that anyone on the prosecution team knew, in the first few days of the wire, that Baier, listed on the Arizona State Bar website under the last name Kahn Baier, was licensed to practice law in Arizona.
On Oct. 30, 2006 Restaino asked a colleague, Assistant U.S. Attorney Danny Roetzel, to act as a taint attorney to keep privileged information out of the prosecutors’ hands.
Roetzel concluded the congressman’s conversations with Baier were privileged. “Despite Roetzel’s findings, the government continued to record Renzi’s calls with Baier,” the judge found.
The ruling described procedures in an electronic surveillance room run by the FBI. A memoradum from Roetzel was posted on the wall of the room instructing agents to remove their headphones and turn down the volume when listening in on calls between the congressman and Baier. But the judge found no evidence the agents followed the instruction.
“While this court has concerns over the government’s conduct in this case, it does not rise to the level of outrageousness,” Velasco wrote. His recommendations now go to U.S. District Judge David Bury for review.
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The Justice Department’s Inspector General investigated two DOJ officials in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, but they were never charged, according to court papers filed Wednesday night.
The disclosure came in a government sentencing memorandum for Robert Coughlin II, a former lawyer in the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison and deputy chief of staff in the Criminal Division. Coughlin, the only DOJ official to be charged in the influence-peddling probe, pleaded guilty in April 2008 to a conflict of interest charge. Coughlin is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 24.
The memo does not name the other two DOJ officials, but it notes that the investigations are closed. The sentencing memo seems to put to rest questions about whether any other Justice officials, past or current, could face prosecution in the Abramoff probe.
The memo notes Coughlin’s help to prosecutors in probing other aspects of the case, but points out that he was “minimal assistance” in its investigation of former Abramoff associate Kevin Ring. Still, the Justice Department is crediting him for his earlier help. Coughlin faces up to six months in prison — but that’s unlikely, given his assistance and the treatment received by the majority of the other 17 officials convicted in the probe.
Federal prosecutors had planned to use Coughlin as a witness in the trial of Ring, who gave him more than $4,000 in meals and tickets to concerts and sporting events. Prosecutors say Coughlin helped Ring achieve lobbying victories, giving him inside information and setting up meetings with officials in return for a stream of gifts.
Days before he was to testify, Coughlin told prosecutors during a mock cross-examination that he felt he was unfairly targeted by the Justice Department and that “the things of value Mr. Ring gave him did not influence his official actions,” according to court papers.
Prosecutors dropped Coughlin from the witness list and “had to scramble on the eve of the trial to find other witnesses who could fully and accurately describe Ring’s efforts to corruptly influence and reward DOJ officials,” the memo says. (Ring’s case ended last month in a mistrial. Prosecutors have said they will bring the case again.)
Before Coughlin’s revelation during trial preparation, he had submitted to eight interviews with various agents.
According to prosecutors:
Coughlin was interviewed by DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) agents regarding other DOJ officials. He was also interviewed by an FBI agent regarding the broader Abramoff investigation. And he was interviewed by a DOJ Inspector General agent regarding allegations of politicized hiring at DOJ. The bulk of these interviews required him to travel to Washington, D.C., and to stay overnight. These interviews were of some use in closing the OIG’s investigations of two DOJ officials, and in completing the investigation of allegations of politicized hiring at the DOJ.
During the Ring trial, David Ayres, the chief of staff to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying.
Ring’s lawyers wanted to question Ayres about a $16.3 million grant the Justice Department awarded to one of Ring’s tribal clients in 2002 and college basketball tickets he and his wife received from the lobbyist.
Prosecutors said Ring intended to cultivate Ayres, who is now CEO of Ashcroft’s consulting firm, with the tickets in return for future favors.
The government alleged that in January 2002 Ayres helped Ring secure the grant for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, overruling then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General Tracy Henke, who thought the $16.3 million figure, to be used for a new jail, was too much.
Ring’s defense lawyers said they could show that Ayres did not make the decision to award the grant.
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A federal judge has scheduled a retrial for Jun. 21 in the case of Kevin Ring, a former associate of imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle declared a mistrial in the case on Thursday. Jurors failed to reach a verdict after more than a week of deliberations.
Ring is charged with conspiracy, handing out illegal gratuities and scheming to deprive taxpayers of the honest services of members of the executive and legislative branches. Ring’s lawyers say he was a skilled lobbyist who used legal tools to advance his clients’ interests.
At a hearing today, prosecutors requested a January or February trial date, but Huvelle wanted to wait for the Supreme Court’s review of the scope of the federal “honest services” fraud statute, which was used to charge Ring, The Associated Press reported. The Court is scheduled to hear arguments on Dec. 8.
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National Journal is reporting that prosecutors and defense lawyers for Kevin Ring, an ex-associate of Jack Abramoff asked a federal judge to declare a mistrial Wednesday.
The judge, Ellen Segal Huvelle of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, declined the requests and instructed the jury to continue deliberations, which have spanned nearly seven days now.
In a note to Huvelle, the jury wrote, ”We do not see how we can reach a verdict,” according to National Journal.
On Tuesday, jurors told the Huvelle they’d reached a verdict on one of the charges but were stuck on the other seven. (They jury did not reveal the nature of the verdict.) Ring is charged with conspiracy, doling out illegal gratuities and depriving taxpayers of the honest services of public officials.
According to National Journal, prosecutors and defense lawyers said enough was enough.
“Let them go…. Declare a mistrial,” Andrew Wise, Ring’s attorney, said. “This jury has been at it for an extended period.”
“Take the verdict [on the one count], declare a mistrial… and get another trial moving as quickly as possible,” prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds suggested.
Huvelle said that “given the length of the trial” — about three weeks — “the amount of evidence and the complications of the case,” the jury should continue deliberations.
Ring called for a mistrial last week, after a jury foreman alerted Huvelle to a barred exhibit the government mistakenly included in his evidence binder.
Ring is represented by Miller & Chevalier’s Wise and Timothy O’Toole. The team of prosecutors includes Edmonds, of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section; Michael Ferrara, of the Public Integrity Section; and Michael Leotta, Appellate Chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.