Code Breaker

Published October 22, 2012

A Chicago zoning inspector took two bribes and was convicted by a jury on federal bribery charges. But the conviction was overturned recently because the bribes weren’t big enough.

The inspector issued certificates of occupancy for two new homes after taking the bribes, even though he had not inspected them. He was charged under a federal law applicable only to bribes over $5,000 each.

Proof at trial was that each bribe was only $600, but even so he was sentenced to prison for a year and a day by the trial court judge.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, after considering the market value of the certificates, which it pegged at $600. The government argued the value of the certificates should be determined by the mortgages on the houses, which ranged from $200,000 to $600,000. But the court found no linkage between the mortgage values and the certificates.

The inspector was charged as part of a joint city-federal investigation called Operation Crooked Code.

Source: Kim Janssen, “Bribe wasn’t big enough, so city inspector’s conviction overturned, appeals court rules,” Chicago Sun-Times, October 11, 2012