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Sabri v. United States

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Brief Fact Summary.

Petitioner Basim Sabri, a real estate developer, wanted to build a hotel and retail structure in Minneapolis. Doubtful of his ability to meet the licensing and zoning laws, the petitioner  offered several bribes to a city councilman. The charges were brought against the petitioner under 18 U.S.C. §666(a)(2), which imposes federal criminal penalties on those who offers bribes to state, local, or tribal government. The petitioner denied any connection between a bribe and some federal money.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Although passing on the validity of a law wholesale may be efficient in the abstract, any gain is often offset by losing the lessons taught by the particular, to which common law method normally looks.

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Facts.

Petitioner Basim Sabri, a real estate developer, wanted to build a hotel and retail structure in Minneapolis. Doubtful of his ability to meet the licensing and zoning laws, the petitioner offered several bribes to a city councilman. The charges were brought against the petitioner under 18 U.S.C. §666(a)(2), which imposes federal criminal penalties on those who offers bribes to state, local, or tribal government in connection with any business or transaction involving anything of value of $5,000 or more. For a criminal liability to lie, the government-recipient must benefit in excess of $10,000 in one year. The petitioner denied any connection between a bribe and some federal money.

Issue.

Does Congress has the power to prohibit bribery of state, local, and tribal officials that receive at least $10,000 in federal funds under Article I of the Constitution?

Held.

Yes. First, To qualify as a valid exercise of Article I power, the statute does not necessarily require – and there is no need of any proof of – connection with federal money as an element of the offense. Congress has the power to appropriate federal monies to promote general welfare under the Spending Clause and to monitor that taxpayer dollars are spent for the general welfare, and not spent for bribes. 18 U.S.C. §666(a)(2) addresses the problems of bribes to safeguard the integrity of the state and local recipients of federal dollars.

Discussion.

It is true that not every bribe or kickback offered to government officials will be skimmed from specific federal payments. However, this possibility portends no enforcement beyond the scope of federal interest because corruption does not have to be that limited to affect the federal interest. Money is fungible and corrupt contractors do not deliver dollar-for-dollar value.


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