In United States v. Pate, No. 20-10545 (Aug. 10, 2022) (Newsom, Branch, Lagoa), the Court affirmed Mr. Pate’s convictions predicated on violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1521, which prohibits the filing of a false lien or encumbrance against the property of any officer or employee of the United States on account of the performance of official duties.
Mr. Pate was accused of filing various false liens against the former Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service and the former Secretary of the Treasury for acts they performed as part of their official duties. He filed these false liens after they had left their positions with the federal government. On appeal, the Court considered whether § 1521 applies to false liens filed against former federal officers and employees for official actions they performed while in service with the federal government.
The Court held that the plain language of § 1521 covers both current and former federal officers and employees. For purposes of § 1521, Congress premised liability on action taken against “an individual described in section 1114,” which itself addresses “any officer or employee of the United States or of any agency in any branch of the United States Government.” As such, and giving effect to all of § 1521’s provisions, the Court reasoned that reading § 1521 to limit its scope only to current officers and employees would fail to give effect to the phrase, “on account of the performance of official duties.” Section 1521 makes it illegal to file a false lien against the property of a federal officer or employee because of something he did as part of his official duties. Thus, because § 1521’s prohibition depends upon what an individual did while acting as a federal officer or employee, and not simply his employment status at the time of the action at issue, the natural reading of the statute’s language leads to the conclusion that the terms “officer” and “employee” encompass both current and former officers and employees.
Judge Newsom dissented. He noted that this case raised a straightforward question of statutory interpretation: Is a former government official an “officer or employee of the United States” within the meaning of § 1114 and, thereby, of § 1521? Affording the quoted language its ordinary meaning, he would answer the question in the negative. Therefore, because Mr. Pate’s filed the liens against individuals when they were no longer officers or employees of the United States, Judge Newsom would have held that Mr. Pate’s conduct fell outside the scope of § 1521’s prohibition.