The US Supreme Court keeps weakening the prosecutors’ tools to pursue crooks in government

In two unanimous decisions handed down this month, the U.S. Supreme Court did exactly what was unfortunately expected and tossed out convictions won by famed corruption-buster former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The justices didn’t like what both Bharara and the trial court had agreed was criminal behavior by Andrew Cuomo’s hatchet man Joe Percoco as well as a bunch of guys nailed in the ill-fated Buffalo Billion scandal.

In two separate cases, they were indicted, tried before a jury and convicted in 2018. Both verdicts were appealed and unanimously upheld in a joint ruling by a three-judge appeals panel in 2021 and the men appropriately packed off to federal prison. The cases were heard by the Big Nine last November, where the questions made clear where the justices were heading.

Thus the high court continues whittling away from the federal prosecutors’ tools of mail fraud and wire fraud and honest services theft and the Hobbs Act (which forbids quid pro quo). Regardless of what the justices think, public corruption does exist.

Noted Clarence Thomas during the Percoco oral argument: “What is curious about this case is that the State of New York doesn’t seem to be upset about this arrangement. It seems as though we are using a federal law to impose ethical standards on state activity.” Yes, that’s correct because these are complicated and fraught cases, risky for local prosecutors who have to run for election or be appointed. And local DAs, focused on common crimes, just don’t have the lawyer-power and expertise to pursue powerful political figures, with the possible exception of the Manhattan DA’s office.

So policing the crooks in local and state government nationwide is generally left to the U.S. lawmen and law-women, as we saw with cases against state Senate leaders Joe Bruno, Malcolm Smith, John Sampson and Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver.

How about beefing up the federal anti-corruption laws that the Supreme Court keeps watering down? That would be better than Jim Jordan’s House Judiciary Committee attacking Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg.


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