Supreme Court takes Weyhrauch mail-fraud question

APPEAL: Lawyer says decision deals "serious blow" to federal case.

June 29, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal by former Alaska Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch that prosecutors shouldn't be allowed to say he cheated Alaska's citizens when he secretly sought work from the oil-field service company Veco during the 2006 legislative session.

In accepting Weyhrauch's pretrial review, the court said it will look at one specific area: whether prosecutors must prove Weyhrauch violated a state disclosure law to convict him on federal mail fraud statutes. The federal law makes it illegal for public officials to use the mails to defraud the public out of their honest services.

Weyhrauch, awaiting trial on federal corruption charges, asked the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision that directly applied the federal mail fraud statute to his case. At issue is one count in Weyhrauch's 2007 indictment where he is accused of mail fraud for seeking post-session work from Veco at the same time Veco was pushing back on an oil-tax bill in 2006. Weyhrauch argued that because his conduct was legal under state law, it shouldn't be illegal under the federal mail fraud statute. His argument prevailed in U.S. District Court, but prosecutors appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and won.

His lawyer, Doug Pope, said that he thought the Supreme Court's decision to hear the matter at issue dealt a "serious blow to the government's case."

"We have felt that all the way along that it was a very weak case that was depending on a theory that, if it was taken away, was a case that many prosecutors would look at it and say, 'This isn't worth pursuing,' " Pope said.

Prosecutors said Weyhrauch should have disclosed his conflict of interest. Weyhrauch said he didn't have to.

The 9th Circuit judges reasoned that even if a state has weak ethics laws, that is no reason for its citizens to be deprived of the honest services of their public officials.

Weyhrauch acknowledged that two other U.S. circuit courts had made similar rulings, but said that another two had a different standard: They required a state law violation before the mail fraud statute could be used in a criminal case.

Weyhrauch asked the Supreme Court to clear up the "confusion" between the different circuits -- which the court agreed to on Monday. The court did not set a date for arguments.

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