High court ruling could help convicted region politicians
June 25, 2010
A U.S. Supreme Court decision that narrows the use of honest services fraud could mean changes in the convictions of several local officials, including Dozier Allen Jr. and Robert Cantrell.
The court, in three decisions issued Thursday, ruled that the use of honest services could only be applied to people who took bribes or kickbacks, instead of people who had misled their employer or office in another way.
Bryan Truitt, a local attorney who has worked with several politicians who were tried on honest services fraud, said his client who would most likely be affected was Cantrell. The longtime Democratic operater was convicted on 11 counts of fraud for not reporting financial ties to a firm he aided in getting a contract with the North Township Trustee's office while Cantrell worked for the trustee.
"There's no allegations of bribes or kickbacks, so I think that one is going to have to be reversed," Truitt said in regards to Cantrell's conviction.
Cantrell was convicted on other charges, too, but the honest services charge helped to increase his prison sentence to seven years, Truitt said. Cantrell was already appealing his sentencing to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but Truitt said he would likely add this to his arguments.
Allen, the former Calumet Township trustee, and some of his co-defendants could see their entire convictions thrown out, Allen's attorney, Scott King, said.
Allen and his deputies Wanda Joshua and Ann Marie Karras were convicted on honest services charges of taking money that was supposed to be used for data collection.
"It's preliminary, but my review is that I think this is a very positive development for Dozier Allen," King said. "What I found interesting is while they did not declare it unconstitutional, they held it only applies to cases involving bribery or kickbacks, neither of which were alleged in the Allen case."
King said he would need to review the case more but that it could mean that Allen, Joshua and Karras all could have their convictions overturned. Allen was sentenced in May to 18 months in prison but has not had to report to prison yet.
Other local people who had pleaded guilty to charges relating to honest services could possibly appeal, Truitt said, but they would then likely face new charges of regular mail fraud.
Truitt said he would have preferred that Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote a concurring opinion that the entire use of honest services be dropped because it was unconstitutional, had prevailed. The law as it stands doesn't define what honest services fraud is and the U.S. Supreme Court defining it for them is overstepping their authority, he said. Instead, it should be sent back to the U.S. Congress for them to define, Truitt said.
However, he said the majority opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court to limit its use was a step in the right direction.
"Generally I'm happy and mostly I'm happy because I'm very confident that my client is going to get relief," he said.
The ruling will mean that U.S.
prosecutors, both here and across the country, will be less likely to use honest services because now it's just as hard to prove as bribery, which was already illegal under the Hobbs Act, Truitt said.The use of honest services had become popular because it was easier than bribery to prove but added heft to normal mail and wire fraud charges by increasing the sentencing guidelines, he said.
"Now (the government) is going to have to actually do some work," Truitt said.
Robert Cantrell (left) arrives with his son John Cantrell (center) and attorney Kevin Milner at the Federal Courthouse in Hammond for his sentencing hearing on March 5, 2009. -- Stephanie Dowell/Post-Tribune file photo