Wednesday, June 9th, 2021

Scheme to Bribe Basketball Coaches Fouls Out.

In United States v. Dawkins, No. 19-3623(L) (2d Cir. June 4, 2021) (Raggi, Sullivan, and Nardini), the Circuit affirmed the defendants’ convictions arising from a scheme to bribe college basketball coaches, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(2). As relevant, Section 666 makes it a crime to bribe “an agent of an organization … in connection with any business, transaction, or series of transactions of such organization … involving anything of value of $5,000 or more,” provided that “the organization … receives, in any one[-]year period, [federal] benefits in excess of $10,000.”

The defendants argued on appeal, among other things, that this statute requires (1) a “nexus” between the “agent” to be bribed and the federal funds received by his or her organization; and (2) evidence that the “business” of a federally funded organization, to which the bribery scheme is connected, be commercial in nature.

The Circuit rejected both claims. It held that the government is not required to prove that the “agent” of a federally funded organization had control over the federal funds, or that the agent worked in a specific program within the organization that used those federal dollars. The Circuit also held that the government need not prove that the “business” of a federal funded organization was commercial in nature.

The Dawkins opinion did accept one of the defendants’ other claims: that the district court erred by giving the jury a “false exculpatory statement” instruction—because the supposed “false exculpatory statements” in evidence were “not exculpatory at all.” Nevertheless, the court held this error harmless given the “ample evidence” of guilt and the jury instructions as a whole.

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