Public corruption occurs when a public official abuses their position or commits a breach of trust. A person who commits public corruption will use their official position to further their own self-interests, rather than using their professional judgment. Crimes related to public corruption are often related to the acceptance of bribes from third parties. An official who is bribed may act or fail to act in a manner that benefits the third party. When public officials embezzle property and funds through their position, this is another example of public corruption.
Nearly every public corruption case throughout history has been combined with conspiracy charges. By adding the conspiracy charge, the government increases the number of possible defendants. It also increases the potential for a conviction. Conspiracy charges occur when at least two individuals make the joint agreement to commit crimes. Most public corruption cases involve at least two parties: one to offer the bribe, and one to take it.
Public corruption can occur in basically any public office at any level of government. The crime has taken many forms over the years. Border patrol officials may accept bribes to transport undocumented goods and drugs into the country. Prison guards may accept bribes to allow illegal activity to continue within the prison. Politicians may accept fraudulent campaign donations that don’t comply with the laws. Even though not all of these people hold a public office, they do hold positions of authority. Because they are all acting outside the limits of their job, they meet the criteria for public corruption.
Cases of public corruption are investigated by the FBI. In fact, the FBI says that public corruption is its main priority. This is because corruption poses significant threats to national security and to the daily lives of Americans. An official who has been corrupted may propose harmful legislation in order to please their third party conspirator.
Public corruption is investigated on the federal level by federal agents. It is considered a federal crime. But federal government employees aren’t the only people who can be guilty of public corruption. State and local officials must also comply with anti-corruption laws. The same is true of any American officials who are stationed outside of the country.
The International Corruption Unit was launched by the FBI in 2008. This unit was specifically designed to investigate public corruption that occurred outside the US borders. It’s especially common for officials to engage in corruptive practices when they are stationed in areas where corruption is considered a normal part of day-to-day government life.
Penalties for Public Corruption
If you are found guilty of public corruption, you could be subject to fines, federal prison, and the need to repay any governmental damages that were incurrect.
If you accept a bribe while in public office, you can be subject to a maximum of fifteen years in prison. You may also receive a criminal fine of three times the cost of the bribe. If you receive an illegal gratuity, you may be subject to criminal fines and a maximum of two years behind bars.
If you steal more than $1,000 worth of property or money from the government, you may be subject to fines and a maximum of ten years in prison. With values of less than that, you may receive a maximum of one year in jail along with fines.
Penalties for conspiracy charges vary widely depending on what the partners were conspiring to do. For example, people who conspire to commit murder are subject to heavier punishments than people who conspire to commit petty theft. In public corruption cases including bribery, the conspiracy charges will typically be felonies. You may be given a prison sentence of five years and have to pay fines.
Defending Against Public Corruption Charges
If you have been accused of public corruption, it’s vital that you talk to a lawyer immediately. Public corruption investigations can destroy your life even if they don’t result in charges.