Public corruption is a broad category of white-collar crime defined by a breach of public trust or an abuse of power enacted by public officials. Corruption can take place when the corrupt individual receives a bribe or solicits one. Although all states have laws pertaining to public corruption, federal corruption charges are made more likely when the alleged perpetrator is a member of the federal government or when a conspiracy exists to engage in public corruption that crosses state lines. Federal government corruption charges are considered to be among the most serious prosecuted by federal law enforcement officials.
Federal corruption laws prevent any government official from asking for, demanding, soliciting, accepting, or agreeing to receive any item of value in return for altering the performance of their official duties in any way. Corruption is closely related to bribery, which is the federal charge used when an individual offers a public official any item of value in order to achieve illicit advantage or gain in public matters.
Corruption Crimes & Charges
Most state laws recognize a felony level corruption charge as well as a misdemeanor charge which can stem from an accidental and unintentional act of corruption that stemmed from reckless or negligent behavior. Federal corruption charges can be compounded with corruption charges from the state in which the corrupt acts took place. Corruption crimes and charges are closely related to the following:
- Bribery: Bribery is the offering of any item of value to a public official for illicit purposes. Although corruption can be initiated on the part of the corrupt individual, most corruption charges are compounded by charges related to bribery. Because bribery requires the collusion of two individuals, this may also be prosecuted as a federal conspiracy charge.
- Graft: Graft refers to fraudulently obtaining access to public funds by any means and in any manner. Corruption charges can be compounded by graft charges if the allegedly corrupt individual solicited access to public funds in the course of his or her corruption, or provided access to public funds to any individual from whom he or she accepted a bribe.
Corruption punishment generally includes both a prison sentence and a fine commensurate with the value of the money, goods, or services that was fraudulently obtained. Federal corruption proceedings are notorious for long prison sentences, which may exceed two decades. Individuals convicted of corruption may lose the ability to run for any public office.
Corruption Sentencing Guidelines
Sentencing of corruption cases depends in part on the value of the item or service that was received by the corrupt individual. If the value of the items were equivalent to grand theft or grand larceny, this can be prosecuted as a separate charge on top of the federal corruption charges. Likewise, bribery, graft, and conspiracy charges are frequently included. The minimum prison sentence provided for in most federal corruption cases is four years.
Corruption Statute of Limitations
Under federal statute 18 USC 3282, individuals are protected from prosecution for any noncapital offense in which an indictment is not found within five years of the criminal act. In most cases, noncapital federal offenses that do not meet these guidelines cannot be prosecuted. However, the repercussions of federal criminal corruption are so far-reaching that, in practice, a revelation about corruption can result in probable cause for a thorough investigation that may uncover current corruption, whether intentional or not.
Although federal corruption investigations have existed since the beginning of the United States, such investigations are becoming more common and comprehensive as larger corruption conspiracies are facilitated by national and international communications networks:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation name the “Five Aces” case as the largest case of public corruption in the history of the United States. At the heart of this case was an allegation of contract-related corruption and bribery valued at $50 million. (FBI)
- One of the most famous historical corruption scandals in the history of the U.S. took place in Detroit in the 1930s. The “Janet McDonald Affair,” which included extortion aimed at dozens of brothels, gambling houses, and others, eventually resulted in the conviction of more than 150 individuals. (Deadline Detroit)
- In 2006, Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff pled guilty to charges of corruption in the largest such case in U.S. history. (NBC News)
Corruption Quick Links & References
- An Overview of Public Corruption Laws & Prosecution in the United States from the FBI
- Federal Public Corruption Cases Overview and Potential Defenses Under the Law
- Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Bars U.S. Officials/Others From Bribing Foreign Officials
- Understanding the Legal Basis of Corruption Charges in Campaign Finance Law
- More on Corruption, Fraud, and Bribery From the United States Department of Justice
Corruption Laws by State
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Laws against corruption are intended to stop any government official from receiving anything of value in return for changing how they perform their duties. There are many similarities between corruption laws in each state, but there also are significant differences. Below is a brief overview of each state’s corruption statutes.
The statutes of Alabama state that you have committed the crime of bribery if you offer, confer or agree to provide anything of value to any public servant with the idea that that official’s vote, judgment or exercise of discretion will be influenced in any way. A bribery is a class C felony in Alabama. This has a one to 10 year prison sentence and maximum $15,000 fine.
Alabama also has a statute regarding failure to disclose conflict of interest. This occurs if you exercise any type of discretionary function that is related to a contract by the government, payment or purchase without disclosing the conflicting interest publicly. Failing to disclose conflict of interest is a class A misdemeanor, which has a maximum one year prison term and a maximum $6000 fine.
Alaska statutes state that a public official may not accept or solicit a gift in the form of a service, money, loan, travel, hospitality, entertainment, employment or promise. The official may not accept these items under circumstances where it can be inferred that the gift is supposed to have an effect on the official duties of the official. Note that Alaska’s statutes state that a gift from a lobbyist or a family member is presumed to be supposed to influence official duties.
This is a class B felony and has a 10 year maximum prison sentence and a maximum $100,000 fine.
Notice of a receipt of a gift by a public official with a value over $150, including the name of the person who gave it and a description of the item, must be given to a supervisor in 30 days.
Also, a public official cannot disclose or release information gained in the exercise of the official’s duties that could cause a benefit to be gained for the official or his family.
An Alaskan public official cannot try to receive, acquire, apply for or have a personal interest in a state contract, grant, lease or loan if the public official may take action that has an effect on the awarding of the grant or contract.
The statutes in Arkansas state that a public official has committed an abuse of public trust when he attempts to solicit, accept, or agree to accept any benefit from an individual based upon the notion that the other person will be appointed to public office or nominated as a candidate for any office.
Also, Arkansas law states that abuse of the public trust includes bribery, where the official solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept a benefit as compensation to influence a decision that would have a personal or financial advantage on the giving party.
It is not a defense under this statute that the decision, recommendation or opinion – except for the benefit conveyed – was proper.
Abuse of the public trust is a class D felony in Arkansas, and is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of six years, and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Another corruption statute regards the failure of a member of the General Assembly to report any items or services that were sold during the previous year that were worth $1000 or more to any office or department in Arkansas. This is a class A misdemeanor and is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of one year and a maximum fine of $2500.
California Penal Code 67 states that any person who gives or offers a bribe to an executive officer in the state with the idea of influencing him regarding any act, decision, vote or opinion, is punishable by two to four years in state prison. That person also is permanently barred from holding office in California. Bribery is a class C felony and is punishable by 1-10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
California Penal Code 67.5 states that any person who offers a bribe to any officer, employee or appointee in the state is guilty of a misdemeanor. However, if the theft of the item offered would be grand theft, it is then a felony.
The unintentional violation of the Code of Ethics for Public Employees in the state is a class A misdemeanor with a maximum imprisonment of one year and a maximum fine of $6000.
The statutes of Colorado state that bribery is offering, conferring or agreeing to confer any type of financial benefit upon a public servant with the intent to influence the official. Bribery also is considered, while being a government official, soliciting, accepting or agreeing to accept a gift of any kind in exchange for changing your vote, opinion, judgment or exercise of discretion as a government official. Either of these is a class 3 felony with a maximum imprisonment of 4-12 years, with a maximum fine of $750,000.
Another important statute in Colorado is for embezzlement, which is defined as a public official coming into the possession of taxpayer money or public property and conferring that money or property knowingly for his own use. This is a class 5 felony and has a maximum prison term of 1-3 years, with a maximum fine of $1000 to $5000.
Also, abuse of public trust in Colorado is where the public official’s conduct departs from his sworn fiduciary duty to the people of Colorado. The district attorney of the district where this occurs can bring both judicial proceedings and criminal action.
Bribery in Connecticut is defined as soliciting, accepting or agreeing to accept as a public official any sort of benefit for a certain decision, opinion, vote or recommendation. This is a class C felony with a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Also, no former public official may represent a person other than the state regarding any particular matter where he was personally involved while in service to the state, or where the state has an interest. This is a class A misdemeanor and the prison sentence is up to one year, with a maximum fine of $2000.
However, if the first offense has a financial benefit of $1000 or more, or if there is a second offense, it is a class D felony with a maximum prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of $5000. These punishments also apply if you willingly and knowingly disclosed confidential information for any type of financial gain.
Delaware’s statute states that bribery of a public official, or soliciting, accepting or agreeing to accept a bribe is a class E felony and is punishable by up to five years in prison.
If you know of a violation of prohibitions related to a conflict of interest, such as restrictions on representing another’s interest in front of the state or restrictions on contracting with the state of Delaware, this is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Receiving unlawful gratuities is defined as soliciting, accepting or agreeing to accept any type of personal benefit to engage in government related conduct for which the government official is required to perform, and for which that official is not allowed to have any added compensation. This is also a class A misdemeanor with a maximum prison sentence of one year and a fine of $2300.
Also, the deliberate failure to file a financial disclosure report or board membership disclosure report is a class B misdemeanor punishable by a prison sentence of up to six months, and a maximum fine of $1150.
District of Columbia
The District’s statutes state that soliciting, demanding accepting or agreeing to accept any type of gift either directly or indirectly by a government official is known as corruption. This offense will carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, and the fine can be $25,000 or three times the monetary value of the gift – whichever is more.
Extortion in the District of Columbia by or from a public official is punishable by a prison sentence of 10 years and a fine of $10,000 maximum.
Blackmail of a public official or blackmail committed by a public official is punishable by a prison term of up to five years and a fine of $1000.
Corrupting or trying to corrupt a public official is punishable by a jail term of six months or a prison term of up to five years.
Florida corruption statutes state that corruption is in part defined corruptly providing, offering or promising to offer a public official a bribe. Or, requesting, soliciting, accepting or agreeing to accept any unauthorized gift or financial benefit in a corrupt fashion. Both of these are 2nd degree felonies in the state of Florida, and are punishable by a sentence of 15 years and a fine of $15,000.
Also, any official misconduct, which includes the disclosure of confidential criminal justice information, is a 3rd degree felony punishable by a five year prison sentence and a fine of $5000.
Further, no employee of the state of Florida may use their government authority to influence an election or the nomination to an office, or influence the vote of another person. Or, trying to coerce, advise or command any officer or employee as to where you could purchase commodities, or to interfere in any way with the personal rights of that employee of the state. Both of these are a 1st degree misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1000.