Within 24 hours of my piece highlighting a pattern of prosecutorial misconduct relating to the prosecution of General Michael Flynn, Attorney General William Barr announced the Department of Justice is moving to drop the case, exonerating Flynn.
Still, examples of detailing the heavy-handed charging and deal-making in cases from the political to entertainment defendants are calling the discretion of some United States attorneys into question. Not only has the release of intelligence transcripts from the Mueller probe shown the inappropriate nature of heavy-handed prosecutorial activity surrounding the 2016 election, but other news surfacing this illustrates the need for a review of cases to give otherwise good Americans pressured into taking criminal pleas a second chance to clear their names.
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a sharp rebuke to prosecutors by throwing out the convictions of Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, the former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appointees charged in the "Bridgegate" scandal to slow traffic on the George Washington Bridge. The unanimous ruling underscored the high court's skepticism around the government's "boundless interpretation" of federal bribery statutes, and the use of "catch all" charges like mail & wire fraud.
"Baroni and Kelly used deception to reduce Fort Lee's access lanes to the George Washington Bridge — and thereby jeopardized the safety of the town's residents. But not every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime," wrote Justice Elena Kagan in her decision. "Because the scheme here did not aim to obtain money or property, Baroni and Kelly could not have violated the federal-program fraud or wire fraud laws."
In Supreme Court filings, defense lawyers said that if the government sought to convict public officials of fraud based on a so-called "concealed political motive," and that the federal government could have free rein to charge and convict officials for all manner of political deals, favors, and rebukes, unless those officials were brutally candid about their true political motivations.
This concealed political motive, while not discussed in the decision, likely centered on the fact that at the time, Obama-appointed U.S. atorneys for New Jersey announced their investigation into "Bridgegate," then-Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, was a promising 2016 presidential hopeful. Even though Christie was never charged with any wrongdoing and denied any knowledge of the plan, Bridgegate was attributed to the demise of his failed 2016 presidential campaign.
When considering the recent revelations in the Flynn case which led many to believe that Obama-era Department of Justice appointees sought to undermine the incoming Trump administration, revelations that this public prosecution targeting another 2016 Republican presidential candidate was overturned provides context into the greater issue of needed oversight over our nation's federal prosecutors.
Similar accusations were made Wednesday in another high-profile case in where "Full House" star Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli were charged with conspiring with William "Rick" Singer to fraudulently get their daughter into the University of Southern California. In court documents previously obtained by Fox News, attorneys for the celebrity couple argue that the prosecution against them should be dismissed after notes from scam mastermind Singer seemingly showed that agents had urged him to lie in order to implicate parents like Loughlin and Giannulli in committing a criminal act.
In a comment to Us Weekly, an anonymous source close to the couple reveals that Loughlin and Giannulli believe that the alleged misconduct on the part of federal investigators will lead to the case being dropped.
"Lori's lawyers feel they have a very strong chance of having the charges dismissed because prosecutors withheld key evidence that [ringleader] Rick Singer was pressured by the FBI to lie in the course of his conversations with Lori," the source explained. "It was entrapment, misleading a defendant so that Rick could get a favorable sentence for his role. Rick was the mastermind in all of this."
The issue highlighted by the Loughlin case is the fact that federal prosecutors oversaw a case where they were willing to make a deal with the focus of the case, Singer, to target his celebrity clients. While the cases against Loughlin and actress Felicity Huffman showed a clear abuse of wealth and privilege; the actual scam artist who perpetrated these crimes nationwide was Singer. So, out of a mere interest of public service, shouldn't U.S. attorneys have focused their proffers on the clients to target Singer and not vice-versa?
In further proof of the influence of celebrity or political influence on the zeal of federal prosecutors, consider the prosecution of Miami Latin music mogul Rich Mendez. Mendez is currently in prison for his unwitting role in a time-share scam from over a decade ago. Despite his cooperation with authorities, Florida prosecutors declining prosecution against him, and his paying full restitution to victims years before, federal prosecutors in Texas relentlessly pursued a harsh prison sentence for his unknowing complicity to federal violations committed by accomplices years after Mendez left the timeshare industry and started his record label.
Had Mendez, Huffman or Loughlin not been celebrities; would the DOJ spent our tax dollars to pursue them for crimes in where the actual targets of their cases been under indictment? If the potential to effect the outcome of a presidential election didn't exist, would the government have targeted General Flynn, Bridget Anne Kelly or Bill Baroni? The answers are unclear without an oversight investigation.
What is clear, is that these cases show a pattern of abuse by federal prosecutors and, to further his sweeping Criminal Justice Reform agenda; President Trump should consider establishing an apolitical avenue for clemency or pardon. Similar to certain state civil rights restorations procedures, people who were pressured into pleas for federal or D.C. crimes should have a way to get a second chance at life by having their record cleared, without needing the bankrupting financial burden or political connections needed to take a case to the Supreme Court or get a presidential pardon.
A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his two and a half decade career on both sides the criminal justice system. Mannes served in both federal and municipal law enforcement in though the 9/11 attacks, D.C.-area sniper task force, homeland security exercises and natural disasters. Mannes’ work in D.C. led to personal encounters with the D.C.’s unlawful personnel actions, unconstitutional gun laws and criminal justice inequalities; which led him to become an advocate for public integrity. Thereafter, Mannes served for nearly nine years as the Director, Office of Investigations for North America’s largest medical board, as a Chief Compliance Officer, consultant, expert witness, nonprofit board member and political adviser. Read A. Benjamin Mannes' Reports — More Here.
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