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Salinas v. United States

December 2, 1997

MARIO SALINAS, PETITIONER

v.

UNITED STATES



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Fifth Circuit

No. 96-738.

Argued October 8, 1997

Decided December 2, 1997.

This federal prosecution arose from a scheme in which a Texas county sheriff accepted money, and his deputy, petitioner Salinas, accepted two watches and a truck, in exchange for permitting women to make so-called "contact visits" to one Beltran, a federal prisoner housed in the county jail pursuant to an agreement with the Federal Government. Salinas was charged with one count of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U. S. C. Section 1962(c), one count of conspiracy to violate RICO, Section 1962(d), and two counts of bribery, Section 666(a)(1)(B). The jury convicted him on all but the substantive RICO count, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Held:

1. Section 666(a)(1)(B) does not require the Government to prove the bribe in question had a demonstrated effect upon federal funds. The enactment's plain language is expansive and unqualified, both as to the bribes forbidden and the entities covered, demonstrating by its reference to "any" business or transaction, Section 666(a)(1)(B), that it is not confined to transactions affecting federal funds; by its application to all cases in which an "organization, government, or agency" receives a specified amount of federal benefits, Section 666(b), that it reaches the scheme involved here; and by its prohibition on accepting "anything of value," Section 666(a)(1)(B), that it encompasses the transfers of personal property to petitioner in exchange for his favorable treatment of Beltran. Given the statute's plain and unambiguous meaning, petitioner is not aided by the legislative history, see, e.g., United States v. Albertini, 472 U. S. 675, 680, or by the plain-statement rule set forth in Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U. S. 452, 460-461, and McNally v. United States, 483 U. S. 350, 360, see, e.g., Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U. S. 44, 57, n. 9. Moreover, the construction he seeks cannot stand when viewed in light of the pre-Section 666 statutory framework -- which limited federal bribery prohibitions to "public official[s]," defined as "officer[s] or employee[s] or person[s] acting for or on behalf of the United States, or any … branch … thereof," and which was interpreted by some lower courts not to include state and local officials -- and the expansion prescribed by Section 666(a)(1)(B), which was designed to extend coverage to bribes offered to state and local officials employed by agencies receiving federal funds. Under this Court's construction, Section 666(a)(1)(B) is constitutional as applied in this case. Its application to petitioner did not extend federal power beyond its proper bounds, since the preferential treatment accorded Beltran was a threat to the integrity and proper operation of the federal program under which the jail was managed. See Westfall v. United States, 274 U. S. 256, 259. Pp. 3-9.

2. To be convicted of conspiracy to violate RICO under Section 1962(d), the conspirator need not himself have committed or agreed to commit the two or more predicate acts, such as bribery, requisite for a substantive RICO offense under Section 1962(c). Section 1962(d) -- which forbids "any person to conspire to violate" Section 1962(c) -- is even more comprehensive than the general conspiracy provision applicable to federal crimes, Section 371, since it contains no requirement of an overt or specific act to effect the conspiracy's object. Presuming Congress intended the "to conspire" phrase to have its ordinary meaning under the criminal law, see Morissette v. United States, 342 U. S. 246, 263, well-established principles and contemporary understanding demonstrate that, although a conspirator must intend to further an endeavor which, if completed, would satisfy all of the elements of a substantive criminal offense, it suffices that he adopt the goal of furthering or facilitating the criminal endeavor, and he need not agree to undertake all of the acts necessary for the crime's completion. Salinas' contrary interpretation of Section 1962(c) violates the foregoing principles and is refuted by Bannon v. United States, 156 U. S. 464, 469. Its acceptance, moreover, is not required by the rule of lenity, see United States v. Shabani, Justice Kennedy

Opinion of the Court

On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Fifth Circuit

The case before us presents two questions: First, is the federal bribery statute codified at 18 U. S. C. Section 666 limited to cases in which the bribe has a demonstrated effect upon federal funds? Second, does the conspiracy prohibition contained in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) apply only when the conspirator agrees to commit two of the predicate acts RICO forbids? Ruling against the petitioner on both issues, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

I.

This federal prosecution arose from a bribery scheme operated by Brigido Marmolejo, the Sheriff of Hidalgo County, Texas, and petitioner Mario Salinas, one of his principal deputies. In 1984, the United States Marshals Service and Hidalgo County entered into agreements under which the county would take custody of federal prisoners. In exchange, the Federal Government agreed to make a grant to the county for improving its jail and also agreed to pay the county a specific amount per day for each federal prisoner housed. Based on the estimated number of federal prisoners to be maintained, payments to the county were projected to be $915,785 per year. The record before us does not disclose the precise amounts paid. It is uncontested, however, that in each of the two periods relevant in this case the program resulted in federal payments to the county well in excess of the $10,000 amount necessary for coverage under 18 U. S. C. Section 666. (We denied certiorari on the question whether the monies paid to the county were "benefits" under a "Federal program" under Section 666(b), and we assume for purposes of this opinion that the payments fit those definitions.)

Homero Beltran-Aguirre was one of the federal prisoners housed in the jail under the arrangement negotiated between the Marshals Service and the county. He was incarcerated there for two intervals, first for 10 months and then for 5 months. During both custody periods, Beltran paid Marmolejo a series of bribes in exchange for so-called "contact visits" in which he remained alone with his wife or, on other occasions, his girlfriend. Beltran paid Marmolejo a fixed rate of six thousand dollars per month and one thousand dollars for each contact visit, which occurred twice a week. Petitioner Salinas was the chief deputy responsible for managing the jail and supervising custody of the prisoners. When Marmolejo was not available, Salinas arranged for the contact visits and on occasion stood watch outside the room where the visits took place. In return for his assistance with the scheme, Salinas received from Beltran a pair of designer watches and a pickup truck.

Salinas and Marmolejo were indicted and tried together, but only Salinas' convictions are before us. Salinas was charged with one count of violating RICO, 18 U. S. C. Section 1962(c), one count of conspiracy to violate RICO, Section 1962(d), and two counts of bribery in violation of Section 666(a)(1)(B). The jury acquitted Salinas on the substantive RICO count but convicted him on the RICO conspiracy count and the bribery counts. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. To resolve the case, we consider first the bribery scheme, then the conspiracy.

II.

Salinas contends the Government must prove the bribe in some way affected federal funds, for instance by diverting or misappropriating them, before the bribe violates Section 666(a)(1)(B). ...


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