Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of Enron Executive Jeffrey Skilling that seriously weakened the "honest services" statute. While Skilling's case involved corporate fraud, the "honest services" statute is often used to prosecute public officials accused of corruption. And, that could create problems:
The high court's ruling "deprives prosecutors of an important tool in their efforts to fight public corruption," said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
"Previous convictions may be vacated and corrupt officials will have an easier time escaping accountability for their misdeeds."
Key leaders in Congress were fuming.
"The court has significantly narrowed the honest-services fraud statute, a key tool for prosecutors to protect American taxpayers from fraud and corruption," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"In doing so, the court has once again disregarded the will of Congress and undermined those efforts to protect Americans from abuses by powerful corporate and political interests."
The justices found that the only charges that can be brought under the law involve bribery and kickbacks, not the slew of other offenses such as lying and failing to disclose information that prosecutors had been pursuing under the statute.