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What Is Bribery?

November 3, 2020 Federal Criminal Attorneys
What Is Bribery?
Bribery is a word with specific connotations. But the definition is actually rather broad, from both a legal and a dictionary perspective. In general, bribery occurs when someone offers another person something valuable to influence their actions. Bribery is sometimes prosecuted as a federal offense. The circumstances under which bribery is a crime can vary, and the severity of the crime also varies.

If any allegations of bribery are made against officials in positions of government power, the FBI has the authority to investigate. This is the biggest type of crime that the FBI investigates, in order to weed out corruption in the government. Even if the bribery occurs with a local or state official, it’s still subject to federal investigation. Local politicians who accept bribes may be subject to federal prosecution.

One example would be if a city council member was approached by a real estate broker. The real estate broker wants building permits for a certain section of the city. They pay the city council member to get them the permits. This is bribery, and it’s considered a very serious crime. Some bribery schemes might be prosecuted on the state level rather than the federal level.

Bribery tends to be a complex crime. It always involves at least two entities: the person offering the bribe and the person taking it. But it’s common for there to be more involved third parties behind the scenes. This is part of why the FBI investigates bribery so thoroughly, so they can get to the heart of a situation.

A federal statute outlines punishments for being convicted of bribery. The cases are prosecuted as felonies. A person convicted of bribery in federal court may have a prison sentence of up to 15 years. For bribery to be prosecuted on a federal level, it must involve a public government official.

Bribery is considered a criminal offense, not a civil one. As such, the prosecution must prove that a bribe was taken. A person cannot be convicted of bribery without substantial proof that they either offered or accepted a bribe. Allegations that a government official was given something valuable won’t hold up in court until there’s proof. Furthermore, even when the item of value is proven, the government must then prove that it was provided with the intent of swaying a public official.

Bribery and extortion are often confused by the general public. Though these are similar, there are key differences. Bribery occurs between two consenting people, while extortion involves one party threatening another without any common benefit between them. A person who is convicted of bribery must have been getting something out of the deal.

Allegations of bribery tend to undergo heavy investigation by the FBI before they create a case for the federal court. Once they have enough evidence, they will ask a prosecutor to indict the involved parties. During the investigation, many federal agents will try to talk to the people they’re investigating. If you’re approached by a federal agent, make sure that you never speak to them without a lawyer present. Their only interest is in furthering their investigation by using information against you. They are not there to help.

Another thing is that federal agents are allowed to lie during the questioning process, but you can be subject to felony charges if you lie during the interview. Save yourself some headache and get your lawyer to take care of the interviews.

Past DOJ Bribery Cases

There was a case in which the president of an egg company pleaded guilty when charged with federal bribery. He received eggs from non-USDA farmers and then bribed USDA officials to say that the eggs had passed the inspection. The company president faces potentially 15 years behind bars.

A federal jury convicted an investment firm executive of bribery. The prosecution provided evidence that he had paid elected officials over a hundred thousand dollars to make sure that they passed legislation that would be good for his business. He attempted to say that the bribes were contributions to political campaigns, but the jury disagreed.

If you talk to a defense lawyer early, you may be able to end the investigation before it ever reaches a courtroom.

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