Bribery has deep historical roots in civilization. It is now in the DNA of mankind’s desire to achieve progress and change. A parent offering a child a lolly pop in exchange for good behavior is an acceptable form of bribery. But a contractor offering a government official money to avoid governmental regulations is not.
In the United States, bribery in many forms can be a criminal act – especially when perpetrated by public officials.
Recently, a real-estate developer in Dallas was sentenced to eight years in a federal penitentiary for bribing city council members. He did so to exert influence in the city that subverted regular legal processes put in place to help keep the political playing field level.
What is bribery exactly? And when does it go from being a state crime to a federal one?
Read on to find out.
Under federal statutes, it is illegal for anyone to either indirectly or directly offer, promise, or give anything of value to a public official in order to influence official acts. This includes influencing an official to aid in committing or allow the commission of fraud – or try to influence a public official to do anything that is a violation of their lawful duties.
It is against the law for public officials to demand, accept, agree to accept, seek, or receive anything of value in return for influence over an official act or to aid or allow fraud to be committed.
The Elements of Bribery
In order for a bribery case to be successfully prosecuted, several elements must be proven in the court. First, it must be shown that exchange for something of value took place. That doesn’t necessarily mean money. It could include public or political influence. The prosecutor must show that two parties entered into an agreement to exchange things of value.
In federal court, the person being bribed must be a public official with the classification of a federal employee or identification as one. They may also be elected officials.
Lastly, when the item of value involved in the bribe is offered, the public official must have some type of power or authority to delay the requested action until a later time.
The Penalties for Bribery
Fraud is punishable by fines that can be up to three times the value of the bribe itself. Anyone who is convicted of fraud can also be sentenced to as many as 15 years in prison. Going forward, they could be disqualified from holding public office or any position of trust, profit, or honor under the United States.
Who Are Public Officials?
Since bribery laws hinge on public officials, it’s a good idea to understand who is considered a public official. Under federal law, a public official is anyone who works for the government, including members of Congress, delegates, and anyone operating or acting on behalf of the federal government.
When Does Bribery Become a Federal Offense?
Some bribery crimes are prosecuted in state courts, but specific acts will be prosecuted by federal courts, such as:
- Illegal gratuity to a public official
- Bribery of a public official
- Receipt of gifts or commission for procuring loans
So, whether or not a case is prosecuted in federal court depends on who was bribed and how. If it’s a public official, then chances are that the federal government will take over the prosecution of the case.