Last week was a good one for public officials charged with Federal crimes. First, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California announced that it would not seek a second trial of former San Diego Councilman Michael Zucchet on alleged honest services fraud charges pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 1346, relating to political contributions from the owner of a strip club, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Mr. Zucchet was indicted with two other City Council members and an aide in 2003. The government alleged that the Council members had a meeting with a lobbyist for the strip club owner for the alleged purpose of changing the City’s "no touch" ordinances relating to strip clubs. The Council members, however, argued that they reported the contributions on their financial disclosure forms. The government’s decision was prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in U.S. v. Skilling, No. 08-2349, in which, as we have noted, the Court held that the "honest services" mail fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. §1346, applies to bribery and kickback schemes, and not to mere "undisclosed self-dealing by a public official or private employee," alone.
Councilman Charles Lewis died before trial. Mr. Zucchet and Councilman Ralph Inzunza were convicted by a jury following trial in July of 2005. However, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller dismissed the jury’s guilty verdict on seven counts against Mr. Zucchet. The Judge permitted the government to retry Mr. Zucchet on the two remaining counts. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s ruling on appeal. Mr. Inzunza has also appealed his convictions. Mr. Zucchet resigned from the Council soon after his conviction, and is currently General Manager of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association.
Then, according to the Achorage Daily News, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska announced that it would agree to the dismissal of the honest services fraud conviction of Jim Clark. Mr. Clark was the former Chief of Staff to Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski, a lobbyist and attorney, and was once viewed as the most powerful unelected official in Alaska. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that Mr. Clark’s 2008 guilty plea was to a felony that no longer exists, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s Skilling decision. Mr. Clark pled guilty to alleged conspiring with former officials of the defunct oil-field services company Veco Corp. to channel $68,550 in illegal contributions to Governor Murkowski’s political campaign — without the Governor’s knowledge. He is expected to be a witness for the government in a possible upcoming trial of State Representative Bruce Weyhrauch on bribery, extortion and conspiracy charges. Mr. Clark’s law license, which was suspended following his guilty plea, is expected to be reinstated by the Alaska Supreme Court.