The Eleventh Circuit upheld a federal bribery conviction for an Alabama County Commissioner who gave county business to an investment firm in return for cash, jewelry, and expensive clothes
U.S. v Langford is about a politician who went bad. Langford took more than $240,000 in bribes in the form of cash, clothing, and jewelry from codefendant William Blount while serving as a county commissioner in Jefferson County Alabama. Blount ran investment banking firm that specialized in underwriting and marketing municipal bonds. As a commissioner, Langford had the authority to select firms to handle the county’s financial transaction. Blount solicited and received business from the county for his investment firm, handling many of the county’s transactions for general obligation bonds and other county financial transactions. The deals yielded net benefit of about $5.5 million to Blount’s firm. In exchange, Blount gave Langford about $150,000 in cash and $90,000 worth of clothing and jewelry, including buying sprees at expensive clothing and jewelry stores in New York City. This led to multiple charges of bribery, mail and wire fraud, money laundering, and tax fraud.
The wire and mail fraud charges alleged that Langford’s fraud deprived the citizens of Jefferson County of their right to receive his “honest services,” for which Langford had a fiduciary duty to provide. A violation of the wire and mail fraud statutes include a scheme to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services. According to the Eleventh Circuit, when a public official uses his office for personal gain, he deprives his constituents of their right to have him perform his official duties in their best interest. There was sufficient evidence to show Langford deprived the citizens of honest services by showing his position in the county gave him authority to choose Blount’s firm and he did select the firm which receive millions of dollars in benefits in exchange for cash, and jewelry, without disclosing these valuable items. The court found the evidence sufficient to prove the elements of mail and wire fraud because Langford sent packages containing merchandise purchased for him by Blount to his office in Alabama. Langford caused the use of the wires when Blount used his American Express card to make purchases on Langford’s behalf to further the scheme to defraud the county.
Langford also challenged several evidentiary rulings.
He challenged the admission of “eye-catching” gambling winnings contained in his income tax returns, but the returns were admissible to show failure to report the cash or gifts as income. The bank records relating to his credit card were offered to show the special treatment he received in exchange for county business by causing the county to hire the bank as its financial adviser for bond transactions. The Court found the bank records were properly admitted under the business record exception of Rule 803(6) of the rules of evidence.
Finally, the appellate court affirmed his denial of a change of venue. Following voir dire Langford’s motion for a change of venue was denies claiming he was denied a right to an impartial jury. The trial had been moved out of Jefferson County on the defense’s request. Langford claimed that the potential jurors still showed prejudice, but the appellate court found that of the 55 potential jurors, only 8 said they heard about the case and only 4 of the 8 said it would interfere with their ability to be fair.