Former Central Falls mayor Charles Moreau is about to be set free “after serving half his two-year sentence” on corruption charges (background available from Michelle Smith of the Associated Press, here), as a result of a First Circuit Court of Appeals opinion from June of last year. Two key factors made the decision in USA vs. Fernandez directly relevant to the Moreau case.
1. Moreau was apparently convicted of accepting not a “bribe” but a “gratuity”. What’s the difference? The First Circuit quotes a 1999 Supreme Court opinion to explain…
[F]or bribery there must be a quid pro quo — a specific intent to give or receive something of value in exchange for an official act. An illegal gratuity, on the other hand, may constitute merely a reward for some future act that the public official will take (and may already have determined to take), or for a past act that he has already taken.
2. The court then notes the structure of Federal statute…
§ 201(b) targets (primarily) federal officials, while § 666 targets non-federal officials who happen to have a connection to federal funds. It is reasonable to assume that the federal government viewed corrupt federal officials involved in the receipt of bribes as more culpable.
…where § 201(b) makes “bribes” and “gratuities” illegal, while § 666 (yes, that’s really the number) makes only “bribes” illegal.
According to Ms. Smith’s report, with the gratuity conviction no longer valid in the First Circuit because Moreau was a local and not a Federal official, Moreau and the prosecutors have made a deal where he will plead guilty to a bribery charge, in return for a sentence of time served.
If you need one sentence to explain to your friends and neighbors the law that led to this outcome, this should do: While it’s illegal to engage in a la carte bribery of state or local officials in the US, you’re OK under Federal law if you’re able to buy them off on a retainer basis.