Bribery, "Official Acts," and Calling the Law into Question

Businessman Greg Linberg owns an investment firm as well as a third-party company that manages insurance and reinsurance agencies in North Carolina. He is also reportedly a significant Republican campaign contributor.


Currently, he is accused of bribing a public official. Official indictment documents state the businessman was recorded by the FBI agreeing to pay the N.C. Department of Insurance’s commissioner (Mike Causey – also a Republican) $2 million in political contributions in exchange for the removal of a particular deputy commissioner. The deputy commissioner in question was directly responsible for the regulation of one of Lindberg’s companies.


Linberg, however, is calling for the federal bribery charges to be dropped altogether. In fact, his legal team has called federal bribery law itself into question. They believe the case against their client should be dismissed on what seems to be a technicality.


So, what does federal law say about bribery and the elements that must be present to prove it?


The Federal Law


According to the U.S. Code (Bribery of Public Officials), the giving or receiving of any item of value to or by a public official may be considered bribery if the valuable thing is given “with intent to influence” an official act or it is received by an official “in return for being influenced.”


Federal law explains that an “official act” is either an action or a decision regarding any question, matter, or cause related to and made by the official in their official capacity.


It appears the prosecution views the campaign funding as the item of value and the request to reassign the deputy as a signal of “intent to influence.”


So the only element left to satisfy to establish a federal offense of bribery would be in the “official act.”


Reassigning an NC Commissioner’s Deputy – Official Act, or No?


In their motion to dismiss the case, attorneys for Linberg claim, “The government’s entire case…turns on a legally flawed understanding of what constitutes an ‘official act.’”


The kicker?


Lindberg may actually have a case. His attorneys said they believed the offense he is charged with defines “official act” too broadly. A personnel move isn’t the same as a “lawsuit, hearing, or administrative decision.”


This could be in line with a recent Supreme Court ruling that tightens up the definition of an official act. In that case, the court ruled that in order to prove corruption (like bribery), the act must involve a formal exercise of power.


The high court felt that otherwise, virtually every routine exchange between constituents and elected officials has the potential to be criminalized via conspiracy theory.


Unfortunately, further arguments regarding Lindberg’s possible conflict of interest (i.e., the deputy in question overseeing Lindberg’s corporate interests) could make a solid foundation for the case against him.


When There Are Government Tapes, Defendants Need Expert Advice


In the current political climate, public corruption is a high priority among federal prosecutors. These cases and “white-collar” crimes are now examined at multiple levels.


The FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the U.S. Justice Department all have an opportunity to review. This usually equates to stronger cases against bribery.


Harvard Law Professor and former federal judge Nancy Gertner says that the majority of cases like these wind up becoming plea deals instead of full-fledged trials because of it.


“The pressure to plead guilty is substantial,” she says. While this is sometimes the best strategy, that’s not always the case.


How will you know?


By working with an experienced criminal defense attorney. He or she will understand the nuances of the law and the specifics of your case and be able to present you with all of the options available, as well as their likelihood of working.