To the editor:
In a recent editorial, the Deseret News criticized legislation proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice to make sure that federal mail and wire fraud laws may be used to prosecute local public corruption. Both of your arguments against such a law are dead wrong.First, you called the proposal a federal "power grab." Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost since it was adopted in 1949, the mail fraud statute has been regularly used to prosecute local public corruption. The same is true of the wire fraud statute since it was passed in 1952. Corruption prosecutions continued under these statutes until the Supreme Court's opinion last year in the United States vs. McNally.
In the McNally case, the Supreme Court for the first time limited the authority that had existed for nearly 40 years to prosecute local corruption under federal fraud statutes. The department's current proposal would only restore that authority without enlarging it. No "power grab" is involved.
Second, you suggested "local governments generally do a good job in cleaning up their problem without dragging in the feds. If local officials violate local laws, let local prosecutors handle it."
That would be fine if it worked, but often it doesn't work. The only reason federal mail and wire fraud laws have been used to prosecute local public corruption all these years is because local prosecutors were not successful in doing so.
I am speaking primarily about other parts of the country, especially the South, where historically it has simply been impossible for elected or appointed local prosecutors to root out deeply-engrained corruption by elected county and state officials.
Conflicts of interest and political considerations can paralyze local prosecutors in public corruption cases. They find themselves prosecuting political allies who are their own clients (or bosses) or prosecuting political enemies amidst accusations of political prejudice. Sometimes local prosecutors are themselves the corrupt local politicians.
In these cases, it is reassuring to know that there is a federal law under which the Department of Justice or a U.S. attorney with the aid of the FBI can investigate and prosecute absent any cloud of suspicion as to motives and without any appearance of a conflict of interest.
With passage of this public corruption law the department of Justice will continue to fill that role. If, as you urge, the proposal fails, in most cases no agency of government at any level will be readily available to do so and corruption will often go unchecked.
Your opposition is shortsighted. This proposal is one well worth supporting. I hope your readers and our elected representatives agree.
Brent D. Ward