What is Bribery?
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Dr. Nick Oberheiden
In general terms, bribery is the act of offering something of value in order to influence the actions of another. In certain circumstances, bribery can be a federal offense. If an alleged bribery scheme involves a government official or similar person of power, the federal authorities can investigate and prosecute. For example, if a real estate developer offers cash to a city council member in order to secure building permits, this would constitute bribery. Bribery schemes are usually complex and involve many different players. Depending on the circumstances of the alleged bribery scheme will determine whether it is a state or federal offense and what the potential punishment is.
Bribery cases are prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. 201(b), which is the federal bribery statute. Under this statute, bribery offenses are a felony and those convicted face up to 15 years in prison. The federal bribery statute specifically –
“…prohibits the giving or accepting of anything of value to or by a public official, if the thing is given “with intent to influence” an official act, or if it is received by the official “in return for being influenced.”
Again, for the bribery to be a federal offense, the nature of the bribe must involve a public official. Since bribery is a criminal offense, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a bribe occurred. This standard of proof is important because the government cannot simply allege that any offer of value to a public official is bribery, but rather must show that the offering was made intentionally and knowingly in order to secure favor with a public official.
Commonly, bribery gets confused with extortion. While similar, bribery and extortion schemes differ. The main difference is bribery involves two consenting individuals who collude for a common benefit and extortion involves one consenting individual who threatens another individual to do something where there is no common benefit. For example, in bribery schemes the common good is both individuals get something of value – the person who offers the bribe gets a wanted action performed and the person accepting the bribe gets money or something of equivalent value. In extortion schemes, only one person gets something of value – the person who threatens the other person. Both bribery and extortion are criminal offenses, but they differ regarding factual circumstance.
Usually, bribery schemes are heavily investigated by federal agents before a case is presented to a federal prosecutor for a potential indictment. Federal agents will often try to speak with those individuals involved in the alleged scheme. It is important to remember to never speak to federal agents or any federal authority without consulting with an attorney first. Even if you are innocent, anything you say to an agent can possibly incriminate you and be held against you. Also, you risk additional federal charges if you speak with a federal agent. A federal agent can lie to you in the course of his or her questioning, but you cannot lie to a federal agent. If you do lie to an agent, you risk being prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. 1001 which carries a potential prison sentence of up to five years.
Cases Involving Bribery that have been Prosecuted by the Department of Justice
- A former president of an egg distribution company in Iowa pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges. According to the plea documents, the former president acquired eggs from farmers where he knew the eggs did not meet USDA standards and only bought these eggs because they were being sold at a discount. The former president in turn proceeded to bribe USDA officials to ensure his eggs passed inspection so he could sell them to grocery stores around the country. Based on his plea agreement, the former president faces up to 15 years in prison.
- An executive of an investment firm in North Carolina was convicted by a federal jury for his involvement in a bribery scheme. According to evidence presented at trial, the executive paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to elected officials in his district in order to ensure favorable financial legislation that would positively impact his business. In order to attempt to conceal the bribes, the executive tried to pass the bribes off as campaign contributions. Based on his conviction, the executive faces up to 15 years in prison.
- A federal grand jury indicted a real estate company and its accountant for bribery and wire fraud based on their alleged roles in a scheme to defraud financial institutions in connection with certain foreclosed properties in Minnesota. According to the indictment, the real estate company and its accountant initiated a plan to require repair contractors to issue kickbacks to the accountant. In return for the contractors paying kickbacks, the real estate company used its position to steer housing repair contracts to contractors who would pay the kickbacks. In addition to the wire fraud and bribery allegations, the indictment also alleges counts of mail fraud. The maximum penalty for wire fraud affecting a financial institution, mail fraud affecting a financial institution, and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud affecting a financial institution is 30 years of imprisonment and a fine of $1,000,000.
Speak with an Oberheiden P.C. Bribery Defense Lawyer
Are you facing bribery charges? Reach out to Oberheiden P.C. to arrange a free and confidential initial consultation. To schedule a time to speak with one of our federal bribery defense attorneys, call 888-680-1745 or contact us online today.