Battling Corruption With Special Law
A popular statute created to crack down on public corruption was used by federal prosecutors to charge a powerful Florida commissioner with cases involving illegal land deals that netted his family millions of dollars.
The statute, Honest Services Fraud, makes it illegal for anyone to defraud and deprive the American people of the right to honest services and therefore allows prosecutors to charge public officials – as well as those providing them with financial inducements–with corruption even if there was no direct bribe to secure an official act
The law has been recently used in high profile cases, including the Jack Abramoff lobbying and bribery scandals, convicted former Illinois Governor George Ryan and California Congressman Randy Cunningham, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence for taking millions of dollars in bribes from a defense contractor.
This week the statute was used successfully against Palm Beach County Commission Chairman Tony Masilotti, who faces up to five years in prison and the forfeiture of nearly $10 million in cash and real estate for his role in a land deal conspiracy that netted his former wife $1.3 million and his brother nearly $8 million.
In his ex-wife’s case, Masilotti lobbied the South Florida Water Management District to enter into a $40 million land deal in Martin County. The owners of the property shared the hefty profits with his then-wife. In his brother’s deal, Masilotti secured home-building rights for a large landowner in his district. The landowner paid for the re-zoning favor by transferring property worth $7.7 million to his brother.
Palm Beach County lawmakers wasted no time in erasing the disgraced chairman from the area’s history. The commission’s web site removed his name and picture and even had a group photo expertly air brushed to eliminate him. His photos were also taken down from the Palm Beach International Airport and so was his nameplate outside his downtown government office. Masilotti’s county-issued luxury sedan was also recovered.