A corrections officer in Suffolk County New York may soon go to federal prison for honest services fraud. Ed Walsh, who led the Conservative Party in Suffolk County, billed his employer approximately $80,000 in wages. Yet federal authorities determined that Walsh didn’t work during those hours he claimed. Instead, Walsh was playing golf, gambling at a casino, or performing services on behalf of the conservative party while drawing payment from the Sheriff’s department.
Honest Services Fraud
During the 26 years that I served in federal prisons of every security level, I interacted with many public figures. They served time for violating a crime known as “honest services fraud.” The law requires government employees to provide an honest days work for the pay they receive.
The honest services fraud law has always struck me as being ambiguous. I watched hundreds of government employees who presided over prisons that confined me. Many of them slept on the job, suggesting that they were not giving an honest day’s work for the pay they received. Yet they were not prosecuted. The honest services fraud statute reflects another example of government overreach. We have too many federal laws on our books that can lead to prison.
Government work, clearly, differs from corporate work. In the business community, executives frequently create value from their time on the golf course. They build relationships during social functions. Those relationships frequently lead to new business opportunities. Although the business leaders may not receive an hourly wage for their time, they frequently anticipate compensation for services rendered.
I don’t know what type of services a corrections officer would be rendering at a golf course or casino. Either way, I’m convinced that our society could respond better. Rather than bringing felony charges for honest services fraud, followed by a conviction and prison term, we should consider less drastic responses for such alleged misdeeds.
That said, defendants like Ed Walsh need to respond to challenges like a felony charge in a deliberate way. In addition to hiring competent defense counsel, they should anticipate the totality of how a problem with the criminal justice system will influence their life. Those who fail to prepare invite a world problems. Living in denial can exacerbate problems. Defendants may face more severe sanctions that include longer sentences in more difficult federal prisons. Rather than living in denial, defendants who face charges for any type of fraud, including honest services fraud, should prepare for the possibility of a journey through the federal bureau of prisons.