Legal Speaks Home Debbie Hines Bio Blog TV Clips Practice Areas Res Ipsa Loquitur Links Contact
Blog Home

Posts Tagged ‘bribery’

College Cheating Scam and White Privilege

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

Felicity Huffman – Creative Commons

The largest college cheating admissions scam was announced today by the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts with over 50 persons being charged including actress Felicity Huffman, college coaches, SAT administrators, exam proctors and 33 parents.  Parents involved paid upwards of over $6.5 million for their children to be admitted to various elite schools including Yale, Georgetown, Wake Forest and others.  It was the ultimate example of wealth and privilege being used to secure the futures of the teens involved.  The end result is what many minorities and persons of color expected for a long time.  The system is rigged in  terms of wealth and privilege.

Every parent should teach their children to refrain from lying, cheating and stealing. When the parents lie, cheat and steal for their children to gain admission to prestigious U.S. schools with or without the child’s knowledge, it shows what many persons of color have already suspected all along—that some white privileged children gain an undue and undeserved advantage in college admissions.

Many African American students who have attended/graduated from a prestigious college or university, from President Obama down to myself are often faced with the obvious question/sneer or look from many whites that they took the seat of a qualified white student—due to lower admission standards or grades—or through affirmative action. Trump even demanded that Pres. Obama provide his college transcript and test scores to show his worthiness to attend Harvard.  Meanwhile, Trump, a likely mediocre student himself allowed his fixer Michael Cohen to threaten universities from releasing Trump’s grades or scores. The hypocrisy of white privilege often astounds me.

While many minorities have often suspected that some white students with inferior grades or test scores could somehow gain entrance to many prestigious colleges, it was not exactly understood how the process worked—before today’s case.  It is suspected that the rigged system has been going on for at least a decade. That is likely an understatement. Actress Felicity Huffman and these white parents of privilege, access and money had every available means and income to hire the very  best tutors, best study materials and courses and best private middle schools for their children but chose to take the easy way out and buy their child’s way into college—up to $6.5 million a pop.

From the President lying every day for his own advantage to these wealthy white parents lying to advance their child’s education cause, we have to wonder if we as a society have lost our moral compass  and sense of decency. The fact that college personnel, SAT administrators, proctors and college coaches contributed to the scheme is all the more telling that wealth and white privilege works—until you get caught. Everyone was in on the deal at all levels.

No matter what, the hypocrisy of the situation is not lost on minority students and people of color—blaming children of color for taking a white child’s seat due to inferior grades/scores when in this case, it was the mediocre white students who took the seat of a well-deserving student—and perhaps many students of color over a period of years. Those students who knew of the scheme and participated must be charged as well – to right the wrong.  A student who has someone else take  a test on his or her behalf knows they are cheating. A student with no athletic skills knows when a fake profile is used to show his athletic skills.

I suspect this case is just the tipping of the iceberg with others to come and be charged.  Lives have forever been changed in the process. I speak of those deserving students who were denied admission at the colleges of their choice because their parents had no money to pay to play.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor. She often appears in the media as a legal analyst.

 

 

 

 

Supreme Court Sweeps in Final Week

Monday, June 27th, 2016

supcourt_building

The  Supreme Court decided important cases today on political bribery, abortion rights and gun rights. The highest court struck down a restrictive Texas abortion law and vacated former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell’s bribery conviction. It upheld a federal gun law that forbids gun ownership if  convicted of domestic violence.

 

The court ruled that Texas’ HB2 draconian abortion law is unconstitutional and struck down the abortion law which unduly interferes with the rights of women to obtain an abortion. In a decided ruling of 5-3, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas HB2 law which placed strict standards against abortion doctors, clinics and almost closed all access to abortion in Texas is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court rejected Texas’ argument that the law was intended to protect women’s safety. The law was written to block women’s access to abortions in the State of Texas.

While Congress or the Senate has failed to pass any meaningful laws on gun control, the Supreme Court made clear today that no absolute right exists for gun ownership for those who have committed and been convicted of domestic violence. The Supreme Court upheld a federal law which prohibits people convicted of domestic violence from legally owning guns. In a blow to gun rights advocates, the Supreme Court made clear that the law covers intentional acts of domestic violence and those that are committed in the heat of an argument, whether misdemeanor or felony conviction.

In upholding the federal law, the Supreme Court affirms that the second amendment is not an absolute right to bear arms for those convicted of domestic violence—however it occurs. And the Supreme Court also indirectly inferred that those who are victims of domestic abuse are entitled to have gun right ownership stricken from their abusers. In many jurisdictions, local state laws also forbid the ownership of guns by those who have committed an act of domestic violence. And individuals are required to turn into law enforcement authorities any guns that they already possess.

 

Governor McDonnell at CPAC; Attribution Gage Skidmore

Governor McDonnell at CPAC; Attribution Gage Skidmore

In what was expected by many legal observers, the Supreme Court vacated the bribery conviction of Bob McDonnell with a decisive 8-0 ruling and dealt a likely death blow to Virginia federal prosecutors. By way of background, McDonnell while in office, received multiple gifts from business man Johnnie Williams consisting of loans, a paid wedding reception for his daughter, jewelry, vacation and golf trips. More specifically, the McDonnells received almost $200,000 of gifts and cash consisting of:

 

  1. $50,000 loan, without loan papers, used to pay of the McDonnell’s’ credit card debt
  2. $20,000 additional loan
  3. $15,000 payment to a caterer for the McDonell’s daughter’s wedding
  4. Round trip tickets for the McDonnell’s daughters to attend an out of town bachelorette party
  5. A lavish shopping spree in New York for Mrs. McDonnell to buy couture designer clothing and accessories for the Governor’s inauguration
  6. A Rolex watch, specifically requested by Mrs. McDonnell to be engraved for her husband, after seeing one on Williams’ arm
  7. Golf outings costing thousands of dollars
  8. Use of private jets
  9. Shares of stock

 

The Supreme Court did not focus on the gifts but focused on what constitutes official duties in exchange for the gifts–which is bribery if gifts are accepted in exchange for “official acts”. The highest court sparred McDonnell from jail by stating the official acts under federal corruption law means more than setting up business meetings, a launch at the governor’s mansion of Williams’ business and talking to others. And without more actions, it does not meet the bribery standard.

 

While the Court left open that McDonnell could be retried, it is not likely that will occur as the entire case rested on the theory that the Supreme Court struck down. What the Supreme Court stated is that it’s acceptable for lawmakers to receive the massive amounts of gifts that McDonnell received without any case, controversy or matter that may be pending. And the ruling also may have some implications for recently convicted politicians and those awaiting trials on bribery issues.

 

In all, Monday was a busy day of rulings for the Supreme Court.

 

Debbie Hines at the Capitol

Debbie Hines at the Capitol

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a lawyer, legal analyst and member of the Supreme Court bar.

SCOTUS Vacancy May Send Frmr VA Gov. McDonnell to Prison

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

supcourt_buildingInstead of running his own 2016 Republican campaign for presidential nominee, former Republican Governor and once rising GOP star Bob McDonnell will be awaiting the outcome on his Supreme Court hearing on April 27. McDonnell and his wife Maureen were convicted at trial of receiving gifts and loans in exchange for official government assistance to Star Scientific, the dietary supplement company, of businessman Jonnie Williams, Sr. A federal appeals court upheld their convictions. So now their last Hail Mary is with the Supreme Court.  And the Supreme Court vacancy may seal his fate.

 

The gifts from businessman Williams ranged from golf outings, catering for their daughter’s wedding, 2 loans, expensive shopping sprees to New York for Mrs. McDonnell, a Rolex watch and an assortment of other gifts, including as specifically outlined in the indictment, as follow:

 

  1. $50,000 loan, without loan papers, used to pay of the McDonnell’s’ credit card debt
  2. $20,000 additional loan
  3. $15,000 payment to a caterer for the McDonell’s       daughter’s wedding
  4. Round trip tickets for the McDonnell’s daughters to attend an out of town bachelorette party
  5. A lavish shopping spree in New York for Mrs. McDonnell to buy couture designer clothing and accessories for the Governor’s inauguration
  6. A Rolex watch, specifically requested by Mrs. McDonnell to be engraved for her husband, after seeing one on Williams’ arm
  7. Golf outings costing thousands of dollars
  8. Use of private jets
  9. Shares of stock

 

The prosecution contended and the jury convicted the McDonnells of receiving the gifts in exchange for allowing Williams’ business Star Scientific to produce the launch of its business and product at the VA governor’s mansion and potentially use Virginia employees in clinical trials of the dietary supplement, thereby defrauding Virginia taxpayers.   From looking at the gifts, it looks as if the case was open and shut. And so the question becomes why the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments.

 

 

The defense portrayed Maureen McDonnell as an overzealous wife and as the “fall woman”, throwing her under the bus for his transgressions. McDonnell maintained his innocence and contends that he did not do anything official in exchange for the gifts given to him. Williams for his testimony received immunity and no jail time. Maureen McDonnell was sentenced to one year and one day. And Bob McDonnell was sentenced to two years in federal prison- far less than the almost 10 years requested by the prosecution. Both have remained free pending the final outcome.

 

As his political case heads to the Supreme Court on Thursday, it goes before a possible tie decision among the justices. And if the justices split along party lines of 4-4, the federal appeals court decision will stand and both McDonnells will be headed to a federal prison.

 

McDonnell wants the Supreme Court to agree with him that in accepting the gifts, he did not violate the law. His lawyers assert that the former governor did not perform any “official actions” or use “actual government power”; Instead they argue that the former governor only arranged meetings, attended events and the most routine political activities. Hence the argument is McDonnell did political business as usual.

 

While McDonnell did not overtly state he used any political favors in exchange for Williams’ gifts, a launch of a business at the governor’s mansion is a favor, not likely to be received by most people- just for the asking. And attending functions where Williams would not have ordinarily been invited to are circumstantial evidence of a political favor. The nature of the continued gifts over a period of time and the activities afforded to Williams is minimally enough to uphold the conviction. It is true that McDonnell received far more than perhaps what Williams got in exchange for his gifts. However, the quid pro quo  or exchange does not need to be equal for a bribery conviction to be upheld.

 

McDonnell and his wife’s convictions should be upheld. If not, then anyone with money can buy political favors, however small and call it “politics as usual” without fear of criminal prosecution. The Supreme Court may have taken this case to show that any amount of money in exchange for any political favor, however slight, is corruption. If not, then our entire political system will be deemed more corrupt and rigged than most people already believe. And special interest groups will become bolder in cashing in on political favors and stating “business as usual.”

 

UPDATE:  At oral arguments held on April 27, the justices on both sides of the political spectrum  seemed inclined to lean towards McDonnell’s position–as setting up meetings is nothing out of the ordinary.  A decision will be rendered by the end of June.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, member of the Supreme Court bar, legal analyst and former prosecutor. Her Op Ed articles appear in the Washington Post, Huffington Post and Baltimore Sun. She appears on air on Al Jazeera, BET, CBS News, C-Span, Fox 5 DC, MSNBC, Sky News, PBS, among others.