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Federal Public Corruption and Bribery Terms and Definitions

Federal public corruption and bribery are very serious crimes in DC. For this reason, it is very important that a person understands the charges against them and the terms associated with those charges. A DC federal public corruption and bribery lawyer can be immensely helpful in providing a person with the proper tools to better understand their case and to combat the charges against them.


Bribery covers situations where somebody offers or accepts something of value. It does not have to be money. It could be tickets to a show, a ballgame, or a vacation. It is something of value that is offered or received for the purpose of influencing the actions of an official as it relates to their job.

Who Can Be Charged

Both the person who is alleged to have offered the bribe or is accused of receiving the bribe can be charged with bribery.

Illegal Gratuity

Illegal gratuities are similar to a bribe. The key distinction between a bribe and an illegal gratuity is the corrupt intent of someone giving a bribe to receive something in return, something that the person receiving the bribe would not have otherwise done.

Who Is a Public Official

The term public official has a specific meaning within the law. A public official has the ability to make certain decisions and possesses a certain power. A public official is not a low-level employee, but rather one with decision-making ability within the government.

For example, in the federal government, an analyst, technician, or someone with an entry level position and no decision-making ability or power over others is not considered a public official for purposes of the criminal justice system.

It is someone who has decision-making ability and has the ability to influence others. Whether or not their title indicates that they have actual decision-making ability is not the issue. The issue is whether or not they have the ability to make decisions. That has been litigated extensively in various courts.

Facing Federal Charges

A public official does not have to be employed in the federal government to face federal charges. A public official can also be a contractor. In other words, a public official can be someone who is not technically working for the government, but is employed by a company and works within the government as a contractor.

For example, someone working for a consulting firm who is placed at the Treasury Department can be considered a public official. Even if a person is not considered a public official, though, in federal cases, if the person is charged with a conspiracy to bribe and one of the other people involved in the conspiracy is deemed to be a public official, everyone involved potentially receives the sentencing enhancement as if they were a public official. There are severe sentencing enhancements that could come into play in this situation.

Officials in state or local government can face federal charges. Either there must be a nexus to a federal issue or there may be a federal statute that provides jurisdiction over state officials.

Lawful Gift vs. Bribe

Each state has their own set of laws that govern what is and is not allowed regarding gifts. For example, Virginia used to allow a large dollar amount gift as long as it was declared. There are other states that do not allow any gifts. For example, more than $20 must be declared. The question of the difference between a lawful gift and a bribe depends on the state or the jurisdiction.

In practice, it is more difficult to make the distinction between a lawful gift and a bribe as the Supreme Court recently discussed in opinion in the McDonnell case. The Supreme Court is concerned about the federal government overreaching into the political process, recognizing that our political process involves people such as lobbyists or others seeking access to public officials.

One of the ways they gain access is to take a public official to lunch or sponsor a fundraiser. There are a number of ways that are deemed to be legal. The question is where do you cross the line into illegality? It is a hotly contested issue and will be that way for many years to come.

Public Corruption

Public corruption is defined as someone who is a public official with a position in government, whether that is a city, state, or federal government, taking of offering a bribe.

What to Expect if Charged

If a person is charged with public corruption, they should expect that the case will be taken very seriously by prosecutors. They should also expect that there is a lot of media coverage and that if they are convicted, they should expect that prosecutors will ask for a significant jail sentence.

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