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January 26, 1999

Donald C. Smaltz, Independent Counsel In re Espy, today announced:

A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today affirmed the three-count conviction for false statements and 27-month sentence of Ronald H. Blackley, the Chief of Staff to former Secretary of Agriculture Alphonso Michael Espy. On December 1, 1997, a District of Columbia jury convicted Blackley of making false statements on his 1993 Public Financial Disclosure Report by failing to disclose his receipt of $22,000 in 1993 from Mississippi agri-business interests, and lying to federal agents.

In affirming the conviction, the court rejected Blackley=s claims that the prosecution was beyond the Independent Counsel=s jurisdiction, that the indictment failed to adequately advise him of the nature of the charges against him, and the trial court failed to give a specific instruction to the jury on an element of the crime. Circuit Judge Stephen F. Williams, the author of the Court=s opinion, wrote that

Aconcealment of such receipts, especially in the context of a financial disclosure form intended to bring suspicious influences to the surface and in response to questions of inspectors general, tends not only to prevent discovery of underlying crimes such as receipts of bribes or gratuities, but also to reflect the perpetrator=s consciousness of guilt in those receipts.@

In addition to affirming the conviction, the Circuit Court affirmed trial court Judge Royce C. Lamberth=s decision to depart upward from the federal Sentencing Guidelines and impose a 27-month sentence followed by three years= supervised probation. When Judge Lamberth sentenced Blackley, he wrote that

AThis is such a serious crime that it demands an even longer term of imprisonment in this Court's view. This Court has a duty to send a message to other high level government officials, that there is a severe penalty to be paid for providing false information under oath. There is a strong reason to deter such conduct, and to dispel all the nonsense that's being publicly discussed and debated about the seriousness of lying under oath by government officials. A democracy like ours depends on people having trust in our government and its officials.@


In affirming the sentence, the Court of Appeals found Judge Lamberth=s decision well-within the broad discretion of the trial court and Amore closely approximat[ing] what would follow for kindred crimes committed by high government officials.@

Most of the DC Circuit=s opinion focused on Blackley=s challenge to the Independent Counsel=s jurisdiction to prosecute him. In pretrial proceedings, Blackley sought support for this proposition in the Department of Justice=s opposition to the Special Division=s decision to refer this matter to the Independent Counsel. Circuit Judge Williams, in addressing the jurisdiction of an Independent Counsel to look into matters Arelated to@ the core areas of the initial inquiry, wrote:

Athe Independent Counsel [must have] enough leeway to investigate and prosecute such matters as are appropriate for him to effectively carry out his mandate. We think such effectiveness can be secured only if the Independent Counsel is at least able to pursue crimes by the original target=s close associates in the field of activity under investigation, including crimes that either are of the same sort as the originally specified set of crimes or are ancillary to the commission or concealment of such crimes.@

Independent Counsel Smaltz stated:

AWe are pleased with the decision of the Circuit Court rejecting the defendant=s challenge to our jurisdiction and affirming his conviction and 27-month sentence. When the jury convicted Mr. Blackley, I remarked that >corrupt activity by a senior executive government official undermines the public=s confidence in the regulatory process and suggests to the public that government largesse goes not necessarily to those most entitled to it -- but to those who are cozy with the regulators or to those who are willing to purchase it.= This decision confirms the obligation of senior government officials to be truthful and act with integrity in the discharge of their duties.@


With the acquittal of former Secretary Espy on December 2, 1998, the Office of Independent Counsel completed its outstanding litigation matters. The Office currently is involved in several appellate matters, preparing its Final Report to Congress and processing records for the National Archives. This office prosecuted a total of 15 cases against 14 individuals, 7 corporations (5 criminal and 2 civil cases) and one law firm, and collected $11,438,000 for the United States Treasury.


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