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United States v. DeLaurentis

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY


February 10, 2000

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA HON. STEPHEN M. ORLOFSKY
V.
JAMES V. DELAURENTIS

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen M. Orlofsky United States District Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION ON MOTION FOR REARGUMENT

ORLOFSKY, District Judge

On January 27, 2000, I filed an Opinion in which I dismissed Counts Two and Six of the indictment in this case. See United States v. DeLaurentis, No. 99-431, 2000 WL 64895, at *7 (D.N.J. Jan. 27, 2000). These Counts alleged violations of 18 U.S.C. § 666, *fn1 which makes "bribe-taking" by local government officials a federal offense. In dismissing both Counts, I applied for the first time the Third Circuit's decision in United States v. Zwick, No.98-3641, 1999 WL 1201443 (3d Cir. Dec. 15, 1999). On February 2, 2000, the Government filed a motion for reargument, requesting that I reconsider my decision to dismiss Counts Two and Six of the indictment. See Notice of Mot. (filed Feb. 2, 2000). For the reasons set forth below, the Government's motion for reconsideration is denied.

I. Discussion

I dismissed Counts Two and Six of the indictment on the ground that the Government had failed to establish a sufficient connection between the bribes that the Defendant, James V. DeLaurentis ("DeLaurentis"), allegedly accepted and the federal funds received by the Hammonton Police Department, where DeLaurentis served as the Supervising Detective. See DeLaurentis, 2000 WL 64895, at *1, *7. The Government alleges that DeLaurentis received bribes from the owner of the Choris Bar, a local Hammonton watering hole, in exchange for persuading the Hammonton Town Council not to strip the owner of his license to serve alcohol. See id. at *2. During the time that DeLaurentis was allegedly receiving bribes, the Hammonton Police Department was the beneficiary of a three-year, $75,000 community-policing grant, given to the Hammonton Police Department for the purposes of hiring one additional police officer. See id. at *6. I interpreted the Third Circuit's decision in Zwick to mean that the Government was required to show that the bribes received by DeLaurentis somehow implicated a substantive federal interest, concluded that the Government had not met this burden, and granted DeLaurentis's motion to dismiss Counts Two and Six of the indictment. See id. at *5-7. The Government now seeks to introduce new evidence *fn2 that it claims establishes a sufficient connection between the bribes accepted and the federal grant money received.

Specifically, the Government contends that the police officer the Hammonton Police Department hired with the community-policing grant money it received has reported to the Choris Bar on four occasions on complaints of, among other things, "public urination," "public intoxication," and "a large group." See Government's Letter Br. at 4-5, Exs. H, I, J (received Feb. 2, 2000). The Government argues that if DeLaurentis had not accepted bribes from the owner of the Choris Bar, he would not have persuaded the Hammonton Town Council to allow the bar to retain its liquor license, the bar would have closed, and the federally funded police officer would not have had to report to the Choris Bar. See id. at 5-6. According to the Government, the bribes received by DeLaurentis implicate a substantive federal interest in "not allowing the agents of organizations receiving federal funds to waste, divert and dissipate those funds by taking bribes to permit crimes that the federal funds must be used to investigate." Id. at 6. Unfortunately, the Government's argument misses the mark.

The Third Circuit's decision in Zwick requires that the Government demonstrate a more particularized federal interest than the one it asserts here. The holding in Zwick is predicated on the concern that the constitutional balance of state and federal powers would be threatened without a requirement that a connection exist between bribes that are the subject of a prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 666 and the federal funds that are prerequisite to such a prosecution. See Zwick, 1999 WL 1201443, at *8, *11. The Third Circuit fashioned the "federal interest" test I applied in dismissing Counts Two and Six of the indictment to address this concern. See id., at *11. The Third Circuit also offered guidance as to how this test should be applied. The Court held that in circumstances where most of a local government's budget is derived from federal funds, a federal interest will be implicated, "even if the purpose of those funds has no explicit relationship to the subject of the bribe." Id., at *12. Absent this circumstance, however, something more is required. The bribe accepted must relate in some way to "a particular substantive federal interest." Id.

The result in Zwick reveals that "a particular substantive federal interest" will be implicated where there is a relationship between the federal funds received and the bribe accepted. Hence, "a particular substantive federal interest" was not found to exist in Zwick because the local government in that case received federal funds for emergency snow removal and to prevent stream bank erosion while the defendant accepted bribes from real estate developers in exchange for sewer access and land use permits. See id. The Third Circuit ruled that the uses to which the federal funds were put "bore no obvious connection" to the subject of the bribe, sewer access and land use permits. See id. at *12.

Similarly, a relationship is lacking in this case between the federal grant money the Hammonton Police Department received and the bribe DeLaurentis allegedly accepted. The Hammonton Police Department received federal funds to hire an additional police officer. DeLaurentis allegedly accepted a bribe for enabling the Choris Bar to retain its liquor license. There is little relation, if any, between the very general purposes for which the Hammonton Police Department received the federal grant money and the subject of the bribe, the circumvention of New Jersey's Alcohol Beverage laws.

This case would be different if the Hammonton Police Department had been given federal funding to aid in the enforcement of state liquor laws or if the Hammonton Police Department, having received the money, dedicated some portion of it to that purpose. In such a circumstance, there would be a relationship between the federal funds received and the bribe DeLaurentis allegedly accepted. See United States v. Frega, 933 F.Supp. 1536, 1542-43 (S.D. Calif. 1996) (stating that if a state court system received federal funding to appoint counsel in death penalty habeas proceedings and a state court accepted a bribe in exchange for appointing a particular attorney, 18 U.S.C. § 666 would "clearly be implicated," "even if the actual funds used to pay counsel were state funds"). In this case, however, there is no evidence that "community policing" involves substantially different duties than those generally performed by police officers or that the police officer hired with federal funds provided anything other traditional police services. Allowing the Government to bring a prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 666 on these facts or whenever a local government receives federal funds and "wastes," "diverts," or "dissipates" resources would threaten to upset the very constitutional balance between federal and state authority that the Third Circuit in Zwick was afraid of disturbing. See United States v. McCormack, 31 F.Supp.2d 76, 189 (D. Mass. 1998).

In making its argument, the Government relies on a number of cases which are cited with approval in Zwick, however, the Government's reliance on these cases is misplaced. In United States v. Salinas, 522 U.S. 52, 118 S.Ct. 469, 474-75, 139 L.Ed.2d 352 (1997), the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of a county sheriff where the federal government provided the county with funds to house federal prisoners and the sheriff accepted bribes from one of the prisoners so that the prisoner could have "contact" visits with his wife and girlfriends. In United States v. Santopietro, 166 F.3d 88, 93 (2d Cir. 1999), the Second Circuit affirmed the conviction of the Mayor of Waterbury, Connecticut, who accepted bribes from real estate developers in exchange for his influence over Waterbury agencies responsible for administering federal funding for urban development and renewal. In both cases, it was found that the bribes involved posed a "threat to the integrity and proper operation of the federal program." Salinas, 118 S.Ct. at 475; Santopietro, 166 F.3d at 93. No such threat existed in this case. DeLaurentis's acceptance of bribes from the owner of the Choris Bar did not threaten the integrity of the community-policing grant received by the Hammonton Police Department. Federal funds "were [not] corruptly administered" nor were federal funds ever in "in danger of being corruptly administered." Frega, 933 F.Supp. at 1543. Rather, the funds were put to the proper use of beefing up law enforcement in Hammonton.

The police officer funded with federal money reported to the Choris Bar as part of legitimate police activity. The fact that the bar may have operated because of the bribe DeLaurentis received creates what is at best a tangential and insufficient connection between the bribe DeLaurentis accepted and the federal funds the Hammonton Police Department received. No "particular substantive federal interest" is implicated by the bribe DeLaurentis allegedly received.

II. Conclusion

For the reasons set forth above, I hold that the Government has failed to demonstrate that "a particular substantive federal interest" is implicated by the alleged acceptance of a bribe by the Defendant, James V. DeLaurentis. In light of the Government's inability to establish a relationship between the federal funds received by the Hammonton Police Department and the bribe allegedly accepted in this case, I conclude that I properly dismissed Counts Two and Six of the indictment in my Opinion & Order of January 27, 2000. Accordingly, I shall deny the Government's motion for reargument. An appropriate order shall be entered by the Court.

Dated: February 10, 2000


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