August 25, 2023
Bribery is a commonly used term in our culture, and can mean many different things depending on the context. Furthermore, some “bribery” – if we use that term loosely to mean give someone else of value to get them to bend to your will – is benign and legal, while other acts of bribery are illegal and can lead to steep criminal fines and penalties.
For example, “bribing” your kids by offering to pay them $20 for every A on their report kid, or promising $100 to your neighborhood mechanic if he can get your car fixed by the end of the day will probably not land you in hot water. But offering your city councilperson $1000 to get a liquor license processed, or paying $10,000 to a “consultant” in a foreign country to help get a contract with that country’s government may be a whole different story.
The general concept of bribery is investigated and prosecuted under many different federal and state laws, and below are a handful of the most prominent federal laws regarding bribery.
The Federal Bribery Statute
Federal law makes it a crime to bribe both public officials and witnesses. A public official includes congress members, or an officer, employee or person acting for or on behalf of any agency, department or branch of the federal government. This is a wide ranging definition including any employee or official of the federal court system or federal agencies such as the IRS, EPA, DEA, and FBI.
An illegal act of bribery under this statute includes directly or indirectly giving, offering to give, or promising “anything of value” to any such public official with the intent to influence any “official act,” to collude in any fraud, and or to induce the public official to do or refrain from doing any act in a manner that violates the lawful duty of their position. Similarly, any public official who seeks and/or receives something of value for any of the preceding acts or omissions also violates the statute.
With respect to witnesses, giving, offering, or promising anything of value with the intent to influence the testimony of a witness in any proceeding before a federal court or congressional body is also violative of the statute, as is a witness seeking or receiving something of value in return for being influenced.
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, was enacted in the 1970s as a way of preventing parties from bribing foreign officials for their own gain (thus creating a non-level playing field for honest market players), and FCPA enforcement significantly expanded in the early 2000s. The FCPA is somewhat unusual in federal criminal law in that it generally targets conduct that occurs outside of American borders, and furthermore frequently targets non-U.S.-based companies that engage in bribery of foreign officials (the FCPA provides jurisdiction to prosecute foreign companies with securities listed in the U.S.). The FCPA is jointly enforced by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
While many think that paying fees to government officials and “consultants” who may be passing those fees on to those officials is just the standard course of doing business in certain countries, the FCPA makes clear that any offer, payment, promise, or authorization of payment of anything of value to a foreign official to influence that official in his or her official capacity is illegal, regardless of how common or widespread that practice may be in a given country.
FCPA fines can be significant. In 2020 alone, over $6 billion in fines was paid by companies to resolve FCPA inquiries.
Honest Services Fraud
Pursuant to 18 USC § 1346, “honest services fraud” makes it a crime to participate in a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services. The reasoning behind the statute is that, when an official takes a bribe to influence his decision within an organization, the consumer of the services provided by the organization is deprived of his right to honest services, generally meaning that consumer pays too much for those services or does not receive as good of services as would be the case absent the fraud.
The honest services fraud statute has been applied to persons making and receiving bribes in both the public and private sectors. In recent years, the honest services fraud statute was used to prosecute individuals involved in the so-called “Varsity Blues” scandal by which wealthy parents allegedly made payments to university officials in exchange for favorable treatment of their children.
Contact a Los Angeles Bribery Defense Attorney Today
Whether you have already been charged with a crime in federal or state court, have been approached by law enforcement or an employer with questions regarding criminal activity, or are concerned about potential criminal ramifications of an action that you may have participated in or even simply been aware of, it is important to seek out experienced criminal defense counsel at the earliest possible moment to discuss your issues in a confidential environment and develop strategies and approaches to minimize your risk. The first steps one takes in responding to a potential criminal enforcement matter are often the most critical, and our attorneys have the experience and skills to counsel and defend you throughout the process to work towards an outcome that defends your freedom, financial interests, and reputation. Contact our office to speak with an experienced federal or state court criminal defense attorney regarding your situation today.