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In the past, land use ethics inquiries predominately involved conflicts of interest or an official holding public office while engaging in a previously held business or law practice. Now, prosecutors are looking at the underlying criminality of the unethical acts carried out in the context of land use decisions. With a wide array of criminal statutes in the hands of federal prosecutors, almost all forms of unethical conduct could in some way also violate a federal criminal statute.

Part II of this article reviews the federal statutes most often used by federal prosecutors and provides some examples of recent reported cases in which the underlying illegal or unethical conduct involved alleged criminal activity. Part III offers some examples of recent reported state court cases in which criminal acts involving land use permitting or decision-making were the underlying cause of the subsequent or reported court action. Part IV concludes with the caveat that municipal attorneys and public officials can no longer simply view ethical issues in land use as a local or state civil matter, and those who work in and advise those in the public sector should be mindful of the tools at the disposal of federal investigators and prosecutors.


Reprinted with permission from: The Urban Lawyer, Spring 2014 (46/2) issue, published by the American Bar Association. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

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46 Urb. Law. 249