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Defending Public Corruption Charges

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Oberheiden & McMurrey is a team of former Department of Justice Trial Attorneys, former Assistant United States Attorneys, former federal prosecutors, and experienced defense attorneys who represent public officials and executives in corruption and bribery investigations across the United States.

What is Public Corruption?

Public corruption generally refers to a public official’s breach of trust or abuse of position.  More specifically, public corruption occurs when public officials take actions in their official capacities that are motivated by self-interest, as opposed to professional judgment.   Public corruption crimes often involve a public official accepting compensation from a third party to act, or decline to act, in a manner dictated by that third party.  Public corruption may also involve a public official embezzling funds or property from the government or its citizens.

In almost all public corruption cases, the government combines charges of public corruption with charges of conspiracy, in order to increase the number of defendants it can charge and the probability of getting a conviction.  A conspiracy occurs when two or more individuals jointly agree to participate in criminal activity.  Conspiracy charges are especially common in public corruption cases because most cases naturally involve two players – the individual making the bribe or illegal payment and the public official who accepts the bribe or illegal payment.

Public corruption takes place in a wide variety of settings and in numerous different manners.  At America’s borders, public officials may accept illegal bribes to allow the transport of illegal drugs, undocumented migrants, or undeclared goods into the United States.  Within American prisons, a prison guard may accept payments or other compensation to turn a blind eye to illegal activity occurring within the prison walls.  During election campaigns, a political candidate may commit ballot fraud or accept campaign donations that contravene campaign finance laws.  Each of these activities would fall within the broad definition of public corruption.

Public corruption cases are investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which is an executive agency located within the Department of Justice.  The FBI cites public corruption as its number one investigative priority, given the potential threats public corruption poses to national security and other significant factors affecting daily life in America.  In its efforts to prevent, detect and investigate public corruption, the FBI collaborates with other agencies within and outside of the DOJ, including the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, federal, state and local regulatory agencies, and federal, state, and local prosecutors’ offices.  The FBI also works with organizations within the private sector to encourage individuals to report suspected incidents of public corruption.

As noted, public corruption is a federal crime that is investigated by federal agents and prosecuted by federal prosecutors.  However, all public officials – from the federal government down to state and local officials – are subject to federal anti-corruption laws. Federal anti-corruption laws also apply to American public officials stationed abroad.  To this end, in 2008, the FBI launched the International Corruption Unit, a specialized unit within the FBI focused on combatting pubic corruption by government officials taking place outside of the United States.  Such corruption is especially common in countries where accepting bribes is seen as a natural or regular part of doing business.

Public Corruption Prohibitions

Receiving Bribe by Public Official [18 U.S.C. § 201(b)(2)]:  A public official may be guilty of receiving a bribe if that person, acting corruptly, directly or indirectly demands or receives, or agrees to demand or receive, something of value in return for being influenced in his performance of an official act or omission of an official act in violation of his official duty.  A public official acts “corruptly” if he intentionally acts with an unlawful purpose.  A “public official” includes any officer, employee, or agent of the United States or any department, agency, or branch of the federal government who is acting in an official capacity.  Notably, jurors sitting on a federal jury fall within the definition of public official for the purposes of this crime.  An “official act” denotes any decision or action on any cause or proceeding that may be brought before a public official in his official capacity. [18 U.S.C. § 201(a)].

Receiving Illegal Gratuity by a Public Official [18 U.S.C. § 201(c)(1)(B)]:  A public official may be guilty of receiving an illegal gratuity if the public official demands or receives something of value in return for performance of an official act.  A “public official” includes any officer, employee, or agent of the United States or any department, agency, or branch of the federal government who is acting in an official capacity.  Again, jurors sitting on a federal jury fall within the definition of public official for the purposes of this crime.  An “official act” denotes any decision or action on any cause or proceeding that may be brought before a public official in his official capacity. [18 U.S.C. § 201(a)].

Theft of Government Money or Property [18 U.S.C. § 641]:  A public official may be guilty of theft of government money or property if the public official steals or embezzles, for his own use and with knowledge that the money or property does not belong to him, money or property valued at more than $1000 that belongs to the federal government.  A person “embezzles” when he, having lawfully come into possession or control of another’s money or property, wrongfully and intentionally takes that money or property for his own use.  The “value” of property is determined as the highest of the property’s face, par or market value at any time during the commission of the crime. The public official need not know that the money or property belonged to the federal government so long as he knew that the money or property did not belong to him.

Conspiracy:  A public official may be guilty of conspiracy if the public official willfully agrees with one or more other people – not necessarily public officials themselves – to engage in criminal conduct and at least one of the individuals involved – not necessarily the public official – takes one act in furtherance of the conspiracy.  The public official must be aware of the illegal goals of the conspiracy, but he does not need to know all of the details of the criminal scheme or the identities of all of the other participants in the scheme.

Once the public official becomes involved in the conspiracy, he becomes an agent of all other individuals involved in the conspiracy, which means he becomes criminally liable for the acts of all of the co-conspirators as if he had committed them himself.   The unlawful goals of the conspiracy need not be consummated in order for the public official to be guilty of conspiracy, so long as at least one person involved in the conspiracy took one act to further the conspiracy.

Public Corruption Penalties

The penalties public officials face for charges of public corruption crimes include hefty criminal fines, long periods of incarceration in federal prison, and repayment of the government’s damages as a result of the public official’s corrupt activities.

  • Receiving Bribe by Public Official: The punishment for receiving a bribe as a public official includes up to fifteen years imprisonment and/or a criminal fine of up to three times the monetary equivalent of the “something of value” offered to the public official. [18 U.S.C. 201(b)].
  • Receiving Illegal Gratuity by a Public Official: The punishment receiving an illegal gratuity includes criminal fines and up to two years in prison. [18 U.S.C. § 201(c)].
  • Theft of Government Money or Property: Where the value of the money or property taken from the government is $1000 or more, the punishment for theft of the money or property includes fines and up to ten years imprisonment in a federal prison.  Where the value of the money or property is less than $1000, the punishment for theft of the money or property includes fines or a maximum of one year of imprisonment in a federal prison.
  • Conspiracy: The penalties for conspiracy are derived from the underlying crime that is the object of the conspiracy.  In most public corruption cases, the underlying public corruption crimes constitute felonies; in those cases, the punishment for conspiracy involves up to five years imprisonment in federal prison in additional to criminal fines.  Where the underlying public corruption crime is merely a misdemeanor, the maximum punishment for partaking in the conspiracy is equivalent to the maximum punishment for the underlying crime. These penalties for the conspiracy charges are in addition to the penalties for the underlying crimes that are the object of the conspiracy.

Fighting Public Corruption Charges

The criminal penalties for public corruption can be severe and life altering.  In addition to crippling fines and prison time, public officials accused of public corruption face loss of personal and professional reputation as well as loss of their livelihoods.  Therefore, public officials under investigation for public corruption need to quickly hire the right criminal defense lawyer who will help them avoid or mitigate criminal charges.

Federal Lawyers. Whether the public official is involved in federal, state or local governance, the public corruption charges against him will be filed in federal court.  Therefore, a public official charged with public corruption needs a criminal defense attorney well versed in federal laws and federal criminal procedure.  Moreover, the most effective attorney will have extensive experience in federal court, where the judges and prosecutors are more sophisticated than their state counterparts.

Criminal Defense Lawyer. Serious criminal charges require a serious legal defense.  An effective criminal defense to public corruption charges involves a lawyer with:

  • A Proven Track Record
  • Knowledge of Federal Criminal Laws
  • Profound Familiarity with Federal Criminal Procedures
  • Trial and Litigation Expertise in Complex Cases

A public official facing allegations of public corruption must choose his lawyer wisely.  The public official should ask any potential defense attorney these 3 CRUCIAL QUESTIONS:

  • How many federal criminal cases have you handled so far?
  • How many of the federal cases that you have handled resulted in no civil and no criminal charges or dismissals for your clients?
  • How many federal criminal cases have you tried in court?

Proven Defense Strategies

Comprised of former federal prosecutors and seasoned defense attorneys, Oberheiden & McMurrey utilizes its experience on both sides of the courtroom to develop effective defensive strategies for its clients.  From our experience, there are four crucial tenets to an effective defensive strategy:

  • Early Intervention
  • Challenging the Evidence
  • Showing Lack of Intent
  • Applying Relevant Defenses

Early Intervention. Smart clients do not wait until charges have been filed against them to hire a defense attorney.  Most federal investigations go on for months and even years before charges are ever filed.  As soon as you learn of the existence of an investigation that may, even peripherally, involve you, it is wise to hire an attorney to represent your interests. Having a defense attorney to guide you through the investigative process is immensely beneficial if or when any criminal charges are eventually filed.  A good defense attorney will help address your most pressing concerns, such as: What activities are under investigation? What are the charges and penalties?  What agency is conducting the investigation?  Additionally, a defense lawyer will be your representative to the government agents throughout the investigation so that you do not inadvertently cast suspicion or incriminate yourself.

Challenging the Evidence. Prosecutors bear the heavy burden of proving – beyond a reasonable doubt – that a defendant committed each element of a crime.  In public corruption cases, this is an especially heavy burden as the government must show the existence of unlawful payment or activity.  The attorneys at Oberheiden & McMurrey voraciously attack the government’s evidence to demonstrate the weakness of the prosecutor’s case.  Through this method, we methodically work to achieve the following outcomes for our clients:

  • Case Dismissed
  • Avoidance of Criminal Charges
  • Professional License Maintained
  • Civil Fine, No Criminal Plea
  • Misdemeanor, No Felony
  • No Jail Time

Showing Lack of Intent. In order to convict a public official of a crime of corruption, the government must prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – that the public official intentionally acted in an unlawful manner.  At Oberheiden & McMurrey, we routinely help our clients prevail against criminal charges by demonstrating that our clients lacked the necessary intent to commit the crimes with which they have been charged.

Applicable Defenses. Many federal criminal charges have affirmative defenses that, if proven, will absolve the defendant of criminal liability for the crime, regardless of whether all elements of the crime have been proven against the defendant.  As experts in federal criminal law and federal criminal procedure, the attorneys at Oberheiden & McMurrey understand all of the potential defenses available to our clients, and we explore all opportunities for presenting them in our clients’ cases.  Using applicable defenses, we have repeatedly helped our clients defeat federal criminal charges.

Oberheiden & McMurrey, LLP

Oberheiden & McMurrey is a team of former Department of Justice trial attorneys, former Assistant United States Attorneys, former federal and former special federal prosecutors, as well as experienced federal defense attorneys who represent public officials and other professionals across the country, including across the state of Texas in cities like Dallas, Houston, Austin, Tyler, McAllen, Laredo, El Paso, and San Antonio, who are facing investigations and indictments for federal criminal charges.  We have a proven record of successfully helping clients defeat or avoid criminal charges.

Federal Criminal Defense Track Record

  • Defense of business owner against federal fraud allegations.
    Result: No civil or criminal liability.
  • Defense of client in federal criminal matter involving federal fraud allegations.
    Result: No civil or criminal liability.
  • Representation of client in investigation by the Department of Labor (DOL) resulting in avoidance of governmental audit.
    Result: No civil or criminal liability.
  • Defense against Department of Justice (DOJ) intervention and federal prosecutor’s investigation for client in federal administrative proceeding.
    Result: No civil or criminal liability.
  • Assistance of client in federal employment matters involving criminal investigations.
    Result: No civil or criminal liability.

Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys

  • Nick Oberheiden has successfully represented business executives, business owners, public officials, licensed professionals, and lawyers in high profile prosecutions, scores of cases involving fraud charges, government investigations, and media campaigns, including 60 Minutes. He is most known for stopping federal investigations before criminal charges can be filed. In addition to his criminal defense practice, Nick leads internal investigations, implements corporate compliance programs, and teaches U.S. criminal law and federal litigation in the United States and abroad. Nick was recently featured on Fox 4 News in Dallas as a commentator on the John Wiley Price corruption case brought in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
  • Bill McMurrey is a former Department of Justice trial lawyer and a former Assistant United States Attorney with significant experience prosecuting federal criminal cases on behalf of the United States government. Using his vast experience as an insider to the Department of Justice, Bill knows what to look for to achieve the best outcomes for his clients when they face allegations of fraud, public corruption, and other federal charges.  Among his peers, Bill has a reputation for zealously advocating and “going to the mat” to secure a favorable result for his clients.
  • Heath Hyde is a former criminal prosecutor and has handled over 5,000 felony prosecutions, including conspiracies, organized crimes, and other sophisticated white collar offenses. When push comes to shove, and your life is on the line, Heath’s trial experience is second to none.
  • Michael Rataj is one of the most renowned, respected, and sought-after criminal trial attorneys in the federal justice system. Michael has served as lead trial counsel in some of the country’s most watched public corruption, RICO, and federal fraud cases.  He offers his clients close to three decades of proven courtroom experience.
  • Lynette S. Byrd is a former Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA). Clients greatly benefit from Lynette’s experience from the Department of Justice, where she prosecuted a wide range of federal criminal violations on behalf of the United States. Lynette has immense experience with law enforcement investigations and she regularly argues federal matters on behalf of her clients.

We are available every day of the year, including weekends. You can call us directly, complete our contact form or email us.

1-800-810-0259
Including WeekendsOberheiden & McMurrey, LLP
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys
(800) 810-0259
(214) 469-9009
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