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Not Just for the Movies: Public Corruption Charges

Being elected to public office is a significant achievement that requires a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and commitment to service. There are, however, downsides to serving in a public role. Public officials, including politicians, judges, and labor union officers, are often targeted by corruption probes and investigations. Serving in the public eye means being exposed to the risk of unfair accusations.

Furthermore, public corruption allegations aren’t limited to high-ranking congressmen or nationally-recognized figures. Whether you’re serving as a small-town mayor, a police chief, or a business executive, you could face corruption or bribery charges under a variety of state and federal laws.

Public Corruption and Bribery Charges

“Public corruption” is something of an umbrella term that refers to state and federal statutes that make it a crime for a public official to accept bribes, services, or kickbacks in exchange for granting a favor or performing some other activity connected to his or her official office.
In most cases, a public official is accused of soliciting or receiving a bribe in return for doing something in connection with “an official act.” Prosecutors generally don’t have to prove that the public official actually followed through on the promised “exchange” – only that he or she promised to perform an official act or grant a specific favor.

Public officials accused of corruption can be prosecuted under several statutes, including the Hobbs Act and 18 U.S.C. §1346, which is often referred to as “honest services fraud.” These are complex federal statutes that have been refined by appellate and U.S. Supreme Court opinion.

The Hobbs Act

The Hobbs Act, named after the congressman who sponsored it and enacted in 1946, was originally passed to target racketeering practices in labor-management disputes, but courts have also interpreted it as extending to public officials who receive gifts and bribes “under color of official right”, which requires a public official to accept a bribe with the knowledge that he’s taking it in exchange for performing some kind of official act. The Hobbs Act treats public official corruption cases as extortion.

Honest Services Fraud

“Honest services fraud” falls under the federal mail and wire fraud statute and refers to a public official’s theft of his or her own “honest services” from the federal government. Public officials can be prosecuted for either accepting bribes or failing to disclose a conflict of interest that results in an official’s own personal gain. Common corruption cases prosecuted under the mail and wire fraud statute include:

  • A public official who grants a contract to a family member without disclosing the conflict of interest
  • A business executive who bribes a public official in exchange for favors or special treatment
  • A public official who accepts gifts bestowed because of his or her position

Public officials convicted of federal corruption, extortion, and bribery charges face much more than just the loss of their jobs and their reputation. Because these crimes are classified as “white collar crimes”, some people assume that the penalties connected to them are minimal compared to violent crimes. This is untrue. Convicted public officials can spend up to 20 years in prison and pay significant fines if convicted under the Hobbs Act or Section 1343 “honest services fraud.”

Indeed, many notable politicians and business executives have served time in federal prison after being convicted under these statutes, including former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, and former California Congressman Duke Cunningham.

Indiana Public Corruption Defense

If you’ve been charged with extortion or any form of corruption or fraud in connection with a public office, your entire future is riding on your criminal defense. Call Razumich Law, P.C. today at 317-989-1129 for a free consultation.

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