Thursday, September 13, 2012

Law enforcement to probe honest services violation in Memphis?

image State, local and possibly federal law enforcement may soon launch a probe into alleged grade changes made on the transcripts of at least two prospective student-athletes during their recruitment, legal analysts tell IBCR.

Of particular interest are potential violations of the “honest services” clause in the US mail and wire fraud statute. The “honest services” clause refers to a single sentence in the statute:

"For the purposes of this chapter, the term, scheme or artifice to defraud includes a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services."

The question is: Does a public school guidance counselor have a fiduciary duty to provide accurate and truthful transcripts and not take a bribe in exchange for changing transcripts?

Legal analysts say that may very well be the case, and that prosecutors and the courts have a fairly well defined construction of the statute. Once broadly applied, it’s now fairly limited in its scope.

Courts have recognized two areas of public-sector honest service fraud: bribery (direct or indirect), where a public official received something of value for a particular action, and failure to disclose a conflict of interest resulting in personal gain.

Clearly, the guidance counselor involved in the grade changing scandal that led to Jovon Robinson’s ineligibility to play football at Auburn was a public official. She has admitted to making changes to the transcripts of Robinson and one other unnamed student-athlete. Documents released by the school system show that it wasn’t a single grade change, either. There were multiple grade changes for more than one student-athlete.

When school officials confronted her with the evidence, she confessed to making the changes. But she then refused to say why she made them, and also refused to name the person(s) who convinced her to do so or why she complied with their request.

There’s enough circumstantial evidence here to suggest a quid pro quo deal where a palm got greased for a grade change, and certainly enough to begin a probe, according to the experts consulted for this entry.

We already know that the NCAA is investigating. Mississippi State has openly acknowledged an ongoing probe by the league’s enforcement staff. Also, it was the NCAA that alerted Memphis school officials about the fraudulent transcripts. However, the NCAA is notoriously tight lipped and hasn’t confirmed anything.

Federal law enforcement types are even more tight lipped.

So, we won’t know the results—or even the existence—of a law enforcement action until everyone gathers behind the mic at the presser.

UPDATE to add: No, I do not know if there is or will be an investigation. This is just exploring a different angle on a story of high interest in southern sports.

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kjstrata said...

This is very insightful and informative. I hadn't even imagined this angle of the story. Bravo!

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