- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2011

A federal appeals panel Friday reversed the conviction of a former D.C. government contracting representative on bribery and extortion charges in what authorities called a scam to pocket late fees owed by businesses on their elevator licenses.

While judges said the evidence against former D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs employee Ikela M. Dean could have supported an embezzlement or fraud charge, prosecutors instead charged Ms. Dean with extortion and bribery. And on those counts there was insufficient proof, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled.

“We echo the sentiments of the trial judge who opined that the government mis-charged in this case,” the judges wrote in an opinion reversing Ms. Dean’s conviction. “Dean may well be guilty of embezzlement or fraud, but not extortion or bribery as charged.”

At issue is whether the government had enough proof to show that Ms. Dean was going to pocket $1,275 given to her by an undercover agent for a license for five pool tables at a downtown hotel.

Ms. Dean said the license for the pool tables had to be paid in cash, prosecutors said in court filings. She was arrested shortly after being given the money in an FBI sting operation.

While prosecutors said she took cash from organizations that required the District to sign off on elevator permits, a judge threw out 12 of the 14 charges she faced, saying authorities had failed to prove she committed bribery or extortion.

The appeals court agreed.

“We are not holding that the evidence against Dean did not support a conclusion that she committed criminal activity,” the appeals court wrote.

“We do not know why the United States Attorneys’ Office did not choose to seek an indictment for fraud or embezzlement … It would appear that the evidence might easily have supported such charges.”

Ms. Dean, who was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison in 2009, was released in September, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors are reviewing the ruling. Tony Axam Jr., an assistant federal public defender who argued the case for Ms. Dean, declined to comment on the decision.