FAQ – Federal Bribery and Public Corruption Charges

FAQ – Federal Bribery and Public Corruption Charges

What is a federal bribery charge?

It is a federal crime to pay bribes or gratuities to public officials. 18 U.S.C. § 201. The federal government has in recent years aggressively prosecuted instances of bribery and gratuity payments to public officials.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 78dd et seq., deals with bribery of foreign officials.  That law makes it a crime for a US business or individual to make payments to a foreign official in exchange for an official act, or for the purpose of obtaining, retaining, or directing business to any person.

Our attorneys at Burnham & Gorokhov, PLLC in Washington, D.C., are experienced in defending against all kinds of federal bribery and foreign corruption charges.  We have defended bribery and foreign corruption charges in federal courts in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and nationwide.  See our bribery and foreign corruption pages for more information.

What is the difference between bribery and gratuity?

There is a distinction in the law between bribery and graft.  Bribery involves an official act in exchange for a payment or benefit.  In contrast, a gratuity or kickback does not require the same intent.  

As one court explained: “The distinction between a bribe and an illegal gratuity is the difference in the intent of the person who gives the bribe. Compare 18 U.S.C. § 201(b) (bribery) with § 201(c) (gratuity). The distinction is slight, but it is apparent from the text of the statute. Proof of bribery requires a corrupt intent that is not required to show an illegal gratuity. Bribery requires proof that the payor acted corruptly with the intent of influencing any official act, influencing a public official to defraud the government, or to do or omit an act in violation of his official duties. § 201(b)(1)(A-C). The evidence must establish that the payor intended to receive some benefit in return for the payments. In contrast, an illegal gratuity is a payment made for an act by the recipient that might have been done without any payment. The proof need not show that the payor intended to exact action by the recipient, although it must show that the payor gave the gratuity because of the act.” United States v. Muldoon, 931 F.2d 282, 287 (4th Cir. 1991).

What should I do if I am being investigated or charged in connection with a bribery or public corruption offense?

If you are being investigated for a bribery or public corruption offense, the best way to protect yourself is to consult a lawyer with experience in federal bribery and corruption cases.  In consulting with an attorney, it is important to provide that attorney with accurate information regarding the facts of the case, as well as any documents or other relevant materials in your possession.

It is also important not do to certain things.  Do not attempt to destroy documents or emails, they will almost certainly be recovered and the attempt to destroy such materials may lead to additional charges, such as obstruction of justice.  Do not attempt to destroy any evidence for this same reason.  It is also important not to discuss the case with others who may be involved, as such discussions can also be considered by law enforcement as efforts to obstruct justice, even if they are entirely innocent.  Also, be mindful that your conversations and written communications may be subject to monitoring.  

Often, there are defenses or innocent explanations to conduct that is being investigated or charged is bribery, corruption, or kickbacks. It is normal to be nervous or even panicked if the government has made serious accusations against you.  Too often, what get’s people in trouble is not what is being investigated, but the actions they take in a moment of panic in response to the investigation or charges against them.  It bears repeating, therefore, that the best way to protect yourself from charges is work with a knowledgeable attorney who will counsel you through the process and give you clear guidance as to what you should and should not do.

Should I speak with law enforcement agents about the case?

As a general rule, you should be exceptionally careful when speaking with law enforcement without an attorney.  There are several compelling reasons for this.  First, federal laws including those on bribery and corruption can be highly complicated, and conduct that you believe to be innocent may be a crime.  You may thus find yourself inadvertently providing a confession to a crime that you never realized was a crime.  Second, law enforcement agents may already be convinced that a crime has occurred, and they are trying to make their own job easier by getting a confession from you.  Frequently, they will appear unexpectedly and talk to subjects when they are nervous and vulnerable.  Sometimes, they will obtain a confession directly from the subject when they previously did not have the evidence to bring charges.  Finally, law enforcement agents are often looking for false statements, which can give them a powerful advantage by charging you with the separate crime of false statements or threatening to do so.  Whether or not the statements you make are actually false, agents have often made up their minds about what they believe occurred in a particular case, and they may charge you with lying even if you are doing your best to be truthful.

For all of these reasons, the safest course of action is to talk to an experienced lawyer, give that lawyer all the facts, and have that lawyer advise you as to whether you should talk to the authorities at all, and if so, what questions you should and should not answer.

What kinds of sentences are imposed in bribery or public corruption cases?  How are these sentences determined?

Federal bribery and public corruption charges can give rise to a wide range of sentences.  Federal bribery sentencing is largely driven by the “loss amount”—the dollar amount of a bribe or gratuity involved.  The Guidelines will also vary depending on whether the person charged is a public official or whether it is the individual paying the bribe, whether the person to whom the bribe was paid is an elected public official or a person in a high-level position, the number of bribes involved, and the purpose of the bribe.  The Guideline range for gratuities is generally lower than that of bribes.  

As with all federal sentencing, a wide range of other factors will also play a role, including the defendant’s criminal history and personal characteristics.  Here, as with the other aspects of a federal bribery or corruption case, it is important to work with an attorney who is experienced and proficient in the federal sentencing process.

Do I need to hire a lawyer if I have been charged with bribery or foreign corruption?

If you have been charged with bribery or foreign corruption, or are under investigation for these crimes, it is absolutely critical that you speak to an attorney as soon as possible.  Federal criminal charges for bribery and foreign corruption are extremely serious matters that can result in many years of prison time and millions of dollars in fines, forfeiture, and restitution.  To speak to an attorney today, you can contact one of our experienced attorneys at Burnham & Gorokhov, PLLC for a free consultation to discuss your bribery or foreign corruption charge.


This post is provided for informational purposes only.  It does not constitute legal advice, and does not form an attorney-client relationship between Burnham & Gorokhov, PLLC and the reader.

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