Punishments for Federal Bribery and Corruption in New York
Bribery and corruption are serious offenses that undermine public trust in government. In New York, both state and federal laws prohibit bribery and corruption. This article provides an overview of punishments for federal bribery and corruption crimes committed in New York.
Federal Bribery Laws
The main federal bribery statute is 18 U.S.C. § 201, which prohibits bribing or accepting bribes by public officials. There are two types of bribery offenses:
- Bribery of public officials: This involves corruptly giving, offering, or promising anything of value to influence an official act by a public official, politician, or someone selected to be a public official.
- Bribe receiving by public officials: This involves corruptly demanding, seeking, receiving, accepting, or agreeing to receive or accept anything of value in return for being influenced in an official act as a public official.
Penalties depend on the value of the bribe:
- Bribery involving $1,000 or less is punishable by up to 1 year in prison.
- Bribery involving over $1,000 is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
If the bribery relates to a federal grant, contract, subsidy, or other federal funds, the maximum prison term increases to 15 years.
Federal Programs Bribery
18 U.S.C. § 666 prohibits bribery concerning federal programs and agencies receiving over $10,000 in federal funds. This includes bribes to influence or reward agents of organizations or state/local governments receiving federal funds.
Penalties depend on the value of the bribe:
- Bribery involving $5,000 or less is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
- Bribery involving over $5,000 is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Honest Services Fraud
18 U.S.C. § 1346 prohibits “honest services fraud,” which involves bribery or kickbacks to deprive citizens of honest services by public officials. This statute is used broadly to prosecute public corruption.
Penalties for honest services fraud depend on the specific circumstances but may be up to 20 years in prison.
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is sometimes used to prosecute organized bribery or corruption schemes. RICO provides for extended criminal penalties and civil action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.
Criminal RICO charges can lead to up to 20 years in prison per racketeering count. Civil RICO charges allow the government to seize assets associated with racketeering activity.
Recent Examples of Punishments
Here are some recent examples of bribery and corruption cases prosecuted by federal authorities in New York and associated punishments:
- In 2018, Joseph Percoco, a former aide and close confidant of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, was sentenced to 6 years in prison for accepting over $300,000 in bribes from companies seeking state contracts and favors.
- In 2016, Sheldon Silver, former New York State Assembly Speaker, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for honest services fraud, extortion, and money laundering in connection with nearly $4 million in bribes and kickbacks.
- In 2015, Dean Skelos, former New York State Senate Majority Leader, was sentenced to 5 years in prison for federal corruption charges involving soliciting bribes and kickbacks for his son.
- In 2013, State Senator Malcolm Smith was sentenced to 7 years in prison for trying to bribe his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot.
- In 2011, State Senator Carl Kruger was sentenced to 7 years in prison for accepting at least $1 million in bribes from businessmen in exchange for taking official actions.
Factors in Sentencing
Federal judges have discretion in sentencing, but generally consider factors like:
- Federal sentencing guidelines and minimum/maximum sentences prescribed by law. Bribery offenses have base offense levels under the guidelines depending on the bribe amount.
- Defendant’s role in the offense, acceptance of responsibility, and criminal history. Longer sentences apply to organizers, leaders, public officials, and those with criminal records.
- Nature and circumstances of the offense. Judges may consider things like number of bribes, sophistication of scheme, abuse of trust.
- Need to promote respect for the law, provide punishment, and deter future crimes. Corruption undermines institutions, so deterrence is emphasized.
- Potential disparities in sentencing. Judges may consider sentences given to co-defendants and similarities among cases.
- Restitution to victims of the offense. Bribery diverts money from where it should go. Restitution may be ordered.
Federal corruption cases are high profile, so judges often impose harsh sentences to send a message that bribery won’t be tolerated. But sentences vary case-by-case based on prosecutors’ charging decisions and judicial discretion.
State Bribery Laws in New York
In addition to federal laws, New York State has its own bribery statutes that are frequently used to prosecute bribery and public corruption at the state and local level. Some key state bribery laws include:
- NY Penal Law § 200 – Bribery Involving Public Servants: Prohibits bribery of public servants. Charges range from Class D to Class B felonies depending on the conduct.
- NY Penal Law § 180 – Bribery Not Involving Public Servants: Prohibits commercial bribery and bribery in sports. Charges range from Class A misdemeanors to Class E felonies.
- NY Penal Law § 496 – Corrupting the Government: Broad prohibition on providing benefits to public servants with intent to influence or induce official misconduct. Class E felony.
State bribery charges often accompany federal charges. Penalties under New York law are generally similar to federal law, including potential imprisonment ranging from 1 to 25 years depending on severity of the offense and defendant’s criminal record.
Bribery, kickbacks, and other public corruption are taken very seriously by federal and state prosecutors in New York. Substantial prison sentences along with restitution are typical punishments for those convicted. With overlapping federal and state laws, prosecutors have great discretion in deciding what charges to bring in corruption cases. Defendants face steep uphill battles fighting corruption allegations in New York’s tough-on-crime environment.