A federal appeals court has upheld the bribery conviction of a former local school board member in Louisiana who had demanded money from a candidate for district superintendent.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, last week unanimously rejected the appellate arguments of Quincy Richard Sr., who was a member of the St. Landry Parish board in 2012 when the case unfolded.
Evidence in the case showed that Richard and another St. Landry board member at the time, John Miller, met privately with Joseph Cassimere, who was acting superintendent of the 15,000-student district and a candidate under consideration by the board for full appointment.
Richard and Miller indicated that they often voted in tandem and that to secure their votes to become superintendent, Cassimere would have to provide “some kind of finance,” as Miller put it, according to court documents.
Cassimere thought the two board members must be joking. But at a later meeting, he realized the pair were serious. Cassimere contacted the FBI, which wired him up to record further discussions with the board members.
In September 2012, two days before the board was scheduled to select a superintendent, Cassimere and the board members met at the restaurant of a local casino. Cassimere gave each an envelope with $5,000 in cash. Moments later, FBI agents arrested Richard and Miller.
The board members were charged with two counts of bribery and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery under federal law. Miller pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government. He was sentenced to 10 months of house arrest.
Richard went to trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to 33 months in prison.
In his appeal to the 5th Circuit court, Richard challenged, among other things, the constitutionality of the federal statute on official bribery. He argued that the law could not be applied to the area of education, because state interests are stronger than federal interests.
In its Dec. 29 decision in United States v. Richard, the 5th Circuit court noted that the use of the federal bribery statute had been upheld in other cases involving corruption in local school districts. It rejected Richard’s arguments.
Richard also argued that the government failed to meet the elements of the bribery statute and that there was insufficient evidence that he and Miller had acted in a conspiracy.
The 5th Circuit court rejected all of Richard’s arguments and upheld his conviction and sentence.
“Richard proposed and accepted a bribe in exchange for his support in selecting a school board superintendent,” the appeals court said. “All of the requirements for a valid federal conviction under [the statute] have been satisfied. The district court committed no error in sentencing Richard. In sum, Richard’s contentions on appeal are meritless.”
A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.