Public corruption can mean a number of things, but it primarily means that a public official or someone related to a public official is engaged in an activity which involves taking a bribe, giving a bribe, or taking something of value or benefit and then providing the benefit to somebody else, which they could not otherwise get legally due to their public office. A government official taking a bribe in exchange for giving a government contract to a particular vendor is a typical example.
Bribery is defined under the US Code as a person who, “directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers, or promises anything of value” to any public official or offers or promises any public official to give anything of value to another person or entity with the intent to influence an official act, influence that public official to commit, or assist in committing, or polluting, or allowing any kind of fraud, or making an opportunity for the commission of any fraud in the United States, or to induce a public official to do or fail to do any act that is in violation of their lawful duty as a public official.
These types of charges present serious penalties for those convicted in addition to potential embarrassment. As a result, it is important that a person who has been charged consults with a DC federal white collar criminal attorney. Our attorneys can provide information on our personal approach to handling these cases.
Bribery means that something of value is conveyed in exchange for doing something or not doing something. Either way, the payment is illegal and committing or not committing an act in exchange for that thing of value or money is also illegal. When building a defense against these types of charges, it is important to look at all available documents and speak with an associate due to the many mitigating and aggravating factors of each case.
The person who gives the bribe is charged with it. The person who gives the money certainly can be charged with bribery, and the person who accepts it can be charged with accepting a gratuity or other charges depending on the nature of the bribe.
For example, if a construction contractor is accused of paying money to a public official in order to rig a specific bid on a big construction contract, then both could be charged with conspiracy to rig a bid or with bid rigging itself. Bribery is part of it, but there are ways that other statutes can become involved as well.
Bribery is a two-way street and any individual who gives, offers, promises, or tries to influence the official can be charged, as well as the official themselves. The bribery does not have to be completed. Offering a bribe is the same as actually giving or accepting a bribe under the statute. Agreeing to accept a bribe is the same as accepting the bride in the sense that it is still illegal.
The recipient of a bribe may sometimes try to return it. The easiest way to think of it is this: someone who shoplifts and is caught and returns the merchandise is still prosecuted for shoplifting. They still committed the act. Bribery does not require that the action takes place by the official. If the official agrees to accept a bribe then, at that moment, the offense takes place.
If a person is charged with public corruption, a key thing they should expect is extensive media coverage. There will be a lot of publicity surrounding the charge. A person charged with public corruption should expect they will turn themselves in when they become aware they have been indicted or there is an arrest warrant out for them, or they will turn themselves in to the court either on their arraignment date or when they are presented on the complaint.
All of this would be done through negotiations between their lawyer and the prosecution. Because there is so much documentation that must be sifted through for evidence, something that stands out about public corruption charges is the investigative process.
“Public Official” is a legal term and can be broadly construed. Case law has expanded the meaning of the term in recent years to cover more people, but the definition of public official primarily revolves around that person’s ability to either make policy, make decisions, or to have control over other people.
A person has to look at a specific situation to determine whether a person is considered a public official, but essentially the standard is whether the person has the ability to exert power over other people in the government. To be considered a public official, a person has to work or be associated with some sort of government entity.
All sorts of different statutes govern what can be given to a government official legally. There are certain dollar amount limits and disclosure rules, among other things, and all those rules must be followed to make a legal gift. Just because a gift is not legal does not mean it is a bribe, so there is a gray area between a gift and bribe. The fact that not every gift is unlawful is an important distinction to make.
The other issue with lawful gifts is that when something is given, is there an expectation that something is going to be given back in return? If that’s the case, it is considered illegal. Disclosure and the existence of a quid pro quo, or evidence of a quid pro quo, are some of the factors that distinguish the bribe and lawful gift. Quid pro quo is often the main element in such bribery cases.
Prosecutors end up relying on witnesses to prove an intent to influence and that something was promised in return for a gift. This is essential to the prosecution, because there is rarely written communication or proof of exactly where and when money changed hands. Usually, prosecutors have to rely on witnesses who are cooperating with the government or are informants. However, those witnesses are inherently suspect, because they are typically bought and paid for.
Public corruption cases involve public officials who are people who have a certain degree of exposure to the public because they hold a public office. Especially in cases that capture the public’s attention, the media coverage can be very intense.
For this reason, it is important that the accused not make statements to the media. Speaking to a reporter or law enforcement official without first consulting an attorney is one of the biggest mistakes people make when dealing with these types of charges.
Also, it is important to have a strategy to manage public perception to the extent possible and to deal with media coverage, if a person decides that it is a viable strategy to get their side of the story out to the public.