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Bribery is the offer or acceptance of anything of value in exchange for influence on a government/public official or employee. In general, bribes can take the form of gifts or payments of money in exchange for favorable treatment, such as awards of government contracts. Other forms of bribes may include property, various goods, privileges, services and favors.

The following provides an overview of the crime of bribery. See FindLaw's Fraud and Financial Crimes section for related content.

Bribery: An Overview

Bribes are always intended to influence or alter the action of various individuals and go hand in hand with both political and public corruption. No written agreement is necessary to prove the crime of bribery, but a prosecutor generally must show corrupt intent. In most situations, both the person offering the bribe and the person accepting can be charged with bribery.

Another crime often associated (and sometimes confused) with bribery is extortion. The difference is that bribery offers a positive reward for compliance ("Do this for me and I'll do that for you."), whereas extortion uses threats of violence or other negative acts in exchange for compliance ("Do this for me or else I'll hurt you."). 

Elements of a Bribery Charge

At the most fundamental level, charges of bribery need only to prove that an agreement for the exchange of something of value (political influence, for example) for a sum of money or something else of value. There need not be a written agreement, but prosecutors must be able to prove that an agreement was actually made. For example, a taped phone call between a politician and the party offering the bribe may be sufficient evidence. Similarly, a police body cam video of a driver handing the officer cash before being let go would suffice.

The federal government, however, has very specific elements that it uses to prosecute cases of bribery against federal employees. These include the following:

  1. The individual being bribed is a "public official," which includes rank-and-file federal employees on up to elected officials;
  2. A "thing of value" has been offered, whether it's tangible (such as cash) or intangible (such as the promise of influence or official support);
  3. There is an "official act" that may be influenced by a bribe (such as pending legislation that may have a direct impact on the party offering the bribe);
  4. The public official has the authority or power to commit the official act (for instance, the official is a senator who is voting on a particular piece of legislation);
  5. There must be the establishment of intent on the part of the bribing party to get a desired result (the intent to sway the vote by handing over an envelope full of cash); and
  6. The prosecution must establish a causal connection between the payment and the act. In other words, there must be more than just a suspicious coincidence. Did the payment influence the act? Prosectors will have to prove this.


Examples of Bribery

Bribery can happen in many different spheres of influence. In the sporting world, for example, one boxer might offer another a payoff to "throw" (deliberately lose) an important fight. Or a gambler may offer to pay a basketball player to “shave” points off the score so a team loses by more points. If a referee or other sporting official is convicted or bribery, the punishment can consist of a fine and imprisonment of up to five years.

In the corporate arena, a company could bribe employees of a rival company for recruitment services. Even when public officials are involved, a bribe does not need to be harmful to the public interest in order to be illegal.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977 makes it unlawful for a United States citizen, as well as certain foreign issuers of securities, to pay a foreign official in order to obtain business with any person. In 1998 a provision to the Act was added which applies to any foreign firms or foreign-born persons who take any act in furtherance of a corrupt payment while in the United States.

Get a Free Legal Consultation

Bribery could result in charges in a wide variety of courts, and the evidence or statements that come out in one court might be used against you in another. As such, an organized and forward-looking strategy for defense should be developed. Contact a qualified local attorney for a free consultation.


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