It is no secret among local political operatives that Erie County Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy has been accepting ‘outside income’ that his critics say “profoundly corrupts the Republican nominating process, seemingly constituting honest services fraud.” The activists want Langworthy’s income to be investigated to determine whether he is selling the Republican nomination in exchange for political work.
Langworthy describes himself as a “political professional” who performs a range of work for candidates running for various public offices: like the design of direct mail or the production of political commercials, for instance. He is widely thought to be a partner in a limited liability company with Chris Grant, the Chief of Staff of Congressman Chris Collins.
In the last two gubernatorial election cycles, he has failed to advance any candidates from Western New York to the statewide ticket — a subject of deep offense inside the party organization. Even his closest political allies suspect that’s because Langworthy’s firm was landing work from monied downstate candidates who, they allege, “effectively bought the nomination.”
The critics point to the gubernatorial candidacy of Joel Giambra, the two-term Republican County Executive, which was systematically undermined by Langworthy’s personal lobbying of County Chairmen and party officials. They wonder why Langworthy would work so aggressively against any Western New York Republican, in a state where the region’s interests are not well represented at the state level.
When Giambra offered to forgo a Reform Party bid for governor, instead opting to pursue the Republican nomination for State Comptroller — rather than helping to bring the party together, Langworthy disparaged Giambra in the The Buffalo News. Observers suspect that Langworthy’s firm is being contracted by Jonathan Trichter, the professional political operative who is a registered Democrat from Brooklyn and planning to seek the GOP nomination for Comptroller at the party convention next week.
“Western New York hasn’t had a Republican on the statewide ticket in the last two cycles, because Nick is too busy selling himself to whichever Manhattanite can pony up the cash,” one operative explains. “Republican voters in Erie County are being defrauded of the honest services of a party chairman — who is expected to run the party fairly, and to nominate candidates without regard to their willingness to do business with the party chairman on the side.”
This year Langworthy has been aggressively supportive of Chele Fahey, a Manhattan attorney challenging United States Senator Kirstin Gillibrand. It will be unclear how much work Langworthy may be doing for Ms. Fahey or Mr. Trichter until campaign finance filings are made public in July.
Honest Services Fraud
Honest services fraud is a crime defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1346 (the federal mail and wire fraud statute). The statute has been applied by federal prosecutors in cases of public corruption as well as in cases in which private individuals breached a fiduciary duty to another. In the former, the courts have been divided on the question of whether a state law violation is necessary for honest services fraud to have occurred. In the latter, the courts have taken differing approaches to determining whether a private individual has committed honest services fraud—a test based on reasonably foreseeable economic harm and a test based on materiality.
The statute, which has been a target of criticism, was given a narrow construction by the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Skilling v. United States (2010). In order to avoid finding the statute to be unconstitutionally vague, the Court interpreted the statute to only cover “fraudulent schemes to deprive another of honest services through bribes or kickbacks supplied by a third party who ha[s] not been deceived”.
Honest services fraud is generally more easily proven in the public sphere than in the private, because honest services fraud by public officials can include most unethical conduct, whereas honest services fraud by private individuals only includes some unethical conduct. Federal courts have generally recognized two main areas of public-sector honest service fraud: bribery (direct or indirect), where a public official was paid in some way for a particular decision or action, and failure to disclose a conflict of interest, resulting in personal gain.