Monday, November 29, 2010

It's not a bribe, it's a contribution!

by Rachel Slajda. Posted on Talking Points Memo, November 24

A casino owner indicted on charges of bribery and honest services fraud is trying to get 11 of his 33 counts thrown out, arguing that campaign contributions don't count as bribery.

Federal prosecutors say that Milton McGregor, a businessman with controlling stakes in two Alabama casinos, hired lobbyists to bribe state politicians into supporting electronic gambling legislation. A fellow businessman, the lobbyists and four state legislators were also indicted in the sweep.

Prosecutors say McGregor and his alleged co-conspirators promised $100,000 in campaign contributions to one state senator and $2 million to another.

So McGregor filed a motion to dismiss 11 charges of defrauding voters of honest services, arguing that "'Honest Services' bribery does not include campaign contributions." He also argues that direct personal payments don't constitute bribes unless tied to a specific action.

His lawyers argued that their point is proved by the recent Skilling Supreme Court case, which dramatically narrowed the definition of honest services fraud and has the potential to reverse convictions in countless corruption cases. Defendants had for years complained that the definition of such fraud, "to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services," was too vague.

In Skilling, a case brought by former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling, the court ruled that prosecutors must prove that a defendant has committed "bribery or kickbacks," the so-called "core" of honest services. In other words, they had to prove a quid pro quo.

Prosecutors in the McGregor case disagreed with his lawyers, writing a scathing brief this week calling them flat-out "wrong" about Skilling, arguing that McGregor's alleged promises of campaign cash for certain votes falls well within the honest services core.

The case is being tried in federal district court in Alabama. A judge has not yet ruled on McGregor's motion.

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