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Appeals Court: You Weren't Bribed Enough to be Convicted

Dominick Owens, 46, ruined his career as a City of Chicago zoning inspector by taking two $600 bribes to issue certificates of occupancy for houses that were not inspected, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. A career lost over $600? You’re doing it wrong, bro!

Oh, but wait. Maybe he was doing it right. Earlier this year, he was convicted of taking bribes worth more than $5,000 and sentenced to a year and a day in prison. He faced a maximum of 10 years and a $250,000 fine, reports the Chicago Tribune.

How does the prosecutor manage to convict someone of taking bribes worth $5,000 when he only received $600? The prosecutor argued that the value of the certificates issued was worth far more than the black market price. The homes approved for occupancy were mortgaged from $200,000 to $600,000.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals' thoughts on the matter? You're doing it wrong bro. The court overturned Owens' conviction because the prosecutor provided no "evidence linking the mortgages and construction costs to the value of the issuance of the certificates."

The court found two ways to value the certificates: the market price ($600) or the value that the certificates provided to the builders. Obviously, the first valuation fails to meet the $5,000 threshold. As for the second valuation, Owens was paid to rush the permits through. This doesn't mean that the houses would not have passed a true inspection, or that the bribed permits helped the builder avoid more than $5,000 in repairs. The homes might have been worth $200,000 to $600,000 either way.

Does this mean Owens is brilliant for taking such small bribes? Not exactly. According to the Tribune, he was caught because be entered the request for an inspection into the computer, then marked it complete twelve minutes later. Even Usain Bolt couldn't inspect a house that quickly. Later surveillance caught him pocketing the $600 in cash. He was one of fifteen city employees caught under Operation Crooked Code. According to the Sun-Times, the ruling should not impact any other convictions.

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