Perrin v. United States

Decision Date27 November 1979
Docket NumberNo. 78-959,78-959
Citation100 S.Ct. 311,62 L.Ed.2d 199,444 U.S. 37
PartiesVincent R. PERRIN, Jr., Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Petitioner, with others, was indicted for violating and conspiring to violate the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1952, which makes it a federal offense to travel or use a facility in interstate commerce to commit, inter alia, "bribery . . . in violation of the laws of the State in which committed." Petitioner and his codefendants were charged with using facilities of interstate commerce to promote a commercial bribery scheme in violation of the laws of Louisiana, i. e., a scheme to exploit geological exploration data stolen from a Louisiana-based company by an employee of the company who was promised a percentage of the profits realized from exploitation of the information. Petitioner was convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting the contention that Congress intended "bribery" in the Travel Act to include only bribery of public officials.

Held : Bribery of private employees prohibited by state criminal statutes violates the Travel Act. Pp. 41-50.

(a) By 1961, when the Act was enacted as part of a legislative program directed against "organized crime," the common understanding of "bribery" had extended beyond its early common-law definitions limiting it to bribery of public officials. In 42 States and in federal legislation, "bribery" included the bribery of individuals acting in a private capacity. Pp. 41-45.

(b) The generic definition of bribery, rather than a narrow common-law definition limited to public officials, was intended by Congress. References in the legislative history to the purposes and scope of the Travel Act, as well as other bills included in the package of "organized crime" legislation aimed at supplementing state enforcement, indicate that Members, Committees, and draftsmen used "bribery" to include payments to private individuals to influence their actions. Congress recognized in 1961 that bribery of private persons was widely used in highly organized criminal efforts to infiltrate and gain control of legitimate businesses, an area of special concern of Congress in enacting the Travel Act. Cf. United States v. Nardello, 393 U.S. 286, 89 S.Ct. 534, 21 L.Ed.2d 487. Pp. 45-49.

(c) Federalism principles do not dictate a narrow interpretation of "bribery" here. So long as the requisite interstate nexus is present (sufficiency of the nexus no longer being at issue in this case), the statute reflects a clear and deliberate intent on Congress' part to alter the federal-state balance in order to reinforce state law enforcement. Rewis v. United States, 401 U.S. 808, 91 S.Ct. 1056, 28 L.Ed.2d 493 distinguished. Pp. 49-50.

5 Cir., 580 F.2d 730, affirmed.

Leonard B. Boudin, New York City, for petitioner.

Stephen M. Shapiro, Washington, D. C., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to resolve a Circuit conflict 1 on whether commercial bribery of private employees prohibited by a state criminal statute constitutes "bribery . . . in violation of the laws of the State in which committed" within the meaning of the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1952.

I

Petitioner Vincent Perrin and four codefendants 2 were indicted in the Eastern District of Louisiana for violating the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1952, and for conspiring to violate the Act, 18 U.S.C. § 371. The Travel Act provides in part:

"(a) Whoever travels in interstate or foreign commerce or uses any facility in interstate or foreign commerce, including the mail, with intent to—

"(1) distribute the proceeds of any unlawful activity; or

"(2) commit any crime of violence to further any unlawful activity; or

"(3) otherwise promote, manage, establish, carry on, or facilitate the promotion, management, establishment, or carrying on, of any unlawful activity,

"and thereafter performs or attempts to perform any of the acts specified in subparagraphs (1), (2), and (3), shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned for not more than five years, or both.

"(b) As used in this subsection 'unlawful activity' means (1) any business enterprise involving gambling, liquor on which the Federal excise tax has not been paid, narcotics or controlled substances (as defined in section 102(6) of the Controlled Substances Act), or prostitution offenses in violation of the laws of the State in which they are committed or of the United States, or (2) extortion, bribery, or arson in violation of the laws of the State in which committed or of the United States."

The indictment charged that Perrin and his codefendants used the facilities of interstate commerce for the purpose of promoting a commercial bribery scheme in violation of the laws of the State of Louisiana.3

Following a jury trial, Perrin was convicted on the conspiracy count and two substantive Travel Act counts. He received a 1-year suspended sentence on each of the three counts.

The Government's evidence at trial was that Perrin, David Levy, and Duffy LaFont engaged in a scheme to exploit geological data obtained from the Petty-Ray Geophysical Co. Petty-Ray, a Louisiana-based company, was in the business of conducting geological explorations and selling the data to oil companies. At trial, company executives testified that confidentiality was imperative to the conduct of their business. The economic value of exploration data would be undermined if its confidentiality were not protected. Moreover, public disclosure after sale would interfere with the contractual rights of the purchaser and would otherwise injure Petty-Ray's relationship with its customers.

In June 1975 LaFont importuned Roger Willis, an employee of Petty-Ray, to steal confidential geological exploration data from his employer. In exchange, LaFont promised Willis a percentage of the profits of a corporation which had been created to exploit the stolen information. Willis' position as an analyst of seismic data gave him access to the relevant material, which he in turn surreptitiously provided to the conspirators. Perrin, a consulting geologist, was brought into the scheme to interpret and analyze the data.

In late July 1975 Perrin met with Willis, LaFont, and Levy. Perrin directed Willis to call a firm in Richmond, Tex., to obtain gravity maps to aid him in his evaluation.4 After the meeting, Willis contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and disclosed the details of the scheme. Willis agreed to permit conversations between himself and the other participants to be recorded. Forty-seven tapes were made, a large number of which were played to the jury.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

affirmed Perrin's conviction, rejecting his contention that Congress intended "bribery" in the Act to include only bribery of public officials. The court also rejected challenges to the constitutionality of the Louisiana commercial bribery statute, to the sufficiency of the interstate nexus to establish jurisdiction under the Travel Act,5 and to the failure of the trial judge to sever petitioner's trial from that of his codefendants.6 580 F.2d 730.

II

Petitioner argues that Congress intended "bribery" in the Travel Act to be confined to its common-law definition, i. e., bribery of a public official. He contends that because commercial bribery was not an offense at common law, the indictment fails to charge a federal offense.7

The Travel Act was one of several bills enacted into law by the 87th Congress as part of the Attorney General's 1961 legislative program directed against "organized crime." Then Attorney General Robert Kennedy testified at Senate and House hearings that federal legislation was needed to aid state and local governments which were no longer able to cope with the increasingly complex and interstate nature of large-scale, multiparty crime. The stated intent was to "dry up" traditional sources of funds for such illegal activities. Legislation Relating to Organized Crime: Hearings on H.R. 468, H.R. 1246, etc., before Subcommittee No. 5 of the House Committee on the Judiciary, 87th Cong., 1st Sess. (1961) (hereinafter House Hearings); The Attorney General's Program to Curb Organized Crime and Racketeering: Hearings on S. 1653, S. 1654, etc., before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 87th Cong., 1st Sess. (1961) (hereinafter Senate Hearings).

To remedy a gap in the authority of federal investigatory agencies, Congress employed its now familiar power under the Commerce Clause of the Federal Constitution to prohibit activities of traditional state and local concern that also have an interstate nexus. See e. g., 18 U.S.C. § 1201 (federal kidnaping statute); 18 U.S.C. § 2312 (interstate transportation of stolen automobiles). That Congress was consciously linking the enforcement powers and resources of the Federal and State Governments to deal with traditional state crimes is shown by its definition of "unlawful activity" as an "enterprise involving gambling liquor . . . , narcotics or controlled substances . . . , or prostitution offenses in violation of the laws of the State in which they are committed or of the United States." The statute also makes it a federal offense to travel or use a facility in interstate commerce to commit "extortion [or] bribery . . . in violation of the laws of the State in which committed or of the United States." Because the offenses are defined by reference to existing state as well as federal law, it is clear beyond doubt that Congress intended to add a second layer of enforcement supplementing what it found to be inadequate state authority and state enforcement.

We begin with the language of the Travel Act itself. Southeastern Community College v. Davis, 442 U.S. 397, 405, 99 S.Ct. 2361, 2367, 60 L.Ed.2d 980 (1979); TVA v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153, 173, 98 S.Ct. 2279, 2291, 57 L.Ed.2d 117 (1978). A fundamental canon of statutory construction is that,...

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