01.06.09

Leahy, Cornyn Introduce Anti-Public Corruption Legislation

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009) – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), also a member of the Committee, Tuesday introduced the Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act (PCPIA), legislation designed to provide new tools to help prosecutors identify, investigate and prosecute corrupt criminal conduct by public officials.  Leahy and Cornyn first introduced the bipartisan legislation during the last Congress, and the Judiciary Committee reported the measure in December 2007.  Tuesday was the first day of the 111th Congress.

The Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act bolsters key aspects of federal criminal law.  It authorizes funding to increase personnel resources to investigate cases of corruption among public officials, and extends the statute of limitations on select public corruption offenses.  It also clarifies ambiguity in current law, including closing a loophole in existing law by broadening the definition of what it means for a public official to perform an ‘official act’ under the bribery statute.  The bill also amends the federal bribery statute to make clear that a corrupt payment can be made to influence more than one official act, and amends the federal gratuities statute to clarify that a public official may not accept anything of value, other than as permitted by existing rules or regulations, given to them because of their official position.

Leahy said, “As we have seen in recent months, public corruption can erode the trust the American people have in those who are given the privilege of public service,” said Leahy.  “If we are serious about addressing the kinds of egregious misconduct that we have recently witnessed in high-profile public corruption cases, Congress must enact meaningful legislation to give investigators and prosecutors the tools and resources they need to enforce our laws.  I hope that this year all Senators will support this bipartisan bill and take firm action to stamp out intolerable corruption.”

Cornyn said, “There is no greater sin an elected official can commit than to defy the trust that has been bestowed upon him by his constituents.  I, along with Chairman Leahy, have been a steadfast advocate of increasing transparency in government for many years and believe that this legislation will ensure authorities have the tools needed to prosecute any official who betrays that trust to the fullest extent of the law.” 

The bill also increases the penalties for conduct in violation of the public corruption laws:

·        Increases from 10 to 15 years to the maximum term of imprisonment for theft and embezzlement of federal funds

·        Increases from 15 to 20 years the maximum term of imprisonment for bribery violations

·        Increases the maximum punishment to 10 years imprisonment for the following crimes: solicitation of political contributions; promise of employment for political activity; deprivation of employment for political activity; intimidation to secure political contributions; solicitation and acceptance of contributions in federal offices; and coercion of political activity by federal employees.

Leahy’s statement on the introduction of Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act follows. 

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 Section-By-Section

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Introduction Of The
“Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act Of 2009”
January 6, 2009 

I am pleased to join with Senator Cornyn once again to introduce the “Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act of 2009,” a bill that will strengthen and clarify key aspects of Federal criminal law and provide new tools to help investigators and prosecutors attack public corruption nationwide. 

The start of a new Congress presents a unique opportunity to restore the faith of the American people in their government.  That is why I sought to offer an early version of this bill as my first amendment two years ago when that new Congress began.  Regrettably, a Republican objection to it prevented its adoption at that time. 

As we have seen in recent months, public corruption can erode the trust the American people have in those who are given the privilege of public service.  Too often, though, loopholes in existing laws have meant that corrupt conduct can go unchecked.

Make no mistake: The stain of corruption has spread to all levels of government. This is a problem that victimizes every American by chipping away at the foundations of our democracy.  Rooting out the kinds of public corruption that have resulted in convictions of members of both the Senate and the House, and many others, requires us to give prosecutors the tools and resources they need to investigate and prosecute criminal public corruption offenses.  This bill will do exactly that.  

The bill Senator Cornyn and I introduce today will provide investigators and prosecutors more time and, even more crucially, more resources to pursue public corruption cases.  It also amends several key statutes to broaden their application in corruption contexts and to prevent corrupt public officials and their accomplices from evading or defeating prosecution based on existing legal ambiguities.

The bill provides significant and much-needed additional funding for public corruption enforcement.  Since September 11, 2001, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) resources have been shifted away from the pursuit of white collar crime to counterterrorism.  Director Mueller has said that public corruption is among the FBI’s top investigative priorities, but a September 2005 report by the Department of Justice Inspector General found that, from 2000 to 2004, there was an overall reduction in public corruption matters handled by the FBI.  More recently, a study by the research group Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse found that the prosecution of all kinds of white collar crimes is down 27 percent since 2000, and official corruption cases have dropped in the same period by 14 percent.  The Wall Street Journal reported in 2007 that the investigation of an elected Federal official stalled for six months because the investigating U.S. Attorney’s Office could not afford to replace the prosecutor who had previously handled the case.  We must reverse this trend and make sure that law enforcement has the tools and the resources it needs to confront these serious and corrosive crimes. 

Efforts to combat terrorism and public corruption are not mutually exclusive.  A bribed customs official who allows a terrorist to smuggle contraband into our country, or a corrupt consular officer who illegally supplies U.S. entry visas to would-be terrorists can cause grave harm to our national security. 

The bill also extends the statute of limitations from five to six years for the most serious public corruption offenses.  Public corruption cases are among the most difficult and time-consuming cases to investigate.  Bank fraud, arson and passport fraud, among other offenses, all have 10-year statutes of limitations.  Public corruption offenses cut to the heart of our democracy.  This modest increase to the statute of limitations is a reasonable step to help our corruption investigators and prosecutors do their jobs.

This bill goes further by amending several key statutes to broaden their application in corruption and fraud contexts and to eliminate legal ambiguities that can hinder prosecution of serious corruption.  The bill includes a fix to the gratuities statute that makes clear that public officials may not accept anything of value, other than what is permitted by existing rules and regulations, given to them because of their official position.  This important provision contains appropriate safeguards to ensure that only corrupt conduct is prosecuted, but it puts teeth behind the ethical reforms the Senate adopted under the leadership of Senator Obama.

The bill also appropriately clarifies the definition of what it means for a public official to perform an “official act” for the purposes of the bribery statute and closes several other gaps in current law.  The bill adds two corruption-related crimes as predicates for the Federal wiretap and racketeering statutes, lowers the transactional amount required for Federal prosecution of bribery involving federally-funded state programs, and expands the venue for perjury and obstruction of justice prosecutions.

Finally, the bill raises the statutory maximum penalties for several laws dealing with official misconduct, including theft of government property and bribery.  These increases reflect the serious and corrosive nature of these crimes, and would harmonize the punishment for these crimes with other similar statutes.

If we are serious about addressing the kinds of egregious misconduct that we have witnessed over the past several years in high-profile public corruption cases, Congress should enact meaningful legislation to give investigators and prosecutors the tools and resources they need to enforce our laws.  Passing ethics and lobbying reform in the last Congress was a step in the right direction.  Now we should finish the job by strengthening the criminal law to enable federal investigators and prosecutors to bring those who undermine the public trust to justice.  I am disappointed that Republican objections prevented the full Senate from passing this critical bill early in the last Congress.  I hope that this year all Senators will support this bipartisan bill and take firm action to stamp out intolerable corruption.

I ask unanimous consent that a copy of the bill be printed in the Record.  

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Section-By-Section Summary
Of The Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act Of 2009

Committee Report, 110th Congress

Section 1. Short Title. This section cites the short title of the bill as the ‘‘Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act of 2007.’’ Section 2. Extension of Statute of Limitations for Serious Public Corruption Offenses. This section extends the statute of limitations from five to six years for bribery, deprivation of honest services involving a public official, and extortion by a public official.

Section 3. Application of Mail and Wire Fraud Statutes to Licenses and Other Intangible Rights. This section expands coverage of the mail and wire fraud statutes to include schemes involving intangible interests such as contract rights, licenses, permits, trade secrets, franchises, and government grants.

Section 4. Venue for Federal Offenses. This section amends section 3237 of title 18, which governs venue for offenses begun in one district and completed in another district, to clarify that venue exists in any district in which any portion of the offense is committed, any act in furtherance of the offense is committed, or in which the offense is completed.

Section 5. Theft or Bribery Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Financial Assistance. This section modifies section 666 of title 18 concerning theft or bribery from an organization, government or agency that receives federal financial assistance by reducing the $5,000 requirement to $1,000 for section 666 bribery offenses, increasing the maximum penalty for all offenses under this section from 10 years to 15 years, and clarifying that a ‘‘thing’’ of value can refer to a single item or more than one item.

Section 6. Penalty for Section 641 Violations. This section increases the maximum term of imprisonment for theft and embezzlement of federal funds from 10 years to 15 years.

Section 7. Penalty for Section 201(b) Violations. This section increases the maximum term of imprisonment for bribery violations from 15 years to 20 years.

Section 8. Increase of Maximum Penalties for Certain Public Corruption Related Offenses. This section increases the maximum punishment to 10 years imprisonment for the following crimes: solicitation of political contributions (section 602); promise of employment for political activity (section 600); deprivation of employment for political activity (section 601); intimidation to secure political contributions (section 606); solicitation and acceptance of contributions in federal offices (section 607); and coercion of political activity by federal employees (section 610).

Section 9. Addition of District of Columbia to Theft of Public Money Offense. This section amends section 641 of title 18 relating theft from the government to include the District of Columbia government and agencies.

Section 10. Additional RICO Predicates. This section adds section 641 (embezzlement or theft of public money, property, or records) and section 666 (relating to theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds), of title 18 as RICO predicates.

Section 11. Additional Wiretap Predicates. The section amends 2516(1) of title 18 to add sections 641 (embezzlement or theft of public money, property or records) and section 666 (relating to theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds) as predicate offenses for criminal wiretaps.

Section 12. Clarification of Crime of Illegal Gratuities. This section amends sections 201(c)(1)(A) & (B) of title 18 to clarify that things of value, given to a public official ‘‘for or because of’’ that official’s position and not otherwise permitted by law or regulation, are illegal under the federal gratuities statute.

Section 13. Clarification of Definition of ‘‘Official Act.’’ This section changes the definition of ‘‘official act’’ in section 201(a)(3) of title 18 to include any conduct that falls within the range of official duty of the public official. This section also clarifies that an official act can be a single act, more than one act, or a course of conduct.

Section 14. Clarification of Course of Conduct Bribery. This section, in concert with section 13, amends the federal bribery statute to make clear that a corrupt payment can be made to influence more than one official act, and, to the same end, that a series of such payments may be made to influence a government official in performing a series of official acts.

Section 15. Expanding Venue for Perjury and Obstruction of Justice Proceedings. This section amends the perjury and obstruction of justice statutes to expand venue in those prosecutions not only to the district where the false statement or obstructive conduct occurs, but also to the district in which an affected proceeding takes place.

Section 16. Authorization for Additional Personnel to Investigate and Prosecute Public Corruption Offenses. This section provides additional funds ($25,000,000 for fiscal years 2008–11) to Offices of Inspectors General and the Justice Department for the investigation and prosecution of public corruption offenses. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in recent years have had to divert resources away from criminal law priorities including fraud and corruption, and into counterterrorism.

Section 17. Amendment of the Sentencing Guidelines Relating to Certain Crimes. This section directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to consider amending the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines in light of the other provisions of this bill.

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