Technically, there is no federal or state statute specifically naming public corruption as a crime. Instead, there are numerous laws that criminalize the misuse of public authority and protect government officials from those who seek to influence them through corrupt activities. These laws include crimes such as bribery, theft, extortion, and fraud and are often combined with charges of conspiracy, since public corruption typically involves two or more players.
In recent years, the FBI has made investigating public corruption a top priority because of its potential for affecting our national security, government, justice system, and quality of life. The Bureau has ratcheted up its efforts to combat corruption by collaborating with other law enforcement and regulatory investigative agencies at the federal, state, and local level. These collaborative efforts have enhanced the government’s ability to investigate, charge, prosecute, and convict people on numerous charges related to public corruption.
If you have been charged with or are currently being investigated for a public corruption offense, you need help from an attorney familiar with federal investigations and prosecutions. The FBI and federal prosecutors aggressively investigate and prosecute public officials and others suspected of corruption, but with the help of an experienced federal defense attorney, you can successfully fight the charges and protect your rights.
Public Corruption Laws
Laws involving public corruption apply to all elected public officials, as well as those who work for the federal government in its numerous agencies and departments and those who serve on federal juries. Some of the most common federal laws used to charge these individuals are explained below.
The Federal Bribery Statute
The most common public corruption offense involves a public official receiving or soliciting a bribe or gratuity in return for influence on an official act, committing or helping in committing fraud on the U.S., or being induced to do or omit to do any act violating his or her official duty. In this case, an official act can be any decision or action that a public official may take in his or her official capacity.
According to the Federal Bribery Statute [18 U.S.C. § 201(b)], the government has to prove that you acted with corrupt intent to give or receive something of value in exchange for an official act. However, even if the bribe was never paid, you can still be charged with violating the law based on your alleged intent.
Receiving Illegal Gratuities
The Federal Bribery Statute [18 U.S.C. § 201(c)] also makes it a crime for a public official to receive a gratuity or for someone to pay a public official a gratuity. Considered a lesser type of bribery, unlawful gratuities are those payments generally given or accepted after a specific official act has occurred. An exchange agreement or a corrupt intent to influence an official act need not be present for the government to prosecute you under this law.
Federal Program Bribery
The Federal Program Bribery Statute (18 U.S.C. § 666) prohibits bribery and embezzlement for people who work for state, local, or Indian tribal government, organizations, or agencies that receive over $10,000 from the federal government in a year. These federal funds can include grants, loans, subsidies, insurance, and other types of federal monies.
Under this statute, the prosecution does not have to show that these federal funds were part of the illegal transaction. They only have to show that the value of the transaction was at least $5,000 and that you are or were an agent or employee of a state, local or tribal government entity that receives more than $10,000 in federal funding in a year.
Hobbs Act Extortion
The Hobbs Act (18 U.S.C. § 1951) makes it a crime to commit or attempt to commit robbery or extortion that affects interstate or foreign commerce. To prove extortion under the Hobbs Act, the government needs to show that a public official obtained property in exchange for an official act or acts. If it appears that you accepted a payment knowing it was given in return for official acts, the official act or acts do not have to have occurred for the government to prosecute you under the Hobbs Act.
The Theft Statute dealing with public officials (18 U.S.C. § 641) makes it a crime to steal, embezzle, take for your own use or sell without authority to do so, any U.S. government money or property. If you knowingly received property stolen from the U.S. government, you can also be charged with this offense.
Another statute (18 U.S.C. § 654) further prohibits theft of money or property that does not specifically belong to the U.S. government. It makes it a crime for a federal public official to take money or property that belonged to someone else but that he or she had access to because of his authority as a public official.
Federal Racketeering Statute
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) (18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq.) criminalizes a wide range of corrupt acts by making it a crime to take part in an enterprise with a pattern of racketeering activity. Conspiring to engage in such activity is also a crime, whether or not the activity actually occurred.
Under the law, an enterprise can be an existing organization or any group associated by common purpose that has a pattern of racketeering, defined as two or more related acts of racketeering that occurred within ten years of each other and that present the conditions for further criminal activity.
Mail and Wire Fraud
The Mail and Fraud Statutes (18 U.S.C. §§ 1341,1343,1346) are often used to prosecute allegedly corrupt state and local public officials under federal law. The statutes make it a crime to use the Postal Service or interstate wire, radio, or television services to defraud others.
You can be charged with these federal offenses for knowingly devising or participating in a fraudulent scheme that used mail or interstate wire services. When multiple people are accused of being involved in a fraud scheme, the prosecution does not have to show that you actually made a false representation, only that you were involved in the scheme.
The Travel Act
The Travel Act (18 U.S.C. § 1952) makes extortion or bribery committed in violation of state or federal law a federal offense if a facility of interstate or foreign commerce is involved. This includes phone calls, emails, text messages, mail, and wire transmissions.
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) (15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1, et seq.) makes it unlawful for individuals and entities to pay foreign government officials to help them obtain or retain business. If you use mail or any kind of interstate commerce to offer, pay, promise to pay, or authorize payment to influence a foreign official’s actions to help obtain or retain business, you can be charged with violating the FCPA.
Public Corruption Penalties
If convicted of a public corruption offense, you could face very severe penalties, including a large criminal fine, a long prison sentence, and payment of damages to the government.
The punishment for receiving a bribe, for example, is up to fifteen years in federal prison and/or a criminal fine of up to three times the value of the bribe. If convicted of theft of government funds or property totaling more than $1,000, you could face up to ten years in prison as well as fines. Even for a theft of funds or property valued at less than $1,000, you could still face up to a year in a federal prison and a fine.
Defending Against Public Corruption Charges
Public corruption cases can be very complex, but attorney David Haas has the knowledge, skills, and experience to develop the strongest defense possible, given the specific context and details of your individual situation.
By intervening early on your behalf, Attorney Haas can help mitigate circumstances before any charges are filed. Having a defense attorney who has prior experience as a federal prosecutor is crucial, since he knows how prosecutors go about gathering evidence and building their case, can respond effectively to investigators on your behalf, and advise you how best to protect your interests and avoid entanglement in collateral issues.
As an experienced federal defense attorney, Haas is also highly skilled at identifying and implementing successful defense tactics, such as challenging the prosecution’s evidence, showing your lack of intent in committing the crime, and identifying the optimal defense to successfully fight federal criminal charges.
Fight Public Corruption Charges with Help from an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
If you or a family member is being investigated for or has been charged with public corruption, please contact our office as soon as possible so we can get to work on achieving a positive outcome. If an investigation is in progress, we will act as your advocate and work tirelessly to prevent charges from being filed. If you have already been charged, we will fight the prosecution’s narrative with a powerful defense strategy.
With over 15 years of relevant legal experience, Attorney David Haas is well qualified to fight for your rights throughout a public corruption investigation and/or prosecution. Let him put his extensive knowledge of federal law, investigations, and prosecutions, as well his legal acumen and skill navigating the federal justice system, to work for you.
Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law School. A guide to commonly used federal statutes in public corruption cases: A practitioner toolkit. (2017, Aug.) https://www.law.columbia.edu/
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (n.d.). Public Corruption. https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/public-corruption
U.S. Department of Justice. (2018). Criminal resource Manual 2041. Bribery of public officials. https://www.justice.gov/jm/criminal-resource-manual-2041-bribery-public-officials