In a case involving two officers of the U.S. Army Reserve who were deployed to Iraq, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court conviction of conspiracy.
On appeal, the defendants raised issues on the insufficiency of evidence to establish participation in the conspiracy, failure to grant a new trial in the interests of justice, and erroneous refusal to grant "use immunity" to a co-conspirator.
Let's have a look at the sufficiency of evidence argument.
To simplify the facts, the defendants facilitated government contracts for a particular company, in violation of contracting regulations which required that contract bidding undergo a competitive bidding process. Money was exchanged under the table.
A conviction of conspiracy requires that the following elements be proven beyond a reasonable doubt:
- An agreement between two or more persons to achieve an unlawful goal.
- Intention, on the part of the defendant, in joining the agreement with knowledge of the objective.
- An overt act taken in furtherance of the conspiracy by a co-conspirator.
- Circumstantial evidence can be used to prove the elements of a conspiracy charge.
The defendants challenged the intentional element of the conspiracy charge. They claim that there was no proof that they knew of the bid-rigging scheme nor did they intend to further the scheme.
Unfortunately for the defendants, there was sufficient evidence to establish that they had been receiving bribes in the form of a watch, a laptop and expensive business class airfare.
In addition to the receipt of bribes by the defendants, the jury found that they had closed their eyes to the receipt of bribes and gifts by several other co-conspirators.
In this case, ignorance was not bliss — and pleading ignorance didn’t convince the jury that the defendants lacked intent.