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Frederic Bourke's Big Bet

While we're watching the teletype (left) for news about William Jefferson's sentencing Friday morning (see our post here), let's talk about Mr. Bourke. He was sentenced Tuesday to a year and a day in jail and fined a million dollars for conspiring to violate the FCPA and lying to FBI agents. People in the courtroom said when he was convicted, Bourke was shocked. So apparently he never expected the jury to find him guilty. But when he was sentenced, he was happy and relieved. So he must have been expecting a lot worse. And that probably means the DOJ never offered him a deal with so little jail time.

Why was Bourke shocked by the verdict? Because he had good facts and good law and good lawyers. He didn't pay any bribes himself; he was one of Viktor Kozeny's victims; he'd blown the whistle on Kozeny's fraud and testified to a state grand jury that indicted Kozeny; he thought he'd have the local law defense (he didn't; Judge Scheindlin ruled against it); George Mitchell was his friend, co-investor and character witness; he had smart, active lawyers, and so on. So let's face it. As a defendant, Bourke had a lot going for him. That's why he was shocked by the verdict.

But should he have been? We don't think so. Defendants haven't done well with juries in FCPA-related cases. There hasn't been a full acquittal -- Mr. Jefferson's split decision notwithstanding -- since 1991. Why? For two main reasons.

Before we get to reason number one, we acknowledge that there are lots of legal arguments you can raise about the words of the FCPA -- about the business nexus element, the meaning of "foreign official," and others. And those are good arguments on paper. But judges haven't wanted to hear much about them. In the Kay and Murphy case, for example, the Fifth Circuit even warned against defendants who try "splitting hairs" (they were talking about the meaning of "obtaining or retaining business"). So that's reason number one why defendants don't do well in court. Judges don't welcome a lot of legal argument about the FCPA. Bourke's trial also illustrated the point. Judge Scheindlin didn't allow the local law defense. That surprised us and it dented Bourke's chances of acquittal.

Reason number two: Juries hate graft. That's what we said when the Greens were convicted in September. There's no other conclusion to draw from the trial record in FCPA-related prosecutions stretching back eighteen years. We'll say it again: FCPA cases are about bribes to corrupt foreign officials. They're about sophisticated and often wealthy people looking for shortcuts, hoping to subvert foreign governments for personal or corporate gain. Wheeling and dealing in exotic places. Flashing cash and pulling strings. That's how the prosecutors tell it and juries lap it up. So even if the government's evidence isn't rock solid on all the elements of an FCPA offense, the jury will still get the picture that people who should know better stepped over the line. And they'll convict.

Coming back to Bourke, we'd have to say he took a big risk going to trial, even though he had a lot going for him. But he was fortunate. Judge Scheindlin was on the bench. She said he was at least partly a victim so she gave him a break on the jail time. That's how justice should work (and why no one is sorry the federal sentencing guidelines aren't compulsory anymore).

One more thing. Bourke still has an appeal to the Second Circuit. Defendants who plea bargain can't appeal but those who go to trial can. That's a reason to go to trial, although it can't be nice to sit in a jail cell hoping your appeal will work (they rarely do). Still, Bourke's chances with the Second Circuit aren't too bad.

Our conclusion: If the government never offered Bourke less than a year in prison as part of a plea deal, he came out ahead by going to trial. And he may do even better after his appeal. But his decision to go to trial in the first place was against the odds. And he ended up lucky.

Reader Comments (1)

We have been naive to the ability of our government to completely twist facts and how ruthless they can be when they decide to look for a "Sacrificial Lamb" and not allow juries to hear any info that would lead them to a not guilty verdict. We saw how determined and unfair the government can be to turn a God fearing, life long law abiding citizen into a convicted felon and completely destroying a family and possibility of any future. If this can happen to us, it can happen to anyone. Our system is neither fair nor works. It was a rude awakening for a hardworking, pro-America kind of family.

Dawn Kay (David Kay's wife)
January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDawn Kay

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