In the District of Columbia, the United States Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section prosecute cases of public corruption. The Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice investigates and prosecutes cases all over the country, usually in tandem with the United States Attorney’s Office of a particular district.
The person’s intent is hotly contested in court, and whether a prosecutor can prove that a person has a corrupt or illegal intent. Another issue is whether what was offered or accepted was actually a thing of value, or whether any illegal action actually occurred. Sometimes, a credibility issue exists, particularly if someone is accused of providing cash to someone who ends up cooperating with the government as a witness because usually there is no record of the cash in a bank or anywhere else to corroborate the witness’s account.
Due to these many complexities and components involved in bribery cases, it is very important for a person charged with bribery to contact an attorney to ensure they understand the charges against them and that they have an opportunity to combat the potential penalties.
To prove a bribery case, the government must demonstrate that a thing of value was offered and accepted, that there was an illegal intent, and the intent was to pay money and receive something in return that was illegal. That could be an illegal advantage in a bidding process to get a contract. The government must show that someone put a something of value on the table to try to get something from the government.
Typically, a lot of paper evidence is used in these cases. In other words, bank statements, receipts, emails, and text messages, in addition to evidence gained from wire taps and recorded phone conversations. Evidence may also be gained from subpoenas. Usually, as a last step, the government agents try to interview the target of their investigation to get the target to make statements that implicate them.
While prosecuting bribery cases in DC, prosecutors try to prove intent to influence by going back to the paper trail and using the evidence they’ve gathered. They try to tell a compelling story because these cases are tried before jury. Juries like to hear a coherent story or have a coherent theme presented, not just a list of evidence, so that they can make sense of what is being presented to them.
Often, there is no direct evidence of intent. There is no email where a person says they are going to corruptly influence somebody or admits they have corrupted someone.
The government must usually put together circumstantial evidence to prove intent. The evidence may not directly go to intent, but may lead a juror to believe that when the facts are put together they demonstrate that, beyond a reasonable doubt, the person had the intent to corruptly influence someone else. For example, the government may point to the timing of certain events, such as phone or cellphone records showing a series of calls being made between two parties.
There may be evidence that a particular contract was offered for bid and in someone’s calendar, a meeting was scheduled between the two people. Then at a later date, that official takes an expensive trip to Hawaii that they could not afford based on the financial records unearthed as the part of the investigation. A prosecutor could argue circumstantial evidence that a person was offered and accepted a bribe and therefore had corrupt intent.
Federal public corruption cases are prosecuted the most vigorously of any type of case and the most resources are devoted to those types of cases. The feeling is that these cases cut to the core of the function of government in the United States. The goal is to keep that function as clean and as pure as possible and keep this type of corrupt influence out of it, so a lot of resources are devoted to the investigation and prosecution of corruption. The sentences, if someone is convicted, are extremely high.
These types of cases are prosecuted in a very public way. There is usually a lot of media attention devoted to them and it is usually sustained media coverage that is devoted to covering these cases. These are not the types of cases that go away after one or two days. They remain in the forefront with the media organizations that are pushing these stories.
Prosecutors know these cases are going to go before a jury so they like to show the flashy lifestyle of the person who is accused because even if they are not proven to be directly linked to the receipt of an alleged bribe, jurors typically do not like to see someone living too richly when they are accused of doing something that is financially illegal. The unspoken message is that they wasted the money on toys when those who are on the jury or who are middle class or lower, not in the upper tiers of the socioeconomic system, are struggling to make money.
Recent trends seen in public corruption in bribery cases are that prosecutors are going after cases involving smaller amounts of money. They prosecute people who would not have been prosecuted 10 years ago because they were too low-level to be considered. They would be considered public officially, but were too low level to be dealt with on the federal level.
In addition, there is the influx of street crime investigative techniques into white collar cases with the use of informants, recorded phone conversations, and wiretaps. All those techniques originated in the investigation of drug cases and have been imported into white collar and bribery cases.