Justia Summary

Then-New York Governor Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” initiative administered through Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, a nonprofit affiliated with SUNY, aimed to invest $1 billion in upstate development projects. Investigations later uncovered a scheme that involved Cuomo’s associates–a member of Fort Schuyler’s board of directors and a construction company made payments to a lobbyist with ties to the Cuomo administration. Fort Schuyler’s bid process subsequently allowed the construction company to receive major Buffalo Billion contracts.

The participants were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud 18 U.S.C. 1343, 1349. Under the Second Circuit’s “right to control” theory, wire fraud can be established by showing that the defendant schemed to deprive a victim of potentially valuable economic information necessary to make discretionary economic decisions. The jury instructions defined “property” as including “intangible interests such as the right to control the use of one’s assets,” and “economically valuable information” as “information that affects the victim’s assessment of the benefits or burdens of a transaction, or relates to the quality of goods or services received or the economic risks.” The Second Circuit affirmed the convictions.

The Supreme Court reversed. Under Supreme Court precedents the federal fraud statutes criminalize only schemes to deprive people of traditional property interests. The prosecution must prove that wire fraud defendants “engaged in deception,” and also that money or property was “an object of their fraud.” The “fraud statutes do not vest a general power in the federal government to enforce its view of integrity in broad swaths of state and local policymaking.” The right-to-control theory applies to an almost limitless variety of deceptive actions traditionally left to state contract and tort law. The Court declined to affirm Ciminelli’s convictions on the ground that the evidence was sufficient to establish wire fraud under a traditional property-fraud theory.