For political figures as for business and corporate leaders, the mere accusation of a white collar crime can jeopardize a reputation and have a long-term effect on a career. Although we may follow a bribery or corruption scandal closely in the news, often enough the media simply does not have the time to provide meaningful coverage of the complex issues at play in financial and white collar crime cases.
When prosecutors bring charges of financial crimes or corruption, those charges are, naturally, based on a particular interpretation of events. In today’s complex world, legal and business relationships, accounting rules and practices, extensive government regulation, loss valuation and other issues must each be evaluated, and each assessment can yield both facts and opinions. By the time criminal charges are brought, the government has made up its mind on each of those complicated issues.
One business relationship that can easily be misinterpreted is that of the consultant. Especially to the public, a consultant’s role can seem vague and undefined, without a clear value proposition. When the consultant is a political figure, the question of what value he or she gave in return for consulting fees is especially important.
A New York assemblyman from Brooklyn was recently acquitted in federal court on allegations that he took bribes to benefit a health care organization in his district.
Apparently, the assemblyman had worked as a consultant for the health care organization, which runs hospitals, nursing homes and clinics. In that capacity, he received $175,000 between 2003 and 2008, in addition to his $79,000 annual assemblyman salary.
Federal prosecutors asserted that the consulting job was a sham. He was accused of using his position to direct state appropriations money to the health care organization in return for the relatively lucrative “no-show” job.
His criminal defense attorney was able to prove that the consulting payments were in no way secret and that the health care organization had a legitimate reason to hire him as a consultant. The assemblyman was also a known advocate for numerous non-profits, and he regularly made requests for appropriations for other such organizations in his district. “His responsibilities as an assemblyman were to make such requests,” said is defense lawyer.
Interestingly, the CEO of the health care organization was convicted in September of attempted bribery of this assemblyman and two other politicians. One, a former assemblyman was convicted of fraud in an unrelated case and is deceased. The second, a state senator, is scheduled for trial in January.
The accused assemblyman’s attorney was able to focus the jury’s attention on the charges before them and avoid the issue of guilt by association. The jury acquitted him after three days of deliberations.
Source: Syracuse.com, “No Conviction: What do you have to do to break the rules in Albany?” Nov. 16, 2011