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

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U.S. Supreme Court

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

Dixson v. United States

No. 82-5279

Argued October 12, 1983

Decided February 22, 1984*

465 U.S. 482


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 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. 465 U. S. 489-501.

(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

Page 465 U. S. 483

decision in United States v. Levine, 129 F.2d 745) -- 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. 465 U. S. 489-496.

(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. 465 U. S. 496-498.

(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. 465 U. S. 498-499.

(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. 465 U. S. 499-501.

683 F.2d 195, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 465 U. S. 501.

Page 465 U. S. 484

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