BIA Splits Hairs on Ski Resort Bribery Case

By David North on October 20, 2010

The inevitable first question has to be, how does an alien bribe a federal official regarding a gondola at a ski resort?

But the more significant question is, how could a blatant bribery attempt like this one be so badly handled by the Department of Homeland Security?

It all started long ago, as it often does in immigration cases, back in November 2004.

Chrysanth G. Gruenangerl (a.k.a. Chris McLeod) is a native of Austria, who came to the U.S. in 1989 as an legal immigrant. Like many of his landsmen, he apparently knows something about mountains and skiing. He apparently was in, or near, the business of selling gondolas for ski lifts. (We are going to use the McLeod name to save the fingers.)

According to the federal indictment seen on the federal courts' electronic data system (case 1:06-cr-00002-WDM for PACER subscribers), McLeod became familiar with the Ski Apache area in the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico. He then offered a bribe to a Forest Service official, Michael Lane, who, among other things, wrote reports about the conditions of the ski lift operations. McLeod "corruptly offered and promised a thing of value to Michael Lane... if Michael Lane would tell the Ski Apache ski area that it needed to replace the gondola..."

The idea was that the two of them would split a finder's fee in connection with the sale of a new gondola. The bribe attempt took place in Colorado.

Lane blew the proverbial whistle, McLeod was convicted three years later and was sentenced to three years of imprisonment. When he got out of jail, DHS moved to deport him.

This is when things started going wrong. There are two provisions in federal law regarding bribery, one dealing with bribery of public officials, and the other with commercial bribery. There is yet another provision, in the Immigration and Nationality Act, that says that you can be deported if you are convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.

DHS' lawyers said McLeod should be deported because he was convicted of the crime of commercial bribery.

McLeod's lawyers argued that he was never involved in "commercial" bribery, as it involved a federal official.

The Board of Immigration Appeals agreed, saying, in legalese, that this was a bum rap, and sent the case back to the Immigration Judge to see if what McLeod did could be defined as an act of moral turpitude – something that the DHS brief must have ignored. If the IJ so decides it could lead to McLeod's eventual departure from the country.

That very narrow BIA decision was handed down on October 15.

To summarize, we have one federal official, Lane, doing exactly the right thing by blowing the whistle. Similarly, we have another, the assistant U.S. attorney in Colorado, successfully prosecuting the bribery case. And we have the BIA probably (I am not a lawyer) doing what had to be done with a bad case. Then, in the background somewhere, there was a DHS lawyer filing a sloppy deportation order in which he did not correctly identify the part of the statute that would lead to McLeod's well-deserved expulsion from the country.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.