Federal Bribery And Graft Charges | Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys
In the government’s eagerness to sniff out all traces of corruption, occasionally law enforcement goes too far in its enforcement of bribery and graft laws.
Keep your personal and professional lives intact by getting the right legal help – fast.
What Is Bribery?
Federal law essentially defines bribery as one party giving something of value – money, gifts, access to decision makers, etc. – to another in exchange for some sort of illegal advantage or otherwise influence that person’s behavior in a way they wouldn’t act otherwise.
For the crime to rise to federal charges, the bribery usually involves public servants and elected officials in some way.
Per the General Federal Bribery Statute, the following acts are considered federal bribery:
- Any public official influencing another to violate their official duties
- Someone bribing a public official with money or valued goods or services to change legal testimony
- A public official asking for such compensation to change their testimony
- Someone offering or demanding a bribe to impact how they perform their public duties
More real-world examples of federal bribery include:
- Offering an FBI agent money in exchange for stopping their investigation.
- Giving public officials Ravens season tickets with the understanding that they’ll pick your company’s contract in what’s supposed to be an anonymous bid process.
- Paying an election judge to close their polling station early so fewer people can vote.
- Saying they’ll recommend your company to a Congressional panel for a contract in exchange for gifts or money.
Federal law considers both offering and accepting a bribe to be illegal and subject to federal charges.
Maryland offers more specific guidelines on what constitutes bribery in our state:
- Bribery of a public employee: Closest in nature to the federal bribery guidelines, it’s when a public official is paid off or receives money to change their behavior in a way that illegally benefits someone else.
- Bribery of a juror: Someone tries to pay off a juror in a trial to vote in a specific manner.
- Bribery of a voter: Public officials aren’t allowed to give a gift or promise a specific reward in exchange for someone’s vote.
- Bribery in athletic contests: This code basically bans game-fixing at both professional and amateur levels. No bribing coaches or referees to get the outcome you want!
Federal prosecutors follow each state’s individual guidelines for what sort of bribery charges they can bring. Therefore, federal bribery charges typically follow Maryland’s anti-bribery laws and definitions.
What’s The Difference Between Graft And Bribery Federal Charges?
Graft is considered a form of bribery, per federal statute.
To reiterate: Bribery usually indicates money or services flowing to a public official in exchange for something.
On the other hand, graft is when public money illegally comes from an official to the other party. The funds end up in private pockets for personal gain, rather than fixing roads or funding air conditioners in city schools.
Sometimes, overly large payments to contractors for a service – such as paying $10,000 for a single toilet seat installation, as a hypothetical example – can be considered graft.
In such a case, federal prosecutors must prove that the funds were excessive and specifically paid for the official’s and the contractor’s personal interest, rather than the public good.
Graft charges are particularly damning for public officials. To be convicted of graft means the official abused their position of authority and public trust.
What Counts As A Bribe, And What’s Just A Gift?
The short answer: Bribes are asked for and offered with the expectation of a return. Gifts are given without any expectation of reciprocity.
However, that’s too simplistic for the real world.
After all, we allow political contributions to support campaigns. Lobbyists may take public officials to lunch or run Super PACs to progress their own agenda.
When does advertising and persuading someone to act in a way you wish cross the line into outright bribery and illegal influence?
It’s a thorny ethical question, and why you need a solid criminal defense attorney to show what may appear to outsiders to be a bribe was intended as a gift.
Since we can’t read the giver’s mind to verify exactly what was intended by the gift – and thus what their expectations might be – Maryland and federal governments offer gifting guidelines for public employees and officials.
In Maryland, these guidelines are appropriately known as the “Gift Law.”
Basically, the rules are:
- The official or employee can’t ask for the gift, either on behalf of themselves or their organization. It must be freely offered. (They may, however, ask for donations to fund specific initiatives in favor of the public good.)
- Major gifts generally can’t come from “controlled donors” – someone who has an active, personal interest in what the agency does or an official’s duties. These might be companies bidding on a government contract, registered lobbyists, and others.
- Gifts worth less than $20 – including giveaways, meals, or tickets – can come from controlled donors without concern. Cash or gift cards are never allowed, however.
- Recipients must declare gifts worth more than $20 on a public financial disclosure statement.
That said, if you’re not sure whether something is a gift or a bribe – don’t offer or take it. It’s a slippery slope between accepting relationship-building overtures and getting accused by federal agents of soliciting bribes.
What Are Possible Bribery Sentences In Federal Court?
If convicted of bribery on federal charges, an individual may be ordered to:
- Pay a fine up to three times the original bribe’s worth.
- Go to prison for up to 15 years.
- Never hold public office again.
Maryland has additional punishments for bribery committed in the state:
- Bribery of a public employee punishment as a misdemeanor includes up to 12 years in prison with a minimum of two years. They may also be ordered to pay a fine of $5,000.
- Bribery of a juror convictions are also considered a misdemeanor, with a minimum required prison sentence of 18 months – topping out at six years.
- Bribery of a voter sentencing offers no minimum sentence. However, those convicted could still face up to six months in prison and a fine of $500 – possibly per violation.
- Bribery In athletic contests punishments include up to three years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.
How Can A Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney Help With Federal Bribery Charges?
District courts where federal criminal trials are held are located within the state in question.
So, if a public official accepted a bribe in Baltimore, it would be tried in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland – probably at the Baltimore courthouse.
That’s how a Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you with federal charges. But how can a bribery defense attorney defend against a charge of bribery?
Essentially, it’s up to the federal prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that bribery occurred.
The prosecutor must show that:
- An offer of something “of value” was either made or accepted by the defendant;
- The offer was given with the express, deliberate intent of gaining or doing something in return for the item; and
- The exact action intended to be taken by the public official in question.
As it happens, the actual exchange of goods for services doesn’t have to occur for charges to be filed. Just the intent can be enough for law enforcement to swoop down with federal charges for attempted bribery.
Therefore, the actual evidence gathered by the prosecution may be circumstantial at best. They must prove intent of both the giver and the recipient, and know exactly what was intended to happen because of the alleged bribe.
If they fail to prove any component, then their case falls apart.
Of course, it takes a talented criminal defense team experienced with federal charges to pull off a defense like that. Bribery charges happen so rarely that it’s difficult to find experienced, competent legal partners.
We’ve helped clients with bribery and other federal charges before. We can help you, too.
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