People taking a few dollars “under the table” for a favor to be granted later may be something that is often joked about in New York. The truth, however, is that federal officials take accusations of bribery very seriously. Indeed, according to information shared in the United States Attorneys’ Annual Statistical Report, there were 418 cases of official corruption involving 575 defendants filed in 2015 alone. A federal bribery conviction can carry with it stiff penalties. The question is when is it lawful for a transaction involving an official to be conducted?
The statute explaining federal bribery guidelines (as shared by the Legal Information Institute) defines a “public official” to be:
- A member of Congress
- A Delegate
- A Resident Commissioner
- Any officer, employee or person acting for or on behalf of the United States or any agency of its government
Furthermore, those selected to public office by nomination or appointment are also covered under this statute.
The law specifically forbids any public official or one selected to public office to demand, seek, accept or agree to accept anything of value from another party in return for certain favors or advantages. These include influencing the performance or outcome of an official act (including choosing to omit the performance of one’s duties), or allowing or colluding in the commission of fraud.
Officials are also prohibited from receiving any sort of compensation in exchange for influence over their testimonies (or the decision excuse themselves from testifying) in a trial or hearing. However, an official may accept payment for lawful witness fees, as well as reimbursement for travel, subsistence and time lost from a party on whose behalf the he or she has been called to testify.