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
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.
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.
The state’s anti-corruption statutes are largely in the Criminal Code Articles 332-342, which make criminal the following actions:
- Money laundering
- Active and passive bribery
- Bribing a foreign official
These crimes can be punished by up to 15 years in prison as well as the confiscation of property.
The Hawaii statute states that corruption and bribery is a class B felony. It is defined as a public servant soliciting, accepting or agreeing to accept any pecuniary benefit with the intent of that public servant being influenced. A person convicted of corruption in Hawaii can receive up to a 15 year sentence in state prison.
The Idaho state legislature defines bribery and corruption under Title 18 Crimes and Punishments in the Idaho Statutes. It states that bribery and corruption is where a public servant solicits, accepts or receives a financial benefit as payment for advice, services or assistance. This prohibition does not cover ‘trivial’ benefits under $50.
Illinois law 720 ILCS 5/33-1 states there are several ways to be charged and convicted of public corruption and bribery. You may be found guilty in Illinois of this crime if you have the intent to influence any performed act that is related to the function or employment of a public office, public employee, witness or juror. This is a Class 2 felony and can result in three to seven years in prison.
Indiana Code Title 35. Criminal Law and Procedure 35-45-6-2 defines public corruption as a person who knowingly receives proceeds directly or indirectly that is obtained from a pattern of racketeering activities, and uses the proceeds to acquire interest in property. This corruption crime is a Level 5 felony in Indiana and may be punished by up to seven years in prison.
Iowa Code 722.1 defines corruption and bribery as a person who promises, offers or gives anything of benefit or value to a person who serves in a public service capacity. This is a Class D felony, and a person who is convicted of this crime may not hold public office in Iowa.
Bribery and corruption are defined under Article 60 Crimes Affecting Public Trust in the state of Kansas. It is defined as the intent to improperly influence a public official by offering or promising to offer a benefit or award that the public official is not allowed by law to accept. This is a severity level 7, nonperson felony.
Bribery of a public servant is defined under Kentucky Revised Statutes Chapter 521. It states that a person is guilty of being bribed or bribing a public servant if any pecuniary benefit is offered or conferred with the intent to sway the public official’s vote or other action. This is a Class C felony
Louisiana Laws and Revised Statutes Title 14 Criminal Law RS 14:118 defines public bribery and corruption as giving or offering to give anything of value to a public officer, public employee, grand or petit juror, witness or a person about to be called as a witness or any person elected or appointed to public office.
The Maine Criminal Code Chapter 25 defines bribery and corrupt practices as promising, offering or giving anything of financial benefit to another person with the idea of influencing that person’s decision, opinion, recommendation, vote or nomination. Bribery in both official and political matters is a Class C crime.
Bribery and corruption of a public employee is defined under Maryland Code 9-201. It states that a person may not bribe or be bribed if it is a public employee with the intent of influencing that person in the performance of their official duties. Prison term is 2-12 years.
Chapter 268A of the Massachusetts Code defines corrupt gifts, offers or promises to influence official acts and corruption of witnesses. The punishment for being convicted of corruption and bribery is a fine of up to $100,000 and prison sentence of up to 10 years.
The Michigan Penal Code Chapter XVII defines bribery and corruption of a public officer. It is when a person gives, offers or promises a public officer a gift, money or gratuity to influence their official acts. This is a felony and can result in a $5000 fine and prison sentence of 10 years.
The 2017 Minnesota Statutes define bribery in 609.42. It is offering, giving, or promising to give to a public official anything of financial value that could influence their vote or decision. The penalty for this crime is up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
The Mississippi Code defines bribery and commercial bribery under section 97-9-10. It is defined as giving or offering to give anything that is of value to a private agent, employee or fiduciary with the intent to influence the person’s action. Prison term can be up to six months and fine of $500.
Section 576.020 of the Missouri Code defines the crime of a public servant acceding to corruption. It is when the person solicits or accepts a benefit in return for a vote, opinion, recommendation or decision. The offense of bribery and allowing corruption of a public servant is a class E felony.
The Montana Criminal Code defines bribery in official and public matters under section 45-7-201. You have committed bribery if you offer or confer or agree to accept any financial benefit in consideration for a vote, decision, opinion or recommendation. This is a felony and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $50,00 fine.
Nebraska Revised Statute 28-917 defines corruption and bribery as soliciting, accepting or agreeing to accept a benefit that will violate one’s public duty or oath of office by changing his vote, opinion or judgment. This is a Class IV felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
This state defines bribery under NRS 199.010. Offering a bribe to affect the decision of a public official or public employee is illegal in this state. Bribery of such persons, or accepting a bribe as a public official, is a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Chapter 640 of the New Hampshire Revised Statutes defines corrupt practices, including bribery in official and public matters. It is promising, offering or giving any financial benefit to another with the idea of influencing their decision or vote. It is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Bribery in official and political matters is defined in New Jersey Statute 2C: 27-2. A person is guilty of the crime of bribery when he directly or indirectly offers a benefit in consideration for an opinion, vote or recommendation. This is a crime in the second degree and may be punished by up to five years in prison.
New Mexico Statutes Chapter 30 Article 24 covers the crime of bribery. It is giving or offering to give anything that is of value to a public employee with the idea to influence their opinion, vote or decision. It is a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Bribery is defined in New York under Article 200 – NY Penal Law. the state defines first, second and third degree bribery. It is a class B, C or D felony depending upon the severity of the crime. You can receive from three years to 25 years in state prison for bribery.
The North Carolina criminal code defines bribery of officials under Article 29, Chapter 14-217. It is offering payment or anything of value to perform an official act with the idea that the public official’s decision or vote will be influenced. This is a Class F felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.
The North Dakota Code defines Bribery – Unlawful Influence of Public Servants under Chapter 12.1 – 12. This is a class C felony and you are guilty of it if you offer, give or accept anything of value for a vote, decision or recommendation to be influenced. It is punishable by a fine of $5000 and three years in prison.
Bribery is defined under Ohio Revised Code Chapter 2921.02. No person may attempt to corrupt a public official by attempting to influence their vote or recommendation by offering anything of value. This is a third degree felony and can be punished by up to 10 years in prison.
2014 Oklahoma Statutes Title 21 defines bribery as anyone who accepts or agrees to accept a bribe from a person with the understanding that the bribe will influence the conduct of the person who accepted the bribe. Prison term can be up to 10 years and fine up to $5000.
2015 ORS 162.025 defines bribe receiving as a public servant who solicits any type of financial benefit with the intent that the opinion, judgment, action or decision of that public servant will be influenced. This is a class B felony that can result in up to ten years in prison.
2010 Pennsylvania Code Title 18 Chapter 47 covers bribery and corrupt influence. The statute states that a person is guilty of a third degree felony if he offers, confers or agrees to confer upon another person any pecuniary benefit as consideration for the vote, opinion or decision on the public official.
Bribery and corruption is covered in Rhode Island General Laws Chapter 11-7. No person is allowed to solicit or accept a gift or valuable consideration as a reward for any type of benefit for a vote, decision or recommendation. This is a third degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in state prison.
Section 16-9.210 of the South Carolina Statutes states that giving bribes to officials or officers is a felony that can be punished by five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $3000. Accepting a bribe results in a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of $5000.
Bribery and corruption are covered in Chapter 43 22-43-1 and is defined as any person who attempts to confer directly or indirectly upon an employer, officer, public official or agent of a benefit in consideration for a favorable decision or vote. This is a class 1 misdemeanor.
Bribery of a public servant is covered in Chapter 16 39-16-102 of the Tennessee Code. It states that a person commits bribery who attempts to confer a financial benefit upon a public servant with the idea of influencing a vote or decision. This is a class B felony that can be punished by 10 years in prison.
Title 8 Chapter 6 of the Texas Penal Code describes the crime of bribery and corrupt influence. A person commits this crime if he offers, confers or agrees to confer on another any consideration for the person’s decision, vote, recommendation or opinion. This is a state jail felony and can result in up to a year in jail.
Utah Code Title 76 Chapter 8 states a person has committed bribery if you promise, offer or agree to give a benefit to another person to influence a decision, action, opinion, judgment or recommendation. This is a third degree felony punishable by a fine of at least $1000.
Bribery is covered in the 2013 Vermont Statutes under Chapter 21. A person may not offer, give or promise a legislative, executive or judicial officer any gift or gratuity to influence the decision making process of him or her. It is punishable by two years in prison and a fine of $5000.
The Code of Virginia 18.2-447 states that a person is guilty of bribery if he offers, agrees to offer or confers a financial benefit meant to influence the person’s decision, vote, opinion or recommendation. This is a felony crime punishable by up to five years in state prison.
Bribery and corrupt influence is covered under Chapter 9A.68 RCS. It is a class B felony and is defined as trying to secure a result in a matter involving the exercise of a public official, and attempting to influence the person’s judgement or opinion. It is no defense if the public official was not qualified to act in the way desired.
Bribery and corrupt practices are covered under Chapter 61 61-5A-1. A person is guilty of bribery if he confers, offers or agrees to confer a financial benefit on another person directly or indirectly. This crime can be punished by one to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $50,000.
Bribery of public officials is described in Chapter 946-10 of the criminal code of Wisconsin. It is a class H felony to attempt to influence the conduct of a public officer or public employee in any policy matter that may have come before that employee in the exercise of his official duties.
According to Wyoming Statutes Chapter 6, 6-5-102, bribery has been committed if you confer or attempt to confer any type of pecuniary benefit upon a public servant to influence that person’s vote, or opinion. This is a felony that can be punished by 10 years in prison and a fine up to $5000.