Eleventh Circuit Upholds Acquittal of Margate City Commissioner

In United States v. McLean, No. 14-10061, 2015 WL 5607641 (11th Cir. Sept. 24, 2015), the Eleventh Circuit upheld the district court’s acquittal of David McLean, a former Margate city commissioner, on two counts of bribery. The Department of Justice may prosecute an agent of a local government who accepts “any thing of value of $5,000 or more” with the intent “to be influenced or rewarded in connection with any business, transaction, or series of transactions” of such agency. 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B) (2012). Federal jurisdiction is justified if the “organization, government, or agency receives, in any one year period, benefits in excess of $10,000 under a Federal program involving a grant, contract, subsidy, loan, guarantee, insurance, or other form of Federal assistance.” 18 U.S.C. § 666(b).

From 2004 to 2013, McLean served as a City Commissioner of Margate, Florida (City). As a City Commissioner, McLean simultaneously served on the board of the Margate Community Redevelopment Agency (MCRA), a separate legal entity funded by the City for the purpose of “promot[ing] the [City’s] physical and economic development.” Prosecutors charged McLean with multiple counts of bribery stemming from his role in the MCRA’s grant program.

After a jury returned a guilty verdict on two bribery counts, the district court granted McLean’s Renewed Motion for Judgment of Acquittal. The district court held that although the government introduced sufficient evidence that the MCRA received more than $10,000 in benefits from a federal program, the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the MCRA received these funds within a one-year period.

The Government appealed, arguing that it met the required showings. The Eleventh Circuit first emphasized the Government’s burden “to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of [the] criminal offense,” finding it an important protection against federal prosecution of traditional state offenses. Additionally, the court of appeals noted the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Yates v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1074, in which the Court cautioned against overly expansive readings of federal criminal statutes.

Second, the Eleventh Circuit cited Fisher v. United States, 529 U.S. 667, 681 (2000), which “makes clear, that under some circumstances, indirect receipt of a benefit is sufficient” to satisfy the jurisdictional element of § 666. However, the court of appeals examined decisions from the First, Second, Fifth, and Ninth Circuits and concluded that “regardless of whether an agency receives federal funds directly or indirectly, there must be a nexus between the funds and their ultimate use to satisfy § 666.” McLean, 2015 WL 5607641, at *10.

The Eleventh Circuit found that the Government had presented sufficient evidence to establish that the City received federal funds, subsequently transferred the funds, and that Broward County provided six bus shelters built with federal funds to the MCRA. However, the Government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the MCRA “receive[d] (1) more than $10,000 in federal funds (2) in connection with programs defined by a sufficiently comprehensive ‘structure, operation, and purpose’ to merit characterization of the funds as benefits under § 666(b).” United States v. Edgar, 304 F.3d 1320, 1327 (11th Cir. 2002).

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