Nelson Valdes, a detective with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, received payments from an undercover FBI informant after running license plates and checking for outstanding warrants at the informant’s request. A jury convicted Valdes of three counts of receiving an illegal gratuity “for or because of an official act.” The D.C. Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed the conviction, interpreting the anti-gratuity provision to only cover corruption of official decisions through the misuse of influence in governmental decision-making. Concerns about officials moonlighting or misusing government resources were, in the court’s view, properly addressed by other regulations and statutes prohibiting such activities.
Garland dissented. He characterized Valdes’ acts as a police investigation, and thus an official act. While the majority saw the acts as “simple interrogative activity,” Garland noted that many official investigations are just as brief. If Valdes had been ordered by a superior to run the tags, Garland said, it would surely constitute an investigation; the fact he did so in response to the informant made no difference. Moreover, he characterized Valdes’ acts as being taken in his “official capacity,” as he used a police database that he knew could only be used for police business. Garland warned that under the majority’s interpretation, criminals may reward officials for providing them with sensitive information without running afoul of the anti-gratuity provision; bribery prosecutions may be endangered as well, as they rely on the same definition of “official act.”