What is Federal Bribery?

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Federal Bribery is a charge that is brought against individuals who offer or attempt to offer gifts, money or anything else of value in an effort to influence an official act. Although bribery is usually prosecuted on a state level, some types of cases are prosecuted criminally on the federal level. Specifically, the following criminal statutes apply to federal bribery charges:

  • Bribery of a Public Official,
  • Illegal Gratuity to a Public Official,
  • Receipt of Commissions or Gifts for Procuring Loans,
  • Conspiracy.

What is Bribery?

Bribery is a crime involving individuals offering gifts or money to public officials in exchange of better treatment. Although in some countries, bribery is accepted as a way of doing business, it is a crime in the United States on both the state and the federal level. It is a crime to both give a bribe and receive a bribe. The following are examples of bribery:

  • Paying a Judge to get a lighter or more lenient sentence,
  • Offering money to a police officer not to write a ticket,
  • Sending a government official on an all-expenses paid trip in exchange for expediting construction permits.

What is Federal Bribery?

There are several criminal statutes that apply to federal bribery. Specifically, they are:

It is also crime for public officials to directly or indirectly, corruptly demand, seek, receive, accept, or agree to accept anything of value personally in return for being influenced in the performance of any official act, to commit or aid in committing or allow any fraud, or be induced to do or omit any act in violation of their official duties.

Bribery of a Public Official

Under 18 U.S.C. § 201(b)(1), a person may be guilty of bribing a public official if s/he directly or indirectly gives or promises to give something of value with intent to influence the public official’s performance of an official act, or omit preforming an official act in violation of official’s public duty. Under federal criminal law, a public official includes any officer, employee, or agent of the United States or any department, agency, or branch of the federal government who is acting in an official capacity.  Interestingly, federal jurors are also considered “public officials” under this statute.

Illegal Gratuity to a Public Official

The federal bribery charge of Illegal Gratuity to a Public Official is codified in 18 U.S.C. § 201(c)(1)(A). Under this statute, a person is guilty of providing illegal gratuity to a public official if that person directly or indirectly gives or offers something of value to a public official because of an official act performed by the public official.  

Importantly, there must be a connection between giving something value and influence over a specific official act. Similarly, public officials are defined as officers, employees or agents of the United States or its departments, agencies, or branches. Federal jurors are also considered public officials.

Receipt of Commissions or Gifts for Procuring Loans

Simply put, the federal bribery charge of Receipt of Commissions or Gifts for Procuring Loans involves bribery or reward of a bank officer. This charge is codified in 18 U.S.C. § 215(a)(1). Under this federal bribery charge, bank officers include directors, employees, agents, or attorneys of a financial institution.


Conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to engage in criminal conduct that has at least one overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. Individuals in the conspiracy can be charged with federal bribery charges, for acts of their co-conspirator.

What Are the Elements of Federal Bribery Charges?

To prove that a person violated the federal criminal statute relating to bribery, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant:

  • Gave, offered, or promised something of value
  • To a public official
  • With the corrupt intent to influence an official act

The prosecutor must show that there was a quid pro quo meaning that the thing of value was given with the specific corrupt intent to influence the government official’s act. As with all criminal cases, the prosecutor must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

What Are the Penalties for Federal Bribery?

The penalties for federal bribery charges are:

  • Up to 15 years imprisonment, AND
  • A fine up to three times the value of the bribe, AND
  • Potential disqualification of the individual from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

What Are the Defenses for Bribery Charges?

Each case requires its own assessment and development of a defense theory. Generally speaking, the most common defense to federal bribery charges is that the individual lacked intent to influence a government official. Intent is usually the hardest element for a federal prosecutor to prove on bribery cases. That is because intent is generally proven through circumstantial evidence, that is to say that it can be inferred from the other evidence on the case.

Also, federal bribery attorneys frequently focus on the lack of evidence on a case in order to persuade the jury that the Government cannot meet their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Unlawful Acts of Bribery and Possible Penalties?

Bribery laws prohibit many acts, each with its own potential penalties upon conviction. Examples of bribery crimes and the associated penalties include:

Bribery of a public official – Fifteen years in federal prison and a fine that is three times the amount offered to the public official.

Illegal gratuity to a public official – Two years in federal prison and criminal fines.

Bribery or reward of a bank officer – If the bribe was more than $1,000, you can face 30 years in prison and fines of three times the bribe or $1 million, whichever is more. For bribes of less than $1,000, the penalties can include one year in prison and fines.

Conspiracy – Conspiracy to commit a federal felony offense like bribery can mean five years in prison plus fines. Both the act of bribery and a conspiracy to commit bribery can be charged against the same person.

As you can see, the law takes bribery very seriously and allows for harsh consequences for convicted offenders. Hire the right defense attorney to protect your rights and defend against bribery allegations you may face.

Is it Illegal to Bribe Public Officials?

DC law prohibits any person or entity from corruptly offering, promising, or giving a bribe to any public official. Second, the law prohibits any person defined as a “public official” from corruptly demanding, seeking, receiving, or accepting a bribe. The law defines “public official” as a member of Congress, an officer of the U.S. government, an employee of the U.S. government, any person who acts on behalf of or with the authority of any agency, branch, or department of the government, including the DC government, or any juror. DC Code criminalizes both sides of a bribery-related transaction.

To be convicted of bribery, the U.S. government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt these basic elements of the offense:

  • the bribed official must be a “public official” (or other person named in the statute)
  • the person accused of bribing the official must directly or indirectly, corruptly give, offer, or promise something of value to the public official
  • the person accused of bribery must have the intent to induce the public official to act in violation of his lawful duty

These three elements of the bribery charge are mirrored for offenses involving a public official who corruptly seeks or demands a bribe. Bribes of public officials may take many forms, such as monetary payments, transfers of property, or other gifts in exchange for votes, appointments, government contracts, or funding.

The statute additionally prohibits bribes involving a witness set to give testimony at a hearing, trial, or other court proceedings that is intended to influence the content of the testimony under oath or influence the witness to be absent from the proceeding.

The penalties under the statute for bribery of a public official or witness apply to all involved parties and may include the some or all the following:

  • Up to 15 years in federal prison
  • A fine of up to three times the value of the bribe
  • Disqualification from ever holding an office or position of profit, honor, or trust under the U.S. government

What are Commercial Bribes?

Commercial bribery charges can involve claims that bribes were offered to employees or agents of a company so that the individual or entity receives a business advantage over competitors. This type of bribery does not have to involve public officials to be considered unlawful. Types of alleged commercial bribery may include kickbacks, bribes of labor union representatives, and the rigging of bids in contracts. There are also laws that prohibit bribery in federal programs that may be administered by private companies and state or local governments.

Although there are no federal laws that expressly criminalize commercial bribery, the federal government may use the mail and wire fraud statutes (e.g., honest services fraud) or the Travel Act to prosecute commercial bribery. If mail, telephone, or the Internet is used as part of the alleged bribery, prosecutors may deem the bribery as a fraudulent scheme and may choose to prosecute under the theory of mail or wire fraud. Additionally, a prosecutor may use the Travel Act to bring charges against an individual if the so-called bribe involved interstate mail, travel, or communication, and the state in question has a law against commercial bribery.

Contact Top Rated Federal Attorneys

If you or a loved one has been charged with federal bribery, or suspect you are under investigation, you need to consult experienced federal attorneys for assistance with your case. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.