Federal Bribery Charges
Bribery is a crime with a long history. For centuries, people looking to garner favor with public officials have offered gifts or money in exchange for better treatment. In some countries, bribery is accepted as just the cost of doing business. However, in the United State, bribery of public officials is a criminal act, for both the person offering the bribe, and for the individual who solicits or accepts a bribe.
Bribery generally involves giving some item of value, such as a gift or money, in order to gain influence with the recipient. This requires a “quid pro quo” exchange, or getting something for the bribe. For public officials, this could involve paying a judge to give someone a lighter sentence, paying off a mayor to approve a construction project, or offering money to a police officer to look the other way on illegal activities.
However, bribery is not always so clearly expressed. A substantial gift that is not intended to influence a public official may seem like a bribe to some, when it was only intended to be a gift out of gratitude. Another less clear example happens every day in politics with campaign contributions. Contributors and donors give politicians millions of dollars, which likely influences how a legislator may vote, but above board it looks like a large campaign contribution rather than bribery.
In many cases, it can be difficult for a prosecutor to prove bribery because there is a lack of explicit evidence to show the linkage between the “gift” and the illegal influence. Bribery requires the intent to influence an official act for the person offering the bribe, or the intent to be influenced in an official act for the public official.
Since the earliest days of our country's history, the United States Constitution provided that the President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, among other things, bribery. It is listed among treason and other high crimes and misdemeanors. U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 4.
Under federal law, it is a crime for anyone to “directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official or person who has been selected to be a public official,” with the intent to influence any official act, influence any public official to commit or aid in committing or allow fraud, or induce a public official to do or omit any act in violation of their lawful duty.
It is also crime for a public official to directly or indirectly, corruptly demand, seek, receive, accept or agree to accept anything of value personally in return for being influenced in the performance of any official act, to commit or aid in committing or allow any fraud, or be induced to do or omit any act in violation of their official duties. 18 U.S. Code § 201 - Bribery of Public Officials and Witnesses.
The penalties for bribery of a public official includes a fine of up to three times the value of the bribe, and imprisonment for up to 15 years in a federal penitentiary. A conviction can also disqualify the individual from holding any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.
Both states and the federal government have laws against bribing public officials. Under the federal statute, public officials include just about anyone who works for the federal government, including, members of Congress, delegates, resident commissioners, any officer, employee or person acting on behalf of the United States or any department, agency or branch of U. S. government, including the District of Columbia. It also applies to those who will become a public official, after notice that they will be nominated or appointed.
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act provides for federal criminal charges involving the bribery of foreign officials. It is unlawful for certain people and businesses to make payments to foreign government officials to help with obtaining or retaining business. This includes offers or promises to pay any money, gift or promises to a foreign official for the purposes of influencing any act or decision of a foreign official in their official capacity.
This can be a major problem for anyone who works in international business, as different countries have very different approaches to “bribery.” In countries like Russia, China or Mexico, bribery among international business deals can be relatively common. Major companies like Walmart have even gotten tangled up in FCPA bribery charges, after reportedly paying $24 million in “facilitation expenses,” for licenses to expand their business in Mexico.
Penalties for violations of the FCPA include fines of up to $2,000,000 for U.S.-based companies. Officers, directors, employees, stockholders or agents of these companies can face fines of up to $100,000 and imprisonment for up to 5 years.
Investigating Bribery Charges
Many bribery cases involve government or law enforcement investigations. Police or government agencies may be tipped off to possible bribery through anonymous tips, or insider information. Law enforcement may engage in an undercover investigation, or sting operation, to catch evidence of a possible bribe through hidden video or audio recordings. After gathering evidence, a federal prosecutor will charge the individuals involved with bribery.
The specific defenses available to someone facing bribery charges will depend on the specific case. This may include a lack of the mental state to commit bribery, by lacking the intent to influence some official act with money or a gift. Bribery cases can be complicated, and involve long and in-depth government investigations. Your federal bribery defense attorney will be able to investigate your case, and provide you the best defense strategy to win your case.
Criminal Defense for Bribery Charges
If you become aware of an investigation involving bribery, or if you are facing federal bribery charges, you should speak to a federal criminal defense attorney with experience successfully defending their clients against bribery charges. Before deciding whether to cooperate with investigators, you should understand that you may be exposing yourself to criminal liability. Contact Harris, Carmichael, & Ellis, PLLC the criminal defense lawyers who will investigate all possible legal defenses, and fight to get your charges reduced or dismissed, and defend your rights in court.