Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is amending financial-disclosure forms dating back more than 20 years, in an apparent effort to avoid prosecution for making false statements to the United States government.
Hal Neilson, an FBI special agent in Oxford, Mississippi, undoubtedly wishes he had been given such an opportunity. He also probably wishes the mainstream press would try to make the kind of excuses for him that are being made for Clarence Thomas.
Neilson was indicted on January 14 for failing to disclose his financial interests and making false statements to a federal agency. According to a Mississippi-based law blog, Neilson was indicted under 18 U.S. Code 1001. That's the same law that Thomas clearly violated when he failed to disclose almost $700,000 of his wife's income over at least a five-year period.
Thomas, with the help of the Supreme Court's public-information office, has released information that indicates he is trying to amend his forms going back to 1989. That means the amount of undisclosed income probably is way more than the $686,589 that was originally reported by the watchdog group Common Cause.
While the machinery of America's highest court appears to be trying to help Clarence Thomas get away with a felony, no one seems to be offering Hal Neilson a chance to amend his statements. Neilson is charged with five counts of making false statements and faces up to 25 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.
Do we have a two-tiered justice system, one for elites such as Clarence Thomas and one for everybody else? It sure looks that way. And we probably should not hold our breaths expecting the Obama administration to do anything about it. The U.S. Department of Justice does not have to let Thomas off lightly just because he is trying to cover up his crimes. But does anyone seriously think Attorney General Eric Holder, he of the "look forward, not backwards" doctrine on GOP crimes, is going to prosecute a Supreme Court justice who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush?
While Clarence Thomas is likely to get away with a wrist slap, if that, the feds are hardly going easy on Hal Neilson. Here is how Mississippi lawyer Clarence Guthrie, on his blog, describes the issues Neilson faces:
Under Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001, it is a crime to:
1. knowingly and willfully;
2. make any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation;
3. in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the United States.
This was the charge that Martha Stewart served time for. It is a crime to tell a lie to the federal government. Even if your lie is oral and not under oath, and even if you have received no Miranda warnings of any kind. You must know that your statement is false at the time you make it, but you do not have to know that lying to the government is a crime. Any person convicted under this statute faces statutory penalties of a possible fine, and up to 5-8 years in prison.
How did Hal Neilson wind up stuck in this brier patch? What did he do that makes the feds want to send him to prison for up to a quarter century? Here is how Clarence Guthrie describes it in a post dated January 15, 2011:
An FBI Agent in Oxford, Mississippi was indicted this week for making false official statements to a federal official, among other things. The agent was the Supervisory Agent in Charge of the FBI's Oxford Resident Agency, and the indictment charges that he failed to disclose that he had a financial interest in the Oxford FBI Building since 2004, and that he was not truthful on his Confidential Financial Disclosure Report that FBI Agents are required to fill out. Finally, it is alleged that he knowingly and willfully made, and caused to be made, a materially false and fraudulent statement and representation to an agent of the Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, during an interview. This is a big case, and if you happen to be reading this while doing research for your term paper on irony, it's the best example I've ever seen.