Law School Case Brief
United States v. Blagojevich - 794 F.3d 729 (7th Cir. 2015)
18 U.S.C.S. § 666 forbids theft or bribery in publicly funded programs. 18 U.S.C.S. § 666(a)(1)(B) makes it a crime for an agent of a covered organization to solicit corruptly anything of value in connection with a transaction worth $5,000 or more. "Corruptly" refers to the recipient's state of mind and indicates that he understands the payment as a bribe or gratuity. It would not be plausible to describe a political trade of favors as an offer or attempt to bribe the other side. 18 U.S.C.S. § 666(c) provides that the section as a whole does not apply to bona fide salary, wages, fees, or other compensation paid, or expenses paid or reimbursed, in the usual course of business. Compensation for a job by someone other than a ghost worker is a bona fide salary, and the usual course of business in politics includes logrolling.
Defendant Rod Blagojevich was convicted of 18 crimes after two jury trials in federal district court. The crimes include attempted extortion from campaign contributors, corrupt solicitation of funds, wire fraud, and lying to federal investigators. The first trial ended with a conviction on the false-statement count and a mistrial on the others after the jury could not agree. The second trial produced convictions on 17 additional counts. At the time of his arrest in Dec. 2008, Blagojevich was Governor of Illinois and the state legislature impeached and removed him from office the next month. The district court sentenced Blagojevich to 168 months' imprisonment on the counts that authorized 20-year maximum terms, and lesser terms on all other counts. All sentences ran concurrently, which amounted to a total of 168 months. Blagojevich appealed.
Was Blagojevich properly convicted of all the alleged crimes?
The court of appeals vacated the convictions on five counts and affirmed the remaining convictions. The court found that an attempt by Blagojevich to get the U.S. President-elect to appoint a particular person to the Cabinet was not an attempt to secure property from the President (or the citizenry at large) because the President did not have a property interest in any Cabinet positionob. It was held that a proposal to trade one public act for another, a form of logrolling, was fundamentally unlike the swap of an official act for a private payment. Furthermore, the jury instructions defined the statutes' mens rea elements correctly and a good-faith instruction was not required. Any error in the sentencing guidelines calculation went in Blagojevich's favor.
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