Watchdog Group also Calls for Criminal Prosecution, Audit of SCOTUS Decisions, And Ethics Inquiry
WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Yesterday, the watchdog group ProtectOurElections.org asked the U.S. Justice Department to bring criminal charges against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for making false statements on his AO 10 Financial Disclosure forms every year since 2003 by falsely swearing under criminal penalty that his wife Virginia had no non-investment income. http://www.velvetrevolution.us/images/Clarence_Thomas_DOJ_Letter.pdf Within six hours of the group's request, Justice Thomas announced that he had now amended not seven but 20 years of financial disclosure forms to include his wife's income. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Supreme_Court/justice-clarence-thomas-amends-financial-disclosure-reports-virginia/story?id=12750650 Justice Thomas said that he "misunderstood" the filing instructions which asked him to check whether his wife had any non-investment income, and had checked "none."
Virginia Thomas worked at the Heritage Foundation from 2003 through 2007 and earned at least $120,000 each year, according to the foundation's IRS Form 990s. She then went to work for Liberty Central in a paid position according to CEO Sarah Field. Last Friday, Common Cause revealed Thomas's false statements in a letter to the Administrative Office of the Courts. Coverage by the Los Angeles Times failed to note the criminal nature of the matter. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-thomas-disclosure-20110122,0,2413407.story
Each of the AO 10 Financial Disclosure forms signed by Justice Thomas states in Section IX that it is certified under oath as follows:
"I certify that all information given above (including information pertaining to my spouse and minor or dependent children, if any) is accurate, true, and complete to the best of my knowledge and belief, and that any information not reported was withheld because it met applicable statutory provisions permitting non-disclosure." (Emphasis added.)
Under the signature box in bold capital letters is the following:
NOTE: ANY INDIVIDUAL WHO KNOWINGLY AND WILLFULLY FALSIFIES OR FAILS TO FILE THIS REPORT MAY BE SUBJECT TO CIVIL AND CRIMINAL SANCTIONS (5 U.S.C. app section 104)
According to the Department of Justice Handbook on Prosecutions, persons with expertise in law are presumed to act "knowingly and willfully," and a defendant's signature on a document can help establish willfulness and knowledge. See United States v. Tucker, 133 F.3d 1208, 1218 n. 11 (9th Cir. 1998) (noting that signature proved knowledge of contents of return); United States v. Mohney, 949 F.2d 1397, 1407 (6th Cir. 1991) (holding that signature is prima facie evidence that the signer knows the contents of the return); United States v. Drape, 668 F.2d 22, 26 (1st Cir. 1982) (finding that defendant's signature is sufficient to establish knowledge once it has been shown that the return was false).
If charged, Justice Thomas could face up to one year in prison and a criminal fine for each false statement charge, and a civil fine of up to $50,000 under 5 U.S.C. appendix section 104.
Justice Thomas's conduct is similar to that of an FBI employee who oversaw background investigations for the agency in San Francisco. Rachelle Thomas-Zuill stated on a financial disclosure form that she owned three properties with an outstanding mortgage debt of $866,000, when in fact she owned six properties and had a debt of more than $2.2 million. Thomas-Zuill, who joined the FBI 13 years ago, pleaded guilty last week to making false statements to a government agency, a felony. She will be sentenced April 7th by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose.
The Department of Justice civilly prosecuted two other recent false statement cases. In United States v. Dr. William L. Smith, a NASA scientist was charged with violating 18 U.S.C section 208(a), and he settled the case for a substantial fine. In United States v. John R. Van Rosendale, a DOE employee failed under 5 U.S.C. app. section 104 to file a termination financial disclosure report when he left his Government position. He was also fined.
"Yesterday, we asked the Department of Justice to bring criminal charges against Justice Thomas for his knowing and willful false statements under oath," said attorney and Protect Our Elections spokesman Kevin Zeese. "In response, Justice Thomas admitted that he made false statements on 20 years of disclosure forms, but that it was just a simple misunderstanding. How many criminal defendants have said the same thing but were not offered the same opportunity to correct or amend their statements before being prosecuted? How many cases has Justice Thomas sat in judgment of where people were charged with similar conduct? How many lawyers would have asked for Justice Thomas's recusal had the disclosure forms been accurate? Supreme Court Justices are supposed to know the law. Yet, Justice Thomas wants to be treated differently than others who committed similar conduct. His 'misunderstanding' excuse should be argued before a federal jury rather than to a committee that has no authority to grant him immunity from prosecution. No, Justice Thomas cannot be allowed to merely amend his forms without full accountability. We call for him to step down as Supreme Court Justice and for a complete independent audit of all cases in which he sat to determine if his lack of disclosure created a conflict of interest or undermined the fairness of the judgment. We also call for a criminal investigation by career prosecutors at the Department of Justice and an ethics investigation. Anything less would make a mockery of financial disclosure law, undermine respect for the law, and create the appearance that those in powerful positions can violate the law with impunity."