Salinas v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: The White House

DOCKET NO.: 96-738
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 522 US 52 (1997)
ARGUED: Oct 08, 1997
DECIDED: Dec 02, 1997

Francisco J. Enriquez - on behalf of the Petitioner
Paul R. Q. Wolfson - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Hidalgo County agreed to take federal prisoners into its custody in return for federal money. During this agreement, Brigido Marmolejo, the Sheriff of Hidalgo County, Texas, and Mario Salinas, his deputy, accepted money and two watches and a truck respectively, from Homero Beltran-Aguirr, a federal prisoner housed in the county jail, in exchange for permitting his girlfriend to visit him. Ultimately, Salinas was charged with one count of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 USC section 1962(c), one count of conspiracy to violate RICO, section 1962(d), and two counts of bribery, section 666(a)(1)(B). The jury convicted him on all but the substantive RICO count. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


Is the federal bribery statute, 18 USC section 666, limited to cases in which the bribe has a demonstrated effect upon federal funds? Does the conspiracy prohibition contained in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act apply only when the conspirator agrees to commit two of the predicate acts that RICO forbids?

Media for Salinas v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 08, 1997 in Salinas v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in No. 96-738, Mario Salinas v. United States.

Mr. Enriquez.

Francisco J. Enriquez:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case involves the interpretation of the RICO statute and the Federal theft, bribery and embezzlement statutes.

Concerning the Federal bribery statute, this case presents the issue of whether this prosecution in Federal court, of State officials, is within the scope of the statute, even though it does not... the conduct complained of does not impinge upon... upon, affect or divert Federal or even State or even any local funds whatsoever.

Concerning the RICO statute, this case presents the issue of what are the elements of a RICO conspiracy and how that should be charged to a jury.

Because of the nature of the prosecution in this case, State officials being tried for primarily State law violations in Federal court, it raises great issues concerning Federalism and the federalization of State crimes.

As to the Federal bribery statute, it is our position that the statute itself does not reach as far as a prosecution in this case.

Of course, the... the funds which funded the bribery did not involve any State, Federal or local funds; but, more importantly, no Federal funds, no local funds, no State funds, whatsoever, were diverted.

18 U.S.C., Section 666 contemplates the kind of transaction where, for example, money is embezzled from the government, where there is a theft of government property, or, in the bribery context, where government funds are diverted as a result of the bribe.

And what I mean by this, for example, is where money is, for example, paid to a government official, and then a... a bid is awarded or a contract is given or a lease is awarded or a grant is made or a job is given, something of that nature.

John Paul Stevens:

Of course, it's clear the statute would apply in those cases.

But are you suggesting there is no Federal interest in how Federal prisoners are treated when they're housed in State facilities?

Francisco J. Enriquez:

Not at all, Your Honor.

I am saying that there... I do recognize that there is a Federal interest in how the prisoners are treated.

And... and I think that could be vindicated probably in a properly worded statute that is directed to that.

But this statute is not directed to that.

Additionally, if I may point out, the government's interest is... is probably satisfied if, for example, it makes sure that the grant that it's giving or... or the Federal funds that... that it is awarding are to an organization that, for example, shares it views... shares its views or its policies.

William H. Rehnquist:

But our... our inquiry, really... we think probably that Congress is the one to decide whether the government's interest is satisfied.

So I don't think there's any separate inquiry.

If... if the statute covers this, then the government's interests would be satisfied by an application of the statute, I take it.

Francisco J. Enriquez:

Well, yes, it would be, Justice Rehnquist, Mr. Chief Justice.

It would be, but it's our position that the purpose of this statute is a protection of property statute.

That's what this statute is directed at.

That's the focus of it.

That is what the government is... is trying to take care of.

Stephen G. Breyer:

Then why... why... why is this statute... I gather the government gave 860... or $850,000, and about 915,000 a year, to house 100... 100 Federal prisoners... up to 100.

Francisco J. Enriquez:

Yes, Your Honor.

Stephen G. Breyer:

That's about $9,000 or $10,000 a prisoner.

Francisco J. Enriquez:

Yes, Justice Breyer.