Federal Bribery Law and Prosecutions

Posted By Galluzzo & Arnone || 24-Feb-2016

There are several federal statutes which prohibit the act of taking or giving a bribe to a governmental official.

The "general" federal bribery statute is set forth in Title 18 of the U.S. Code ("U.S.C.") section 201. The federal law prohibits any person from corruptly, whether "directly or indirectly" giving, offering, or promising anything of value to a public official (or their delegates) with intent to (i) influence any official act, (ii) influence that person to commit fraud upon the United States, or (iii) induce such person to act in violation of their lawful duty, whatever that may be. 18 U.S.C. 201(b)(1).

A mirror provision prevents public officials (or their delegates) from seeking such gratuities in exchange for favorable exercises of their public duties. 18 U.S.C.201(b)(2).

Other sections of the bribery statute and other statutes prohibit more specific acts, for example seeking a bribe for testimony, 18 U.S.C. 201(b)(4), 18 U.S.C. 201(c)(1)(B), 18 U.S.C. 201(c)(3), paying a bribe for a public official to perform an official duty, 18 U.S.C. 201(c)(1)(A), and theft of honest services under the mail fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. 1341 & 1346.

Finally, and perhaps most relevantly on account of its frequency, section 666(a)(1)(B) of the U.S.C. prohibits a government agent who works for an agency which receives in excess of $10,000 of funding from the federal government from soliciting or demanding a bribe in connection with a transaction with a governmental agency. Interestingly, this section was meant to fill in a gap left by the earlier statutes from section 201, which certain courts had interpreted as not applying to employees of the federal government. See, e.g., U.S. v. Del Toro, 513 F.2d 656 (2d. Cir. 1975).

Section 666 has been applied to a variety of fact patterns, including prosecutions involving United Nations procurement, U.S. v. Bahel, 662 F.3d 610 (2d Cir. 2011), a state legislator, U.S. v. Foley, 73 F.3d 484 (2d Cir. 1996), the mayor of a city, U.S. v. Ganim, 510 F.3d 134 (2d Cir. 2007), federally-funded real estate development projects, U.S. v. Rooney, 37 F.3d 847 (1994)

The quintessential element of most bribery statutes is a "quid pro quo," which is a latin phrase meaning, "this for that," but can be thought of generally as a favor granted in return for something of value. This has been interpreted by the 2d Circuit Court of Appeals to mean, however, that although not every gift or gratuity is a bribe (whether such gratuity is legal or not), there must be an "intent to effect an exchange." Ganim, supra, at 148.

Sentences for bribery offenses can escalate up to 15 years in prison and will almost always include hefty fines.

Oftentimes, a gift, or an ubiquitous business arrangement is misconstrued as a quid pro quo giving rise to an investigation into illegal bribery. If you or someone you know is facing such an investigation or prosecution, you should contact the experienced lawyers at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP.