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Copyright (c) 2010 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics
Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics

ARTICLE: The Pitfalls of Dealing with Witnesses in Public Corruption Prosecutions

Spring, 2010

Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics

23 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 351





Then Attorney General Michael Mukasey said in 2008 that "[t]he investigation and prosecution of public corruption is among the highest obligations of law enforcement, and it should come as no surprise that I consider it to be one of the top priorities of the Department of Justice." 1 These cases are significant not only because the defendants are usually leading public figures in cities and states, and sometimes on the national scene, but even more so because they involve a core value of our democratic form of government, that public authority cannot be used for private gain.

The importance of public corruption cases often is matched by the difficulty that prosecutors face in bringing them successfully because the government frequently relies on cooperating witnesses who were involved in highly questionable dealings. A number of recent prosecutions highlight the crucial role of the cooperating witness for the government's case and how that witness can bring a case down if the government is not careful. 2 The prosecution of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens on charges of filing false statements presented graphically the dangers a cooperating witness can pose if prosecutors are not careful.

Bill Allen, the former chairman of an Alaskan company, provided the critical testimony about gifts given to the Senator that the Senator failed to report to the Senate. 3 As often happens in corruption cases, Allen's story changed over time; however, prosecutors failed to disclose to the defense the star witness's exculpatory statements made during trial preparation ...
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