Federal charges for public corruption or bribery are serious. Not only can they carry years in prison and significant fines; they can also doom a politician’s career and ruin someone’s reputation. Because of its negative impact and how badly corruption makes the government look, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aggressively investigate and eagerly prosecute even flimsy allegations of these offenses, including in Detroit.
The federal defense lawyers at Oberheiden P.C. represent the public officials and employees who engaged in a corrupt act or who allegedly took a bribe, as well as the individuals or corporate entities who allegedly offered the bribe or some other unlawful gratuity.
Federal Laws Against Public Corruption, Bribery, and Unlawful Gratuities
Public corruption is a very broad criminal act that includes numerous smaller offenses, like:
- Accepting unlawful gratuities
- Acting with a conflict of interest
Many of these courses of conduct fall under 18 U.S.C. § 201, which is one of the first laws ever passed by Congress. The two most important are bribery and unlawful gratuities.
Bribery is prohibited by 18 U.S.C. § 201(b). Under this statute, giving or offering anything of value to a public official in order to corruptly influence an official act, or to persuade the official not to act, is a bribe. It covers both the public official who is receiving the bribe as well as the person or the entity that is offering it.
Importantly, though, there has to be a quid pro quo for it to be a bribe. The offer of something of value has to be closely connected to the official act or omission. If there is no quid pro quo, like if a gift or contribution is merely offered to build favor with the official rather than to influence a particular act, then it is not corrupt. Instead, it is merely a gratuity.
However, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that, so long as there was a promise to perform the official act, the acceptance of the bribe suffices. The official does not need to complete the act for it to violate 18 U.S.C. § 201(b).
Convictions for bribery are serious. They carry up to 15 years in prison and a fine of three times the monetary equivalent of the bribe. Convictions also disqualify both parties from holding public office.
Unlawful gratuities falls under 18 U.S.C. § 201(c). Similar to bribery, this statute prohibits offering a public official anything of value for, or because of, the official’s actions. Also similar to bribery, this offense covers both the public official receiving the gift and the person or the entity that offers it. However, there are several important differences between unlawful gratuities and bribery.
Perhaps most importantly, there does not need to be a corrupt quid pro quo for a gift to be an unlawful gratuity. To be an unlawful gratuity, an official has to accept or solicit something of value in connection with the exercise of his or her authority, rather than for a specific act.
The lack of a corrupt intent makes this particular offense less severe than bribery. Convictions, however, can still carry up to two years in prison.
Federal criminal law is infamous for having overlapping statutes. This means that discreet actions in a single course of conduct can violate several different laws and lead to several separate convictions. For people accused of public corruption or bribery, for example, they may also face charges for:
- Bank fraud
- Embezzlement or theft of government assets
- Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations
- Mail fraud
- Money laundering
- Tax fraud
- Wire fraud
Defendants accused of bribery are frequently charged with one of these collateral offenses, as well, each of which can carry years in prison.
Additionally, defendants are also frequently charged with attempted bribery or with conspiracy to bribe an official. These are extremely wide-reaching laws that cover lots of illicit, as well as innocent, conduct.
Corrupt Practices a Top Priority for Law Enforcement
The FBI claims that these offenses cost the United States billions of dollars every year in lost taxpayer funds. To correct this, the FBI has made rooting out and prosecuting corrupt practices in government its top criminal priority. In furtherance of this goal, it created an entire Public Corruption Unit that focuses solely on these offenses as well as:
- Prison corruption
- Border corruption
- Foreign corruption
These offenses and others are investigated by the FBI’s Regional Office in Detroit.
3 Frequently Asked Questions About Federal Corruption and Bribery Charges in Detroit
What is a “Public Official” for Corruption or Bribery Charges?
In spite of the extremely broad definition in the statutes, not all government officials are “public officials” who can face criminal sanctions if bribed or unlawfully wooed with valuables. Many cases make it clear that a government official must have some sort of authority in order to be held criminally liable.
However, on the other hand, it is also clear that non-governmental employees may fall under the heading of “public officials” if they held a position of public trust and carried out official responsibilities in a federal policy or program.
These competing interpretations can create strange results. The lawyers at Oberheiden P.C. understand where the grey areas are in this determination, and can use them to show that clients accused of public corruption or bribery were not “public officials” who fall under the scope of these criminal laws.
What Amounts to an “Official Act”?
Corruption, bribery, and unlawful gratuity charges require there to be an official act that was influenced by the gift or bribe. However, not just any act suffices. Without more, an “official act” does not include mundane or common activities like hosting an event or meeting or engaging in a phone call. Instead, law enforcement has to prove that the gift or bribe was connected to a specific use, or non-use, of government authority, even if the officer did not actually have that authority.
Why Doesn’t Oberheiden P.C. Call Itself the Best Federal Defense Firm in Detroit?
First, we avoid making bold statements like this because the rules of professional conduct for the legal field generally frowns upon them. Attorney advertising is not supposed to be misleading, and calling ourselves the best defense firm in an area or region would rely on metrics of success that are not always precise. For example, quashing a groundless investigation into one politician’s alleged corruption may be a success while also being a fairly easy case. Meanwhile, defending a case where law enforcement has mountains of evidence against an individual and managing to reduce the sentence from 30 years in prison to just three may be an extremely difficult case but an even bigger success, in spite of the fact that the defendant is still going to serve prison time.
Second, we prefer to let our track record of successes inside and outside of the courtroom speak for itself. Our attorneys have defended numerous individuals and companies against serious federal offenses, including for corruption and bribery, and secured lots of favorable outcomes that protected our clients’ interests and future.
Third, the experience and skill level of our defense attorneys is staggering, and our clients can count on their presence throughout the process. Their experience on the law enforcement side of the investigation and the trial gives them valuable insight into what is about to happen, allowing them to predict and prepare for it, when it does.
The Defense Lawyers at Oberheiden P.C. Defend Against Public Corruption and Bribery Charges in Detroit
Given the extremely wide-reaching conduct that federal corruption law covers and the severe penalties of a conviction, hiring a skilled and experienced defense team to protect your rights and your future is essential.
The defense lawyers at Oberheiden P.C. have centuries of combined experience defending people against serious federal charges, including public corruption and bribery, as well as experience in the DOJ and FBI investigating and prosecuting those same offenses.
That experience in both defending and prosecuting corruption charges gives our team the skills and the foresight that you need to effectively combat these serious allegations. By calling us and getting us involved in your case, we can review the circumstances that led to the allegation or suspicion of wrongdoing and locate the strengths and the weaknesses in the government’s case. In many cases, we are able to approach the U.S. Attorneys who are prosecuting the case and show them that they lack the evidence necessary to move forward. This not only resolves the case before the investigation can turn into a risky trip through the criminal justice process; it also avoids the hassle and the public relations nightmare that an investigation for corruption can bring.
Even if the investigation cannot be stopped, our lawyers have successfully defended numerous clients in federal criminal trials in Detroit and elsewhere. This has included for charges of public corruption, giving or receiving unlawful gratuities, bribery, and the many collateral charges that come with these offenses.
Contact us online or call our law office at 866-603-4540 for help and to get the legal representation you need.