Honest Services Fraud
One of the less well-known white collar offenses is referred to as honest services fraud and is usually tried in federal court. Generally, someone can be charged with this crime if he or she works for a large organization and engages in a scheme to defraud that is intended to deprive someone else of the intangible rights to honest services. Determining what qualifies as intangible rights to honest services can be difficult, so if you are being investigated for this crime, it is important to contact an experienced white collar crime attorney who can explain your legal options and help you formulate a defense.
A person can be charged with honest services fraud if he or she works for a large organization, such as a business or a government body and:
- Attempts to defraud someone else by using false pretenses or promises; or
- Attempts to deprive another of the intangible rights to honest services.
In 2012, the Supreme Court stated that the intangible rights to honest services law only applies to situations involving bribery or a kickback, so in order to obtain a conviction, prosecutors must prove that the defendant committed or refrained from committing an official act in exchange for something of value. However, questions still arise regarding what constitutes an official act. For instance, prosecutors have repeatedly attempted to include actions that are considered customary in some industries, such as using one’s reputation to make introductions, under the definition of official acts. Generally, federal courts have refused to extend the definition of official acts this far and have maintained that official acts are limited to those actions that influence an actual decision about real policies.
Last year, the Supreme Court issued an opinion that overturned the conviction of the former governor of Virginia for honest services fraud. According to the ruling, an official act requires more than:
- Setting up a meeting;
- Hosting an event; or
- Calling an official.
In its decision, the Court stated that Governor McDonnell’s agreement to arrange meetings between Virginia officials and the CEO of a nutritional supplement company, to host events for the company, and to contact government officials regarding research studies did not qualify as official acts for the purposes of the fraud statute. This opinion effectively reaffirmed the Court’s earlier decision in Skilling v. United States, where it stated that the honest services fraud law only covers bribery and kickback schemes and not undisclosed self-dealing or conflicts of interest. Although the case was limited to honest services fraud involving public officials, the Court warned of the effect of prosecutorial overreach on innocent individuals based on a conviction under a vague statute, which could have important implications for cases involving private citizens.
Contact us Today to Speak With an Experienced White Collar Crime Attorney
Please contact Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A., Criminal Defense Attorneys today by calling 305-670-9919 if you are being investigated for a white collar crime in South Florida, such as honest services fraud. One of our experienced attorneys can also be reached via live chat.