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decided: October 15, 1987.



Mark Jurikson, Philadelphia, for petitioner.

John W. Morris, Philadelphia, for respondent.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Nix, C.j., and Larsen, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ., join. In addition, Hutchinson, J., files a concurring opinion in which Nix, C.j., and Larsen, McDermott and Zappala, JJ., join. Papadakos files a concurring opinion.

Author: Flaherty

[ 516 Pa. Page 92]


The fundamental question raised by this case is whether Article II, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which prohibits those who have been convicted of "infamous crimes" from holding public office in Pennsylvania, should be applied to bar the election of a candidate for public office who was convicted in federal court of conspiracy to obstruct interstate commerce in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). For the reasons that follow, we hold that it does.

Harry Jannotti was a member of Philadelphia City Council during 1980, when the FBI was pursuing its "ABSCAM" investigation of corruption in government. The investigation was carried out by undercover FBI men posing as agents of a fictitious Arab sheik who was interested supposedly in immigrating to the United States and building a multi-million dollar hotel in Philadelphia. In order to facilitate these interests, the agents of the sheik were willing to pay money in exchange for the votes and/or friendly intercession of government officials on the sheik's behalf.

One Weinberg, described as a "career swindler," was employed by the FBI to "spread the word" of the sheik's interests and his willingness to pay for help in advancing those interests. As part of the Philadelphia phase of ABSCAM, Weinberg called one Criden, a Philadelphia lawyer, and hired him to arrange meetings between the sheik's representatives and government officials willing to receive money in exchange for influence.*fn1 Among the meetings which Criden arranged for the undercover agents was one with Harry Jannotti, an influential member of Philadelphia's City Council. Before Jannotti actually met with the

[ 516 Pa. Page 93]

    undercover FBI agents, Criden told him of the hotel project and of the sheik's intention to pay him $10,000 in cash.

After his meeting with Criden, Jannotti went to the Barclay Hotel to meet with the sheik's representatives, assured them of his good will toward the hotel project, and received $10,000 in cash at the end of the meeting. Jannotti told the sheik's agents that he would vote for the project and, as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals summarized it, he "gave assurances that there would be no [municipality imposed] obstacles or that the obstacles, if any, would be manageable." United States v. Jannotti, 673 F.2d 578, 596 (3rd Cir.1982).

On the basis of these facts, Jannotti was found guilty of conspiring to obstruct interstate commerce under the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), by a jury sitting in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.*fn2 Jannotti was charged with the substantive violation of the Hobbs Act as well as conspiracy to violate the act, but he was convicted only on the conspiracy count because a substantive conviction (actually interfering with interstate commerce) requires that the defendant's act actually affect interstate commerce, which, in this case, was impossible, since the sheik and his hotel project were fictions.

After entry of the verdict, the trial court granted Jannotti's motions to set aside the verdict of the jury in its entirety for lack of jurisdiction and granted his motion for judgment of acquittal. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting, en banc, reversed, thus reinstating the original jury verdict, and a panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the reinstated conviction on appeal. The panel stated:

[ 516 Pa. Page 94]

We find that the government's evidence established overwhelmingly that the defendants enthusiastically accepted bribes. There simply is no credible evidence that the defendants were reluctant to take the money. To the contrary, the evidence shows the defendants, each of them an elected public official, boasting of their power and their corruption.*fn3

United States v. Jannotti, 729 F.2d 213, 225 (3rd Cir.1984).

Jannotti was sentenced to six months imprisonment and fined $2,000. However, in 1987, he decided to run again for public office and filed a petition for nomination for city councilman. Thereafter Patricia A. Hughes filed a petition in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia objecting to the Jannotti nomination on the grounds that Jannotti had been convicted of an "infamous crime" and that under the Pennsylvania Constitution he was barred from holding public office. The Common Pleas Court held that Jannotti's conviction was not for an "infamous crime," dismissed the Hughes petition with prejudice, and ordered that Jannotti's name be placed on the primary ballot. On appeal, Commonwealth Court reversed and held that Jannotti's conviction was for a crime "involving the receipt of ...

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