State and local officials can be convicted under a federal bribery law even if their payoffs did not affect federal funds, the Supreme Court said Tuesday.
The unanimous ruling upheld a Texas jail official's conviction on bribery and racketeering-conspiracy charges for taking bribes to allow an inmate to have conjugal visits with his wife.
"The preferential treatment accorded to (the inmate) was a threat to the integrity and proper operation of the federal program," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court.
The federal bribery law "is not confined to a business or transaction which affects federal funds," he said.
Mario Salinas, former chief of detention in Hidalgo County, Texas, was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $5,000 in connection with bribes that prosecutors said were paid by a federal prisoner, Homero Beltran-Aguirre.
The law under which Salinas was convicted prohibits bribes to state and local officials employed by agencies receiving federal money.
Under a contract with the federal government, the Hidalgo County Jail occasionally housed federal prisoners.
Beltran was held at the county jail from June 1991 to April 1992 and from November 1992 to April 1993.
Federal prosecutors said Beltran arranged for a series of bribes to be paid to Salinas and then-Hidalgo County Sheriff Brigido Marmolejo Jr. so Beltran could have conjugal visits with his wife or a girlfriend.
Prosecutors said Salinas received a pair of expensive watches and a pickup as bribes.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Salinas' conviction in July 1996.
In his Supreme Court appeal, Salinas contended the federal bribery law could not be used against him because no federal funds were involved.
The justices also ruled in Salinas' case that people can be convicted of racketeering-conspiracy without proof that they agreed to personally commit the acts required for conviction of a racketeering offense.
Some federal appeals courts had ruled in other cases that prosecutors must show that a defendant agreed to personally commit the racketeering offenses.
"Even if Salinas did not accept or agree to accept two bribes, there was ample evidence that he conspired to violate" the racketeering law, Kennedy said.