Cash Payments to Political Candidates for Future Favoritism Not A Crime Under The Hobbs Act
In United States v. Manzo the Third Circuit held that a political candidate (Louis Manzo) and his campaign manager (Ronald Manzo), did not commit a crime under the Hobbs Act by accepting $27,500 in cash payments in exchange for future favored assistance because they did not act "under color of official right."
Louis and Ronald Manzo accepted $27,500 in cash payments as contributions to Louis Manzo's mayoral campaign in exchange for his future official assistance and influence should he be elected. Had he won the election, he would have received another $17,500 in exchange for his official assistance as Mayor.
The District Court dismissed the conspiracy and attempt charges against Louis and Ronald Manzo because the Court concluded that the Manzo brothers had not acted "under color of official right." On appeal to the Third Circuit, the government argued that the conduct of Louis and Ronald Manzo was within the scope of the Hobbs Act based on the principles underlying the inchoate crimes of attempt and conspiracy.
The Hobbs Act prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce. A person commits extortion under the Hobbs Act (1) through threatened force, violence or fear; or (2) under color of official right. The Third Circuit focused on the fact that the payments were received by Manzo when he was not a public official and therefore not acting "under color of official right."
The Third Circuit also held that Hobbs Act inchoate offenses prohibit those acting "under color of official right" from attempting or conspiring to use his or her public office in exchange for payments. This decision is significant because the Hobbs Act does not prohibit a private person, who is a candidate for political office, from attempting or conspiring to use a future public office to extort money at a future date. Thus, the Third Circuit followed decisions by other Circuits across the country and chose not to extend application of the Hobbs Act to a private citizen seeking public office.
Accordingly, the Third Circuit held that because the Manzo's did not act or pretend to act in an official capacity their conduct did not amount to acting "under color of official right." As a result, their conduct does not constitute a crime under the Hobbs Act.
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