465 U.S. 482 (1984), 82-5279, Dixson v. United States

Docket Nº:Nos. 82-5279, 82-5331.
Citation:465 U.S. 482, 104 S.Ct. 1172, 79 L.Ed.2d 458
Party Name:Arthur DIXSON, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES. James Lee HINTON, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES.
Case Date:February 22, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 482

465 U.S. 482 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 1172, 79 L.Ed.2d 458

Arthur DIXSON, Petitioner,



James Lee HINTON, Petitioner,



Nos. 82-5279, 82-5331.

United States Supreme Court.

Feb. 22, 1984

Argued Oct. 12, 1983.

[104 S.Ct. 1172] Syllabus[*]


The city of Peoria received federal block grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 (HCDA), which provides for such grants for urban renewal programs. As authorized by the HCDA, the city designated a community-based, social service corporation to be the city's subgrantee in charge of the administration of the federal grants. Petitioners, officers responsible for the expenditure of the federal funds and administration of the corporation's urban renewal programs, were indicted for violating the federal bribery statute, 18 U.S.C. § 201, by using their positions to extract kickbacks from contractors seeking to work on housing [104 S.Ct. 1173] rehabilitation projects. Before trial, the Federal District Court denied petitioners' motions to dismiss the indictment on the asserted ground that they were not "public officials" under 18 U.S.C. § 201(a), which defines the term "public official" as including "an officer or employee or person acting for or on behalf of the United States, or any department, agency or branch of Government thereof, ... in any official function, under or by authority of any such department, agency, or branch of Government." Petitioners were convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Petitioners are "public officials" within the meaning of § 201(a) and thus are subject to prosecution under the bribery statute. Pp. 1177 - 1183.

(a) There is no merit in petitioners' contention that they cannot be considered to be persons "acting for or on behalf of the United States" under the statutory definition because neither they nor their employer ever entered into any direct agreement with the Federal Government. Although the language of § 201(a) does not decide the dispute, its legislative history--including Congress' longstanding commitment to a broadly drafted federal bribery statute, its desire to continue that tradition when it adopted the language of § 201(a) in the 1962 revisions of the federal conflicts of interest and bribery statutes, and its awareness of the federal judiciary's interpretation of the identical phrase in earlier federal bribery statutes to have a broad jurisdictional reach (particularly the Second Circuit's

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decision in United States v. Levine, 129 F.2d 745 (CA 2 1942))--establishes that Congress never intended § 201(a)'s open-ended definition of "public official" to be restricted to persons in a formal employment or agency relationship with the Government. The proper inquiry is whether the person occupies a position of public trust with official federal responsibilities. Pp. 1177 - 1180.

(b) Given the structure of the HCDA program and petitioners' responsible positions as administrators of the subgrant, they served as public officials for purposes of § 201(a). In allocating the federal resources made available to the city through the HCDA grant program, petitioners were charged with abiding by federal guidelines, which dictated both where and how the federal funds could be distributed. By accepting the responsibility for distributing the federal resources, petitioners assumed the quintessentially official role of administering a social service program established by Congress. Pp. 1180 - 1181.

(c) The majority of recent decisions in lower federal courts supports the conclusion that employment by the United States or some other similarly formal contractual or agency bond is not a prerequisite to prosecution under the federal bribery statute. Pp. 1181 - 1182.

(d) The holding here does not mean that the mere presence of some federal assistance brings a local organization and its employees within the jurisdiction of the federal bribery statute, or that all employees of local organizations responsible for administering federal grant programs are public officials within the meaning of § 201(a). To be a public official under the statute, an individual must possess some degree of official responsibility for carrying out a federal program or policy. Pp. 1182 - 1183.

683 F.2d 195 (CA7 1982), affirmed.


Donald V. Morano, by appointment of the Court, 459 U.S. 1168, argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Michael P. Seng and Edward Burke Arnolds. Richard D. Trainor, Robert D. Quinlivan, Jr., and Ronald F. Neville filed a brief for petitioner in No. 82-5331.

Richard G. Wilkins argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Jensen, and Deputy Solicitor General Bator.

Donald V. Morano, Chicago, Ill., for petitioners.

Richard G. Wilkins, Washington, D.C., for respondent.


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Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

These consolidated cases present the question whether officers of a private, nonprofit corporation administering and expending federal community development block grants are "public officials" for purposes of the federal bribery statute. 18 U.S.C. § 201(a).


In 1979, the City of Peoria received two federal block grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The first was a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant; the second a $636,000 Metro Reallocation Grant. Both [104 S.Ct. 1174] grants were funded through the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, 88 Stat. 633, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5301-5320 (1976 ed. and Supp. V). Under that Act, the Secretary of HUD is authorized to dispense federal block grants to state and local governments and nonprofit community organizations for urban renewal programs such as the rehabilitation of residential structures, code enforcement in deteriorating areas, and the construction of public works projects.

The City of Peoria subsequently designated United Neighborhoods, Inc. (UNI), a community-based, social-service organization, to be the City's subgrantee in charge of the administration of the federal block grant funds. 1 UNI in turn hired petitioner Dixson to serve as the corporation's Executive Director and petitioner Hinton as its Housing Rehabilitation Coordinator. Petitioner Dixson was responsible for the general supervision of UNI's programs, including fiscal control and execution of contracts. Petitioner Hinton's duties included contracting with persons applying for housing rehabilitation assistance, and contracting with demolition firms.

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A federal grand jury named petitioners in an 11-count indictment filed on March 12, 1981. The indictment charged that petitioners, as "public officials" under 18 U.S.C. § 201(a), had sought a series of bribes in return for "being influenced in their performance of an official act in respect to the awarding of housing rehabilitation contracts" in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201(c)(1), (2).

According to the Government's evidence at trial, petitioners used their positions to extract $42,604 in kick-backs from contractors seeking to work on UNI's housing rehabilitation projects. One contractor testified how he was approached by petitioner Hinton and persuaded to pay petitioners 10 percent of each housing rehabilitation contract that petitioners awarded him. The contractor explained that on ten occasions, he received first draw checks from UNI for 20 percent of the contract price, deposited the check at his bank, and paid half the amount of the check in cash to petitioners. A second contractor testified as to substantially the same arrangement.

Before trial, petitioners moved to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that they were not "public officials" within the meaning of the federal statute. Their motions were denied, and following a jury trial in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, petitioners were convicted as charged. The District Court sentenced each to 71/2 years imprisonment, to be followed by 3 years' probation. Petitioners appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which affirmed. United States v. Hinton, 683 F.2d 195 (CA7 1982). Both petitioners filed petitions for writs of certiorari, and we granted the writs. 459 U.S. 1085, 103 S.Ct. 567, 74 L.Ed.2d 930 (1982). We now affirm.


Petitioners' sole claim is that they were not "public officials" within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 201(a) and therefore not subject to prosecution under the federal bribery

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statute. 2 Since our disposition of [104 S.Ct. 1175] this claim turns on the relationship between petitioners and the federal government, we begin our discussion with an analysis of the Housing and Community Development Act (HCDA) block grant program and petitioners' role in administering that program.

Congress passed the HCDA to meet the social, economic, and environmental problems facing cities. 42 U.S.C. § 5301(a). The primary objective of the Act is "the development of viable urban communities." § 5301(c). While the HCDA addressed a national problem, Congress enacted the legislation as a federal block grant statute, under which the day-to-day administration of the federal program, including the actual expenditure of federal funds, is delegated to State and local authorities.

The HCDA creates a "consistent system of Federal aid," § 5301(d), by distributing funds committed by Congress through organizations outside the federal government, while

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retaining federal control to assure compliance with statutory...

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