Supreme Court rules Sun Diamond Growers did not violate federal law in Espy case
April 27, 1999
WASHINGTON (April 27) -- In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court Tuesday upheld an appeals court decision that Sun Diamond Growers of California did not violate federal law when it provided gifts to former Agriculture Secretary Michael Espy.
The court ruled that the indictment in this case did not allege a "specific connection" between the gifts given and any subsequent actions by Espy.
In a lower court jury trial, Sun Diamond was found guilty and fined on the grounds that "it was sufficient to allege that the defendant [Sun-Diamond] provided things of value to the official" [Espy] merely because of his position.
The Supreme Court ruled that interpretation was too broad and the government must prove a link between a gift or gratuity given to a federal official and a specific "official act" for which it was given.
To rule otherwise, said Associate Justice Antonin Scalia -- who delivered the opinion -- could mean that a high school principal could be in legal trouble for giving a souvenir baseball cap to a visiting Secretary of Education.
The Supreme Court returned the case to the District Court for a possible new trial.
Sun Diamond was fined $1.5 million for giving Espy $6,000 in illegal gratuities and for donating $4,000 to the failed congressional campaign of Espy's brother, Henry Espy.
Espy was found not guilty in December 1998 of 30 charges taking gifts from companies his department regulated and lying about it.
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