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Honest Services Fraud: The Supreme Court Tackles Ambiguity in Federal Criminal Law

Wednesday April 2010

Moderator: James Copland, Director, Center for Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute
Panelists: Marie Gryphon, Senior Fellow, Center for Legal Policy; Andrew T. Wise, Partner, Miller & Chevalier

The Supreme Court is currently considering three separate cases challenging the scope of the federal “honest services fraud” law. Added to the mail and wire fraud statutes in 1988, this law makes a federal crime out of any “scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.” Justice Antonin Scalia has suggested that this vague law “would seemingly cover a salaried employee's phoning in sick to go to a ball game” and “invites abuses by headlinegrabbing prosecutors.”

The cases currently before the Supreme Court involve one prosecution for political corruption and two for financial fraud. Bruce Weyhrauch, a former Alaska legislator, was convicted for federal honest-services fraud for casting a vote on legislation for which he had a conflict of interest, even though his conduct did not violate Alaska law. The financial fraud cases involve Canadian publishing magnate Conrad Black and former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling.

Is the Supreme Court likely to invalidate or roll back the federal honest-services fraud provision? If so, how will this affect future federal prosecutions? To answer these questions, join us and our panel of distinguished experts.