Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Supreme Court Limits Bribery Law Used in Chicago Corruption Cases

Justices found that a federal statute that bans bribery does not apply to “gratuities” paid to elected officials for past acts. The case pertained to a former mayor but has implications for charges against former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Former Portage Mayor James Snyder and his family arrive to Federal Court in Hammond for his sentencing on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. (Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune/TNS)
Kyle Telechan/TNS
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out a key part of the federal bribery statute often used in many Chicago-area corruption cases — including that of ex-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan — saying it does not apply to “gratuities” given to elected officials after the fact.

In the opinion, which has been highly anticipated in Chicago’s federal court, the justices sided 6-3 with the former mayor of Portage, Ind., James Snyder, who argued to the nation’s highest court that the anti-corruption law under which he was convicted is vague and could potentially criminalize innocent, everyday conduct.

The decision vacates Snyder’s conviction for taking a $13,000 “consulting” fee from a garbage truck contractor that had recently won two lucrative contracts with the town.

The opinion, written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, states the bribery statute at issue in Snyder’s case, known as Section 666, “proscribes bribes to state and local officials but does not make it a crime for those officials to accept gratuities for their past acts.”

“The Government’s so-called guidance would leave state and local officials entirely at sea to guess about what gifts they are allowed to accept under federal law, with the threat of up to 10 years in federal prison if they happen to guess wrong,” the opinion states. “That is not how federal criminal law works. And the Court has rejected the view that it should construe a criminal statute on the assumption that the Government will use it responsibly.”

The 47-page opinion also takes issue with the term “rewarded,” which it typically interpreted by prosecutors as a reward for a public official after an official act was taken.

“By including the term ‘rewarded,’ Congress made clear that the timing of the agreement is the key, not the timing of payment,” the opinion stated. “Although a gratuity or reward offered and accepted by a state or local official after the official act may be unethical or illegal under other federal, state, or local laws, the gratuity does not violate” Section 666.

The 666 statute has frequently been used to prosecute public officials. The law made it illegal to “corruptly” accept anything over $5,000 in value with the intention of being “influenced or rewarded” for an official act, regardless of whether there was a prior quid-pro-quo agreement.

Proceedings in least a half-dozen Chicago-area corruption cases had been put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision, including sentencing in the “ComEd Four” bribery case and the bombshell case against Madigan, which has been delayed until October so there would be plenty of time to digest the high court’s decision.

Defense attorneys will likely request that certain counts be thrown out in light of the justices’ ruling on Wednesday, though prosecutors in the Madigan case have said they are willing to forgo any arguments to jurors that the benefits provided to Madigan were gratuities.

©2024 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

From Our Partners