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April 27, 1999





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

A unanimous Supreme Court decision today in United States v. Sun-Diamond Growers of California held that in order to establish a violation of the federal gratuities statute, 18 U.S.C. section 201(c)(1)(A), "the Government must prove a link between things of value conferred upon a public official and a specific 'official act' for or because of which it was given."  By this holding, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which had reversed Sun-Diamond's conviction for giving Secretary Espy approximately $5,900 in tickets to the 1993 U.S. Open, luggage, meals, and crystal while Sun-Diamond had various matters pending before Secretary Espy.

The D.C. Circuit Court had reversed Sun-Diamond's conviction because it concluded the trial judge had erroneously charged the jury regarding the intent necessary to sustain a gratuities conviction. The D.C. Circuit Court held that, under the statute, "the giver must intend either to reward some past concrete official act or acts or to enhance the likelihood of some future act or acts." The D.C. Circuit's decision was in conflict with four other federal circuits that held there was no requirement that a nexus be proven between the thing of value given and a particular act. These various interpretations had effectively created a situation where the giver of things of value in New York, Philadelphia, Houston, and Los Angeles could be convicted on lesser proof than officials in the District of Columbia. It was a concern of the Independent Counsel that the most senior public officials in Washington, D.C. and persons and corporations who deal with them be held to identical standards of conduct as officials throughout the rest of the United States and persons and companies who deal with them.

Mr. Smaltz stated:

In its decision today, the Supreme Court has ruled against the interpretation of the federal gratuity statute urged by the Government. I applaud the fact that the Court has now articulated a single, understandable rule to guide public officials, their constituents, and law enforcement in the future. The establishment of such a rule was one of our goals in bringing the case to the Supreme Court.

I am, of course, disappointed that the Court chose to adopt a rule governing the gratuity statute that, in my view, allows too much latitude to those who would attempt to buy governmental favor. The Court has read the gratuity statute to forbid gratuities to public officials only where the official act for which the gift was given can be identified with specificity. The Supreme Court's job, however, is to declare the meaning of statutes, and I respect the fact that it has done so in this case. For those who believe that no one should be allowed to give gifts to public officials to purchase goodwill or curry favor, regardless of the specificity with which the desired official acts can be identified, any future refinement of this law must come from Congress, or from the Office of Government Ethics, whose regulations govern the behavior of governmental officials in the Executive Branch.


Press Contact: Jan Drake

Press Officer




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