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March 18, 1998




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

   Judge Royce C. Lamberth today sentenced Ronald H. Blackley to 27 months' imprisonment for lying on his Financial Disclosure Report and to federal agents with the Inspectors General for USDA and USAID. Blackley, who served as Chief of Staff to former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, was convicted in December 1997 on three counts of lying to hide his receipt of in excess of $22,000 from Mississippi agribusiness with interests before USDA while serving as Chief of Staff.

   Judge Lamberth imposed a more stringent sentence than Blackley argued was appropriate, stating:

      The defendant stands before me as a high ranking government official convicted of making false statements under oath. This 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.

      The abuse of trust placed on this defendant was egregious. The defendant's conduct about his receipt of monies while he was Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Agriculture should be an embarrassment to him, as well as to the Administration that he served.

   On December 1, 1997, a District of Columbia jury convicted Blackley of making false statements on his 1993 Public Financial Disclosure Report and lying to agents of the Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Inspector General. The false statements on the Financial Disclosure Report related to his receipt of $22,000 in 1993 from Mississippi agri-business interests, which were prohibited sources, after Blackley became Chief of Staff at USDA. The agri-businesses that gave him the $22,000 were clients of Blackley's consulting business and had matters pending before the USDA. These businesses sought and received in excess of $400,000 in USDA subsidies in the one year that Blackley served as Espy's Chief of Staff. During this period, Blackley also attempted to reverse a USDA decision not to provide one of the businesses with the amount of subsidies it requested. After the decision was reversed, the agri-businesses made a $1,000 payment to Blackley.

   Blackley, in the Chief of Staff position, was the "alter ego" to the Secretary of Agriculture, and USDA documents specified that he "shared with the Secretary the burdens and responsibilities of his office." Blackley also served as an agriculture aide to then-Congressman Espy from 1989 until Espy's appointment as Secretary.

   Blackley's crimes came to the attention of the Office of Independent Counsel during the course of its investigation of former Secretary of Agriculture Espy. After the Office of Independent Counsel determined it was appropriate to indict Blackley, it sought confirmation of its jurisdiction from the Special Division of the Court. The Department of Justice -- which previously had declined to prosecute Blackley -- opposed the Independent Counsel's request for referral of Blackley as a related matter from the Special Division.

    Independent Counsel Smaltz stated:

      Blackley's argument that the prosecution and jailing of senior government officials for lying will deter qualified people from serving in government office is hogwash. Government service is a public trust that carries significant responsibilities and accountability to the office as well as to the public. Senior government positions require honesty and integrity. Persons lacking in either have no business in government. Government officials who enrich themselves and abuse the public's trust, and then obstruct law enforcement investigations by lying about their illegal conduct, should face vigorous prosecution and stiff sentences.

      Judge Lamberth's sentence of Blackley to 27 months' incarceration, and the Judge's remarks in imposing that sentence, indicate that he shares the concern of this Office that government officials lying to conceal illegal conduct is indeed a serious matter requiring significant sanctions.

   In addition to imposing a term of imprisonment, Judge Lamberth placed Blackley on three years' supervised release to be served following his 27 months in prison.

   The prosecution of defendant Blackley was handled by William F. Fahey, Counsellor to Independent Counsel Smaltz; Barry Coburn, Senior Trial Counsel; and Trent B. Harkrader, Associate Independent Counsel.

    The Independent Counsel's investigation is continuing.


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