In some countries, bribery is a common feature of daily life. Bribing public officials to smooth the way for business, skip the line in bureaucratic processes or get out of trouble with the authorities is an acceptable way to get things done. However, in the United States, bribery is a serious crime under both Massachusetts and federal law. It is illegal to both offer a bribe and to accept one.
Bribery is generally understood as attempting to gain favor by giving something of value, such as a cash payment or a material gift. For example, an official on a city planning commission could accept a bribe to award a lucrative contract, or someone operating a criminal enterprise could offer payment to a police officer to avoid an investigation. However, there are a number of gray areas in prosecuting bribery. In order to be convicted of a bribery charge, the intention of the gift (to curry favor or gain influence) and the intention of the recipient (to grant that favor or act in a way influenced by the bribe) must be proven. If the defendant has given season baseball tickets to a high-status public official, it could just be a thank-you rather than an attempt to gain influence. Similarly, a defendant could donate generously to a politician out of genuine support for their platform, and not with the intent of a “quid pro quo.”
Federal Bribery Charges
U.S. Code 18 Chapter 11 outlines the law about bribery and public officials, and dictates that it is illegal to give, offer or promise anything of value, whether directly or indirectly, with the intent to influence the official’s decisions or encourage them to do something fraudulent or unlawful. This statute includes members of Congress, delegates, and resident commissioners, and in general, any employee or officer of the United States government. The law applies not only to officials in office, but to anyone who has been nominated or appointed.
If convicted of bribery of a public official, the defendant may be sentenced to up to 15 years in a federal penitentiary and be fined up to three times the value of the bribe. The public official may also be barred from holding a future office.
Bribery was also considered a serious enough crime to be included in the original articles of the U.S. Constitution. Article II, Section 4 states that bribery is defined as a high crime and misdemeanor, and grounds for impeaching the President.
Commonwealth of Massachusetts Bribery Charges
Massachusetts G.L. c. 268A Section 2 dictates that it is unlawful to give, offer or promise (directly or indirectly) anything of value to any state, county or municipal employee, or member of the judiciary, with the intent of influencing any official act under their responsibility or enticing them to violate the rules governing their position. The statute also declares that state, county or municipal employees and members of the judiciary are not allowed to ask for, demand, or accept anything of value with the intent of being influenced or to commit fraud or other violations of their duties.
If a bribe is offered to or accepted by a witness in exchange for testimony under oath, the punishment if convicted is harsh: up to 10 years in a state prison or a jail or house of correction for up to 2 ½ years, or a fine up to $100,000.
It is also illegal in Massachusetts to “throw the game” in sports by bribing an athlete to perform poorly and affect the outcome of a baseball, football, hockey or basketball game; boxing, tennis or polo match, or a horse race. Offering or accepting a bribe in sports is punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a $1000 fine.
Both the person who initiates the bribe or the person who receives it can be prosecuted. Even if the bribe is not accepted, an individual can also be charged with attempted bribery. The item of value described in the statute can be anything valued at $50 or more, so the bribe does not have to be extravagant to violate the law.
International Bribery Charges
When conducting business internationally, situations may arise where a payment, gift or promise to a foreign official can further the interests of the business. Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) this can constitute bribery of a foreign official and is illegal. FCPA can be applied anywhere in the world and encompasses the conduct of publicly traded companies, directors, employees, and stockholders. In order to remain compliant with FCPA, companies doing business internationally have to have accurate and transparent financial records and controls in place to account for the companies’ transactions abroad. If a company is found in violation of FCPA, the Securities Exchange Commission may invoke civil penalties as well as returning any funds found to be gained through bribery. Companies may be fined up to $2 million and individual officers, directors, employees, stockholders or agents are subject to up to 5 years in prison and fines of up to $100,000.
Investigating Bribery Charges
Considering how bribery can affect the actions of public officials and have consequences for the general public, the federal government uses multiple strategies to investigate bribery crimes. In addition to state and local law enforcement, federal agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) , the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the SEC. When investigating a case, the agencies will spend time gathering as much evidence as they can before approaching a federal prosecutor. Therefore, a defendant involved in a bribery scheme may not even realize an investigation is already in progress. An investigator could go undercover to try and convince the defendant to agree to a bribery scheme, or convince others involved to cooperate with the prosecution.
If you have been charged with bribery, or could potentially be linked to a bribery investigation, it is essential to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney with the expertise to defend your rights. Protect yourself and your future and contact us today for free consultation.