SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Geddings Trial an Education
That Kevin Geddings deceived and lied was an expected conclusion from the three weeks of testimony in the former state lottery commissioner's fraud trial.
A 12-person jury found that the deception amounted to a crime, apparently agreeing with federal prosecutors' claims that Geddings' actions were part of a scheme to help Scientific Games gain a piece of North Carolina's lottery business. He now faces the prospect of spending several years in prison.
But the painstaking case put together by federal prosecutors provided an opportunity to discover a lot about the state of politics that has little to do with Geddings' service on the lottery commission. Some of it is rather stomach-turning.
The honest services fraud law that prosecutors used to convict Geddings is a powerful and potentially scary tool to attack political corruption.
Prosecutors never accused him of fraudulently obtaining money or another benefit. Instead, the federal statute used to convict Geddings was based on the notion that, once appointed to the lottery commission, he had a duty to be true to that role and use the position solely to benefit the North Carolina public.
The statute speaks of forbidding schemes to "deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." First created in the 1960s, the law was struck down by the federal courts for a time but revived by Congress in 1988.
Defense lawyers say the statute gives prosecutors too much leeway to go after political conduct that may be unethical but not illegal. Prosecutors say they still must prove the elements of fraud and intent, something more difficult when monetary gain isn't involved.
For Geddings' jurors, the intent was apparently clear.
Being a political consultant who became known as a gatekeeper for former South Carol-ina Gov. Jim Hodges was ap-parently a pretty lucrative line of work. Testimony indicated that Geddings parlayed his successful media consulting work during Hodges' initial election campaign into a one-year stint as his chief of staff and, afterward, a wide-ranging Colum-bia, S.C., consulting business.
Geddings' firm took in close to $2 million annually in 2001 and 2002. Once Sugar Daddy Hodges was gone from office in 2003, the income began to decline. The founder of a company that gained a South Carolina contract to house and treat mentally ill prisoners testified that he provided a $30,000 check to an entity created by Geddings -- South Carolinians for an Effective Lottery -- prior to a dinner party in which he was pitching another program to Hodges. Geddings pocketed the money.
In political campaigns, main consultants' taking of "referral fees" while using client money to hire polling or other secondary consultants is a fairly common practice. In the real world, we call it a kickback. National Education Association representative Scott Anderson testified that he received a $1,000 "referral fee" from Geddings after sending an NEA-financed ad campaign his way.
After such enlightening lessons, anyone want to take in a mud-wrestling match?
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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