United States v. Volvy “Zev” Smilowitz (2d Cir. September 2020)

The Federal Docket

October 12, 2020

Election Fraud – Federal election laws prohibiting fraud and tampering apply to conduct involving voter registrations in local elections because voter registration is part of a unified system that also affects federal elections.

Volvy “Zev” Smilowitz was convicted of conspiracy to submit false voter registrations under 18 U.S.C. § 371 and 52 U.S.C. § 10307(c) and conspiracy to violate the Travel Act by paying bribes for voter registrations under 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 1952.  Smilowitz was pursuing a $29M real estate development for the Hasidic Jewish community in Bloomingburg when the local elected officials voted against the project.  To complete the project, Smilowitz and co-conspirators sought to replace elected officers with their own candidates by encouraging individuals to move into rental properties in order to vote and fraudulently registering new voters.

The Court reviewed Smilowitz’s conviction de novo and rejected his challenge on federalism grounds.  The Court held that the purpose of the federal statute was to prevent corruption in federal elections and despite being a local election with no federal candidates on the ballot, the statute included voter registration which is a unitary function that exposed future federal elections to corruption.  The Court also followed precedent and legislative history holding that paying voters to register constituted bribery and was not limited only to payments to public servants under New York statute.  The Court affirmed the district court’s conviction.

Appeal from the Southern District of New York

Opinion by Walker, joined by Parker and Carney

Click here to read the opinion.


Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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