Honest Services Wire Fraud Conviction Vacated; DoJ Joins in Coram Nobis Petition

Former Lee County Florida Commissioner, Vicki Lukis, contacted FraudBlawg this morning with news that her 1997 honest services wire fraud conviction has been vacated. Lukis has been a tireless advocate of criminal justice reform for more than a decade following her release from prison in 2000. Lukis’ press release regarding her prosecution, trial, commutation, and the ultimate vacation of her sentence is reprinted below:

The 1997 conviction of former Lee County Commissioner Vicki Lukis was vacated in its entirety today by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Judge John E. Steele found that the trial court had acted without legal authority in Lukis’ prosecution under the so-called “honest services fraud” statute. “This has been a long and painful journey, and I am relieved to finally restore honor and dignity to my good name, to my family and to my friends who always stood with me,” Lukis said.

The original prosecutor joined Lukis in seeking a writ of error coram nobis, an extremely rare legal proceeding which completely nullified Lukis’ conviction and completely clears her record of the conviction. “Mrs. Lukis has been completely acquitted of all charges that she accepted monetary or other benefits for decisions she made in her official capacity as a county commissioner,” said Thomas Green, her defense attorney.

The U. S. Supreme Court recently ruled in an unrelated case that honest services fraud applies only in cases where bribery or kickbacks are involved, confirming Lukis’ long-argued interpretation. That ruling, in turn, prompted the District Court in Fort Myers to review Lukis’ case, and to conclude that her actions were not a crime under the law and that she was wrongfully accused and convicted for a non-existent crime.

Lukis, then Vicki Lopez Wolfe, was elected to the Lee County Commission in November 1990. During her tenure, she dated Sylvester Lukis, a prominent lobbyist based in Washington, DC, who represented clients before the county board. The commissioner resigned from office in January 1993, and the two wed in August 1994. In March 1995, Vicki and Sylvester Lukis each was charged with one count of honest services mail fraud, one count of bribery and eight counts of using a facility in interstate commerce to commit bribery.

Following a two-week trial in April 1997, jurors cleared Sylvester Lukis of all counts and found Vicki Lukis not guilty of all counts except one: honest services mail fraud. In post-trial interviews, several jurors stated their belief that Vicki Lukis had lied about her relationship with Sylvester Lukis, as the prosecution had argued. Sentenced to 27 months in federal prison, the ex-commissioner served more than 15 months before then-President Clinton commuted her sentence in November 2000.

“Mrs. Lukis’ conviction and her subsequent time in federal prison is the most unfortunate and unfair outcome I have ever experienced in my 44 years of criminal defense work throughout the United States,” said Green, of the Sidley Austin law firm. “Mrs. Lukis was wrongly accused of honest services fraud because she attempted to keep private her personal relationship with a man who later became her husband, but her denials had nothing to do with her official duties. They only had to do with her desire to keep the press away from her personal life.”

Following her release from prison in Central Florida, Lukis returned to her home in Coral Gables and dedicated herself to criminal justice reform. She serves as the vice chairman of the Florida Department of Corrections’ Reentry Advisory Council and is a board member of Florida’s Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE). She also served as the chairman of then-Governor Jeb Bush’s Ex-Offender Task Force and is the former executive director of Miami-based Girls Advocacy Project (GAP), Inc. “I am very pleased with the court’s decision today and feel totally vindicated,” Lukis said. “I am grateful to the government for joining me in seeking this deserved relief. It has been a long and winding road to justice, but one that provided the catalyst for the important reform work in which I am engaged. “It is my fervent hope that the renewed interest in my criminal case because of today’s decision will result in greater attention to the important reform efforts for which I and so many other dedicated volunteers advocate,” Lukis added.

In December 2004, Governor Bush and the Florida Cabinet restored Lukis’ civil rights. Since then, she has emerged as a well-respected authority regarding criminal and juvenile justice issues, with a focus on enhancing public safety and reducing corrections costs. Her expertise includes prisoner reentry and the needs of girls in the juvenile justice system. Lukis consults with local, state and national government officials, policymakers and stakeholders concerned about prisoner rights.

SOURCE: Vicki Lukis.

Last week, Frohsin & Barger won a hotly contested habeas corpus petition on behalf of Jeffrey Stayton, vacating his honest services wire fraud conviction in the much-publicized Russian helicopter case.