Bribery is the offer or acceptance of anything of value in exchange for influence on a government/public official or employee. Bribes can take the form of gifts or payments of money in exchange for favorable treatment, such as awards of government contracts. In most situations, both the person offering the bribe and the person accepting can be charged with bribery.
Bribery The offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties.The expectation of a particular voluntary action in return is what makes the difference between a bribe and a private demonstration of goodwill. To offer or provide payment in order to persuade someone with a responsibility to betray that responsibility is known as seeking Undue Influence over that person's actions. When someone with power seeks payment in exchange for certain actions, that person is said to be peddling influence. Regardless of who initiates the deal, either party to an act of bribery can be found guilty of the crime independently of the other.
A bribe can consist of immediate cash or of personal favors, a promise of later payment, or anything else the recipient views as valuable. When the U.S. military threatened to cancel a Texas relocation company's contracts to move families to and from military bases, the company allegedly gave four representatives in Congress an all-expenses-paid weekend in Las Vegas in January 1989, and $2,500 in speaking fees. The former president of the company was indicted by a federal Grand Jury in 1994 on bribery charges for both gifts.
No written agreement is necessary to prove the crime of bribery, but usually a prosecutor must show corrupt intent. Bribery charges may involve public officials or private individuals. In the world of professional sports, for example, one boxer might offer another a payoff to "throw" (deliberately lose) an important fight. In the corporate arena, a company could bribe employees of a rival company for recruitment services or other actions at odds with their employer's interests. Even when public officials are involved, a bribe does not need to be harmful to the public interest in order to be illegal.
When a public official accepts a bribe, he or she creates a conflict of interest. That is, the official cannot accommodate the interests of another party without compromising the responsibilities of her or his position.
There is not always consensus over what counts as a bribe. For instance, in many states and at the federal level, certain gifts and campaign contributions are not considered bribes and do not draw prosecution unless they can be linked to evidence of undue influence. In this regard, negative public perception of private contributions to elected officials as payola has caused most states to establish legislative ethics committees to review the public-private relationships of house and senate members. Furthermore, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed legislation in 1994 restricting gifts to no more than $20 in value.
The Supreme Court further clarified the law by setting standards for federal bribery statutes in United States v. Sun Diamond Growers, 526 U.S. 398, 119 S.Ct. 1402, 143 L.Ed.2d 576 (1999). This case grew out of the prosecution of Mike Espy, secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration, for allegedly accepting bribes. After Espy was acquitted of all charges, the Independent Counsel charged Sun Diamond Growers, a trade association for a large agricultural cooperative, with violating a federal gratuities law that prohibits giving gifts to public officials in exchange for favorable government actions.
After Sun Diamond was convicted of the charges it took its case to the Supreme Court. The Court concluded that a person did not violate the law merely by giving a gift to a public official. Prosecutors must show that there was a connection between a specific official act in the past or future and the gift. Justice Antonin Scalia noted that if the government did not have to prove this linkage then a token gift such as the presentation of a sports jersey by a championship team to the president could be regarded as a criminal act.
The Court also noted differences in various federal bribery statutes, which included broad prohibitions. In the present case, the language of the gratuities statute did not reveal a similar intent by Congress; instead, the Court viewed this law as one strand of a complicated web of laws and regulations addressing official behavior.
It is common for both the recipient and the provider of a bribe to be accused, although bribery is not a joint offense—that is, one person's guilt does not affect the other's. Such was the case when a popular Massachusetts state senator allegedly accepted monthly payments from an investment Broker in exchange for trying to persuade state officials to send state Pension business to the broker. The legislator and the broker were both indicted on misdemeanor charges in early 1995.
U.S. companies that engage in international bribery can become targets of investigation at home. In January 1995, a former sales director of Lockheed Corporation pleaded guilty to violating the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1 et seq., Allen R. Love told a U.S. district court that he had paid and helped to cover up a bribe to an Egyptian politician for arranging Egypt's 1989 purchase of three Lockheed transport planes.
Congress adopted the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977 to outlaw payments that are intended to win contracts from foreign officials. Ironically, the law's passage was triggered by testimony from a former vice president of the same Lockheed Corporation at a U.S. congressional hearing in 1976. In that case, the company's vice president admitted to bribing the prime minister of Japan with more than $1.9 million in the early 1970s, so that Japan would buy Lockheed's TriStar wide-body jets.
The severity of bribery can reach the felony level, punishable by a fine or imprisonment, or both. However, charges are sometimes reduced in exchange for helping to convict accomplices. For instance, in June 1994, Love pleaded innocent to felony charges of bribery and conspiracy. Later, he pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of "indirectly" conspiring, as part of a plea agreement in which he agreed to testify against the corporation itself, which was also a defendant.
The international sports community was rocked by a bribery scandal involving the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. Two officials of the Utah committee that secured the games were indicted in 2000 on charges of wire and Mail Fraud, conspiracy, and interstate travel in aid of Racketeering. They were charged with paying an official of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) to help influence the selection of Salt Lake City by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The USOC official who received the bribes later pleaded guilty to several criminal charges including the accepting of a bribe.
Federal prosecutors contended that the two officials had paid $1 million to influence votes of several IOC members. In addition, they had allegedly diverted some $130,000 of the bid committee's income, and had altered books and created false contracts to conceal their actions. The two officials denied that they had done anything wrong, contending that the payments were intended as grants and scholarships for poor athletes. Following the indictments, ten members of the IOC either resigned or were expelled from the organization, and many reforms were undertaken to prevent bribery. The USOC also authorized an independent review of its practices.
However, the two Utah officials successfully challenged the bribery charges. In July 2001, a federal judge dismissed the bribery charges, finding that a Utah bribery statute could not be applied to the defendants' actions. In December 2001, the judge dismissed the remaining criminal counts.
Bribery is the practice of offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in discharge of his/ her public or legal duties. Bribery is a gain to an illicit advantage. Federal statutes refer to two classes of offenses: graft and bribery. The word graft means the fraudulent obtaining of public money unlawfully by the corruption of public officers. Graft is an advantage which one person by reason of his peculiar position of superiority, influence or trust extracts from another. Charging an official with graft is to charge him/her for lack of integrity[i]. Graft includes the fraudulent obtaining of public money by the corruption of public officials[ii].
The General Federal Bribery Statute punishes the offence of bribery in the U.S[iii]. According to 18 USCS prec § 201(b), whoever directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official with intent to influence that person’s official act will be fined for the offence of bribery. The punishment prescribed by the statue is a fine of an amount not more than three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value, or imprisonment for not more than fifteen years, or both. Additionally he/she can be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the U.S government.
The General Federal Bribery Statute punishes the following acts of bribery:Any public official influencing the performance of any official act in violation of official duty;A person bribing a public official with the intent to influence his/her testimony under oath or affirmation before any court, or any committee;A person demanding bribery in return for being influenced in testimony under oath or affirmation as a witness in a trial or proceeding or in return for his/her absence from such appearance;Any person offering bribery for the performance of a public duty;Any person demanding bribery for the discharge of public duty;Any person giving anything of value personally for testimony under oath to be given by such person as a witness upon any trial; andAny person demanding anything of value personally for testimony under oath to be given by such person as a witness upon any trial.
However, the General Federal Bribery Statute does not prohibit the payment or receipt of witness fees provided by law. This includes payment to experts for giving testimony in courts also. Moreover, offenses and penalties laid down in the General Federal Bribery Statute are in addition to those prescribed in the federal statutes relating to obstruction of justice.
In addition to the General Federal Bribery Statute, there are several special bribery statutes in the U.S. For example, statutes prohibiting bribery of a bank examiner, bribery incident to appointment to a public office, bribery incident to various loan and bank transactions, bribery in connection with the sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages. The existence of special bribery provisions does not affect the enforcement of the General Federal Bribery Statute.
Moreover, in the federal statute which prohibits travel in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in unlawful activity, bribery is defined in terms of violation of the laws of the state in which the defendant’s actions are committed or of the laws of the U.S.. Thus, in a state in which commercial bribery is prohibited, bribery of private employees constitutes a violation of this statute.
Commercial bribery is the giving or offering to give, directly or indirectly, anything of value to any private agent, employee, or fiduciary, without the knowledge and consent of the principal or employer, with the intent to influence such agent’s, employee’s, or fiduciary’s action in relation to the principal’s or employer’s affairs.
Additionally, the Travel Act provides that whoever travels in interstate or foreign commerce or uses any facility in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to promote, establish, carry on, or facilitate the promotion, establishment, or carrying on of any unlawful activity and thereafter performs or attempts to perform any unlawful activity shall be guilty of a crime[iv]. Unlawful activity includes bribery in violation of the laws of the United States[v].
[i] Smith v. Pure Oil Co., 278 Ky. 430, 434 (Ky. 1939)
[ii] Smith v. Pure Oil Co., 278 Ky. 430 (Ky. 1939)
[iii] 18 USCS prec § 216
[iv] 18 USCS prec § 201
[v] United States v. Biaggi, 674 F. Supp. 86 (E.D.N.Y. 1987
What is Bribery and Corruption Law?
Bribery and corruption law consists of the criminal rules for dealing with people who attempt to buy influence with public officials and other decision-makers. The crime of bribery encompasses a broad scope of wrongful conduct. It covers bribes of cash, assets, services, favors, or anything else of value, whether delivered presently or in the future. Bribes can occur directly, or indirectly through third parties in an effort to disguise the true nature of the transaction. Even if a transaction is never completed, the mere offering or soliciting of a bribe is enough to incur criminal liability.
Laws prohibiting bribery can be used to punish both the person offering the bribe, and the person receiving it. These laws are designed to root out corruption in the public and private sectors. Defendants accused of taking bribes can include elected representatives, government officials, police officers, board members, labor union officers, sports referees and umpires, and business leaders. Cases involving judges, district attorneys, witnesses, and jurors can lead to particularly severe consequences, as corruption of these individuals is viewed as a direct threat to the integrity of the judicial system.
Common Issues in a Bribery Case
Those accused of bribery are often confused about the nature of the crime, especially since a number of similar offenses exist in every jurisdiction. While bribery statutes are worded in various ways, the most fundamental element concerns the defendant’s intent. To be convicted of bribery, the defendant must have intended the benefit conferred to have an influential effect, leading the person receiving it to take action (or refrain from taking action) in the course of his or her official duties.
Gifts, loans, and other contributions to public officials can create the false impression of a corrupt motive. As long as the item was not intended to influence the recipient’s conduct, then bribery has not occurred. Of course, a bare assertion of a legitimate purpose by the defendant at trial will not be persuasive in light of surrounding circumstances that suggest a wrongful intent. The law permits the jury at a bribery trial to infer the defendant’s intent from the other facts and evidence in the case.
Even if the defendant has acted inappropriately, there is the possibility that the conduct does not amount to bribery, but rather some other related offense. To avoid confusion, focus on the specifics of the transaction. Bribery requires that property changed hands in an effort to influence a decision. By contrast, the crime of illegal gratuities is committed by conferring a benefit as a reward for past favorable conduct. Extortion is designed to compel future action through the use of a threat, blackmail involves paying someone to keep information concealed, and kickbacks are the return of a portion of a benefit received. Finally, the offense of graft is a form of political corruption that, unlike bribery, does not require the participation of anyone other than the elected official.
Federal Bribery Crimes and Statutes
Two major pieces of legislation exist to punish bribery of public officials at the federal level. Bribery of U.S. officials is covered by 18 USC §201. This section defines the crime of bribery in expansive terms, and it contains harsh penalties for offenders. Conviction on a single count can result in fines up to triple the amount of the bribe, as many as 15 years in prison, and a sanction disqualifying the defendant from holding public office in the future. The second piece of federal legislation, known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), is a similar statute aimed at bribery of foreign officials by Americans.
Criminal Defense Strategies
Bribery convictions often depend upon surveillance recordings or other surreptitiously gathered evidence. While engaged in collecting this evidence, the police must act within the restraints of the 4th Amendment, and if they do not, the evidence can be suppressed. Suppression means the judge will enter a pre-trial order stating that the evidence cannot be used against the defendant. This affords defendants and their attorneys an opportunity to systematically attack improperly collected evidence on constitutional grounds. If enough of the evidence against the defendant can be suppressed prior to trial, the prosecution will have no choice but to dismiss the case.
The other primary source of evidence in a bribery case is the testimony of individuals who were involved in the scheme or have firsthand knowledge of the events. Thus, another common defense strategy in bribery cases is to discredit a witness’s testimony. Defense attorneys accomplish this most effectively through a rigorous cross-examination. If the witness has made prior inconsistent statements, harbors a bias against the defendant, or is otherwise untrustworthy, a skilled cross-examiner will expose such issues in front of the jury.
Hiring a Lawyer to Defend Your Rights
Allegations of bribery can ruin your career and professional reputation. If you are convicted, you can face fines and jail as well. To ensure the best possible resolution, you need an attorney to protect your interests and negotiate with the government on your behalf. Schedule a consultation today.
Undue Influence A judicially created defense to transactions that have been imposed upon weak and vulnerable persons that allows the transactions to be set aside.
Virtually any act of persuasion that over-comes the free will and judgment of another, including exhortations, importunings, insinuations, flattery, trickery, and deception, may amount to undue influence. Undue influence differs from duress, which consists of the intentional use of force, or threat of force, to coerce another into a grossly unfair transaction. Blackmail, Extortion, bad faith threats of criminal prosecution, and oppressive Abuse of Process are classic examples of duress.
Four elements must be shown to establish undue influence. First, it must be demonstrated that the victim was susceptible to overreaching. Such conditions as mental, psychological, or physical disability or dependency may be used to show susceptibility. Second, there must be an opportunity for exercising undue influence. Typically, this opportunity arises through a confidential relationship. Courts have found opportunity for undue influence in confidential relationships between Husband and Wife, fiancé and fiancée, Parent and Child, trustee and beneficiary, administrator and legatee, Guardian and Ward, attorney and client, doctor and patient, and pastor and parishioner. Third, there must be evidence that the defendant was inclined to exercise undue influence over the victim. Defendants who aggressively initiate a transaction, insulate a relationship from outside supervision, or discourage a weaker party from seeking independent advice may be attempting to exercise undue influence. Fourth, the record must reveal an unnatural or suspicious transaction. Courts are wary, for example, of testators who make abrupt changes in their last will and testament after being diagnosed with a terminal illness or being declared incompetent, especially if the changes are made at the behest of a beneficiary who stands to benefit from the new or revised testamentary disposition.
Nevertheless, courts will examine the facts closely before finding that a transaction has been tainted by undue influence. Mere suspicion, surmise, or conjecture of overreaching is insufficient. The law permits loved ones and confidants to advise and comfort those in need of their support without fear of litigation. Courts are also aware that the doctrine of undue influence can be used as a sword by the vindictive and avaricious who seek to invalidate a perfectly legal transaction for personal gain. When undue influence is found to have altered a transaction, however, courts will make every effort to return the parties to the same position they would have occupied had the overreaching not occurred.
undue influence n. the amount of pressure which one uses to force someone to execute a will leaving assets in a particular way, to make a direct gift while alive, or to sign a contract. The key element is that the influence was so great that the testator (will writer), donor (gift giver), or party to the contract had lost the ability to exercise his/her judgment and could not refuse to give in to the pressure. Evidence of such dominance of another's mind may result in invalidation of the will, gift, or contract by a court if the will, gift, or contract is challenged. Participation in preparation of the will, excluding other relatives, being present when the testator and the attorney meet are all evidence of undue pressure, and an imbalance or change in language which greatly favors the person exercising the influence are factors in finding undue influence. Example: Pete Pounder constantly visits his aunt Agnes while she is ill and always urges her to leave her mansion to him instead of to her son. Pounder threatens to stop visiting the old lady, who is very lonely, tells her she is ungrateful for his attention, finally brings over an attorney who does not know Agnes, and is present while she tells the attorney to write a new will in favor of Pounder.
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