The Spectrum of Corruption
by Bill Carico
by Bill Carico
This article considers two examples of injustice caused by corruption. One from the U.S. Department of Justice involving a sitting Senator, the other from a county planning commission meeting where my curiosity led to a startling discovery.
Corruption can take on many forms, but in general corruption is dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power. Perhaps the most familiar form of corruption is bribery in high places. This has frequently been uncovered by journalists and organizations who are public watch guards.
Perhaps the most common form of corruption is participating in decisions while having a conflict-of-interest. This is easier to hide and sometimes impossible to discover because it can exist at so many levels and come up in so many instances.
Public servants, from politicians to government employees, could face severe consequences for violating the public trust. Ethics laws exist that stipulate violators could be censured, removed from office, permanently disqualified from holding any state position, paying restitution, sent to prison for many years, and/or fined many thousands of dollars.
The problem is these laws are seldom enforced.
Should someone in power decide to enforce them, how much clout would they have? That depends on the state.
The statutes have been created with the degree of punishment corresponding to how bad each state views an instance of misconduct in consideration of the harm a violation may cause. The most severe consequences are normally reserved for cases of bribery involving large sums or similar types of intentional violations of ethics or anti-corruption laws. for lesser wrongdoings, states vary widely on the details.
Depending on the wrongdoing, violators can face both criminal or administrative penalties concurrently.
Herewith are two examples, one from each end of the political spectrum. In this instance, the word Spectrum is used to suggest a scale exists between two extreme or opposite points. It's important to consider spectrums from different vantage points. For example, politicians are commonly classified as on "the left or the right of the political spectrum." However, a power spectrum exists in politics based on the influence anyone can wield. There is also a spectrum of potential outcomes, meaning the results of actions taken or comments made, created by the degree to which the official is virtuous or corrupt. In this article the high end of the spectrum refers to corruption in the US Office of the Attorney General (AG), and the low end refers to local county planning commissioners. What they have in common is the far reaching damage corruption can cause.
"Licensed to Lie"
"Licensed to Lie...Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice," is a best-selling book by Sidney Powell.
Chapter one begins describing the last day in the life of Nick Marsh, a corrupt DOJ attorney who eventually took his own life. Marsh had been involved in the wrongful prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a beloved and long standing US Senator. The spectacle dominated the news sufficiently that Stevens lost his re-election bid, and shortly thereafter lost his life in a plane crash with several friends on an Alaskan fishing trip. She writes, "The news of the senator's untimely death brought attention once again to his corrupt prosecution and dominated the news for the next several days. Editorials abounded, virtually all of which extolled former Senator Steven's accomplishments on behalf of Alaska, and they all mentioned the injustice of his prosecution and the misconduct of his prosecutors....and the toll the corrupt prosecution had taken on [Stevens], his career, and his family." The defense lawyers stated, "Stevens was innocent and insisted on fighting the charges...He remained profoundly affected by the government's misconduct and its implications for others. His fervent hope was that meaningful change would be brought to the criminal justice system so that others would not be mistreated as he was by the very officials who duty is to represent the United Sates justly and fairly."
It was amidst this renewed publicity that one of three DOJ lawyers being investigated for prosecutorial misconduct to take his own life. The investigation of prosecutorial is rare, but this was an investigation into DOJ prosecutors, who are the ones who are supposed to adhere to the highest ethical standards. "After all," Powell writes, "They investigated public officials for public corruption. They had to be above reproach." Powell then on page 7 delves into the pressure to win that prosecutors face, especially on high profile cases, because they can "make or break a prosecutor's career. A win in these cases was a first-class ticket to seven-figure incomes in the most prestigious national or international law firms or promotions up the ladder in the Department of Justice, the White House, or the leadership of the FBI." It was the next two characters she introduces that aroused my suspicious on the basis of illogical actions.
Powell circles back 2.5 years and describes the actions of a newly appointed acting assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division of the DOJ. She writes, "Within days of the arrival of [Matthew] Friedrich and his deputy, Rita Glavin, they intruded heavily into the Stevens case. They began weekly - sometimes daily- meetings with [DOJ management and prosecutors involved]. .. For unknown reasons, they rushed to indict Senator Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the senate. Friedrich and Glavin took control of the Stevens prosecution and micromanaged it to absurd detail. On the eve of the indictment, they demoted [Nick] Marsh from first chair to third chair for the Steven's trial. After Friedrich and Glavin took over, the prosecution had nothing to problems, yet no one outside of a small circle within the department would know that until long after it all started to unravel. Nick [Marsh] know the truth. When it all fell apart, he and his fellow trial team members became the targets of both an internal department investigation" and a judge appointed an independent investigator so "[Nick Marsh]...feared that everything that went wrong in the Stevens prosecution was going to be hung around his neck. Friedrich and Glavin were way to politically connected and savvy to take the fall."
How Deep Does Corruption Run?
Turns out the judge didn't name either Friedrich or Glavin on the order authorizing the independent investigation, which was an ominous sign for Nick Marsh. The summarize the Stevens case, he was found guilty because Friedrich and Glavin and the team of prosecutors withheld evidence that would have likely led to Stevens acquittal.
The DOJ's special investigation concluded evidence had been withheld, so they dismissed the charges
against Stevens. They turned their attention to damage control, and attempted to stem any efforts to pass laws that would hold prosecutors accountable. Here is the introduction section for the report:
The Department of Justice respectfully submits this statement for the record for today’s hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, on the prosecution of former Senator Ted Stevens. When concerns were first raised about the handling of the prosecution of Senator Stevens, the Department immediately conducted an internal review. The Attorney General recognized the importance of ensuring trust and confidence in the work of Department prosecutors and took the extraordinary step of moving to dismiss the case when errors were discovered. Moreover, to ensure that the mistakes in the Stevens case would not be repeated, the Attorney General convened a working group to review discovery practices and charged the group with developing recommendations for improving such practices so that errors are minimized. As a result of the working group’s efforts, the Department has taken unprecedented steps, described more fully below, to ensure that prosecutors, agents, and paralegals have the necessary training and resources to fulfill their legal and ethical obligations with respect to discovery in criminal cases. These reforms include a sweeping training curriculum for all federal prosecutors and the requirement – for the first time in the history of the Department of Justice – that every federal prosecutor receive refresher discovery training each year. In light of these internal reforms, the Department does not believe that legislation is needed to address the problems that came to light in the Stevens prosecution. Such a legislative proposal would upset the careful balance of interests at stake in criminal cases, cause significant harm to victims, witnesses, and law enforcement efforts, and generate substantial and unnecessary litigation that would divert scarce judicial and prosecutorial resources. As was recently recognized by the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules of the Judicial Conference of the United States (“Criminal Rules Committee”), which in 2010-11 considered and rejected changes to Rule 16, true improvements to discovery practices will come from prosecutors and agents having a full appreciation of their responsibilities under their existing obligations, rather than by expanding those obligations. [emphasis added]
(ref: download full report https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/testimonies/witnesses/attachments/04/19/12/04-19-12-doj-statement.pdf)
When Senator Stevens was being railroaded, it was already illegal for prosecutors to withhold exonerating information from defense lawyers, and no one can say for sure how often this happens because its easy to hide. Increasingly research done by the injusticeproject.org and others suggests that prosecutorial misconduct is not only commonplace, its a pandemic.
The problem isn't the need for more laws, it's the need to enforce the laws already in place.
What can be said with absolute certainty, when prosecutors have been known to violate the law, they are rarely held accountable, and in the few instances they have been their punishment is inconsequential.
Sydney Powell wrote in the Epilog of "Licensed to Lie," "The collateral damage from a wrongful prosecution is beyond measure. Marriages are shattered, children left parentless, careers ended, families devastated, finances ruined - all for what? To advance the career of a headline-grabbing, ethically, morally, and legally corrupt prosecutor? An indictment and corrupt criminal prosecution fracture lives forever... the corruption of justice by the very people who are sworn and empowered to protect us. When an innocent person is imprisoned, either the guilty person is still free or there is no guilty party at all because no actual crime has been committed. The administration of justice is robbed of any validity, and society loses from all sides. The majority of the public- and now even good lawyers - have no faith in the fairness of our system."
Powell goes on to report that the special investigator found evidence implicating Friedrich and Glavin in the Stevens injustice and corruption, but no one seems to have followed up. All the attorneys involved but were unscathed by their criminal acts, except for the two working with Nick Marsh early on. One of them was suspended without pay for forty days, the other for 15 days.
Ethics Law and Punishment
As mentioned previously, ethics violations and anti-corruption laws pertain to misconduct in the handling of money, services, information, contracts, relationships, or public property, and states vary widely on the details.
For example, in 2005 the Virginia General Assembly adopted ethics laws that included a Conflict of Interest Act so as to assure that Virginia's citizens can maintain their highest trust in their public officers and employees. The Act is built upon the requirements for ongoing disclosure/reporting of economic interests. Here are the opening paragraphs: "The General Assembly, recognizing that our system of representative government is dependent in part upon (i) citizen legislative members representing fully the public in the legislative process and (ii) its citizens maintaining the highest trust in their public officers and employees, finds and declares that the citizens are entitled to be assured that the judgment of public officers and employees will be guided by a law that defines and prohibits inappropriate conflicts and requires disclosure of economic interests. To that end and for the purpose of establishing a single body of law applicable to all state and local government officers and employees on the subject of conflict of interests, the General Assembly enacts this State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act so that the standards of conduct for such officers and employees may be uniform throughout the Commonwealth."
Regarding punishment, "Any knowing violation of the General Assembly Conflicts of Interest Act is a class 1 misdemeanor, (Va. Code Ann. § 30-123) and shall be punishable by civil penalties."
In Virginia, Class 1 misdemeanors could mean jail time up to a year plus a $2,500 fine. The "Class 1" designation also applies to traffic offenses such as Reckless Driving or DUI, and criminal offenses such as Assault & Battery or Petit Larceny. Class 2 misdemeanors are lesser offenses and are punished by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Help is provided to keep public officials out of trouble, "the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council was established by law to encourage and facilitate compliance with the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act (§ 2.2-3100 et seq.) the General Assembly Conflicts of Interests Act (§ 30-100 et seq.) (hereafter the Acts) and the lobbying laws in Article 3 (§ 2.2-418 et seq.) of Chapter 4 of Title 2.2 (hereafter Article 3).Among other duties, the Council is tasked with providing training and guidance, issuing formal advisory opinions to those required to comply with the above laws, and facilitating the timely and accurate electronic filing of disclosure reports. The Council also submits an annual report to the General Assembly and the Governor on its findings and makes recommendations to changes in law." (ref: http://ethics.dls.virginia.gov/about.asp)
If a citizen has a concern or complaint, they are instructed to go the the commonwealth attorney for the county.
Sidebar: Commonwealth attorneys are state prosecutors. Commonwealths existed under British colonial rule as political communities before 1776 and retained this designation. The four commonwealths among the 50 US states are Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.
Definition - a transaction is any matter being considered.
From Virginia's Code: "Personal interest in a transaction" means a personal interest of an officer or employee in any matter considered by his agency. Such personal interest exists when an officer or employee or a member of his immediate family has a personal interest in property or a business or governmental agency, or represents or provides services to any individual or business and such property, business or represented or served individual or business (i) is the subject of the transaction or (ii) may realize a reasonably foreseeable direct or indirect benefit or detriment as a result of the action of the agency considering the transaction.