(CN) - The D.C. Circuit chastised the government for filing bribery and extortion charges against a federal employee who, the evidence suggests, committed fraud and embezzlement. Without the right charges, the court ruled on Friday to reverse conviction.
As an employee of the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Ikela Dean reviewed and processed license applications.
The FBI began investigating Dean after they received reports that she was running a scheme to rip off license applicants. During the summer of 2007, Dean allegedly told businesses that they had to pay for the license in check and cover late fees with cash.
Prosecutors said Dean successfully kept the cash in seven cases, but an eight applicant, the Omni Shoreham Hotel, blew the whistle on her.
Dean was arrested after a sting operation when she collected $1,275 in cash from an undercover Omni worker to cover late licensing fees for fictitious pool tables.
The trial judge dismissed 12 of the 14 charges against Dean, noting that Dean's conduct may have constituted embezzling instead of bribery or extortion since the city would have taken the late fees that Dean collected.
Since Omni had not actually needed licenses for the pool tables used in the sting operation, and the city was therefore not owed any late fees, the judge allowed the jury to rule on those two counts of extortion and bribery. The jury returned with a guilty verdict.
The three-judge appellate panel found, however, that even in a fictitious situation, there was no quid pro quo arrangement necessary for bribery and extortion charges.
"But, argues the government, the evidence established that Dean intended to keep the $1275," Chief Judge David Sentelle wrote for the court. "While this is true, the fact remains that the agreement was for Dean to accept the $1275 on behalf of the DCRA. There is no evidence of an agreement between her and the undercover agent that the money was to go to her personally."
Sentelle wrote that the evidence simply did not support the crime.
"The evidence was that Dean received money from licensees under false pretenses and took money that belonged to her employer," Sentelle wrote. "We do not know why the United States Attorneys' Office did not choose to seek an indictment for fraud or embezzlement."