Bribery & Public Corruption Defense
Public officials, politicians, and the business executives who regularly deal with them are all at risk of being investigated for or charged with violations of federal bribery and corruption statutes (18 U.S.C. 215, 18 U.S.C. 201, 18 U.S.C. 666) including the Hobbs Act (18 U.S.C. 1951) and honest services mail and wire fraud (18 U.S.C. §1341, 18 U.S.C. §1343, 18U.S.C. § 1346).
Attorneys Solomon L. Wisenberg and Adrienne Urrutia Wisenberg have successfully represented clients exposed to these charges in all phases of the criminal justice process, from investigation, trial and sentencing to appeal. Their successes include:
- Several witnesses and subjects were questioned in a high-profile FBI investigation into Congressional corruption. No charges were filed.
- A Delaware federal grand jury indicted an elected official on multiple Hobbs Act felony counts, which could have resulted in several years of federal prison time. The Government offered a misdemeanor tax plea 10 days before trial. The client pleaded guilty to the tax misdemeanor and the Court sentenced him to three years probation. The Government dismissed all felony charges.
- A Department of Homeland Security official was indicted and convicted for attempting to harbor an alien. After hiring Mr. and Mrs. Wisenberg to handle the appeal, his harboring conviction was overturned by the Third Circuit.
Most public corruption cases involve allegations that a public official solicited or received a bribe, kickback, or gratuity "in return for" or "in connection with" some official action, or that a person offered or gave such a bribe, kickback or gratuity to the public official "in return for" or "in connection with an official act". A bribe or gratuity does not have to be given or received — the promise alone is usually enough to constitute a crime. Even if a public official corruptly accepts money for an act he would have taken anyway, he still may be guilty under federal bribery and public corruption statutes.
What Is the Hobbs Act?
The Hobbs Act was originally intended to prosecute racketeering during labor-management disputes, but has been used for years to prosecute charges of public corruption under the legal fiction that bribes, kickbacks, and gratuities given and received "under color of official right" amount to "extortion" affecting interstate commerce. The Hobbs Act is a favorite tool of prosecutors because it often allows them to pursue longer sentences than are available through other federal public corruption and bribery statutes.
Honest Services Fraud
Individuals can also be prosecuted for the theft of their own honest services from the government or from a private employer, as long as the U.S. mails or interstate wires are used in connection with the alleged theft of honest services. Examples include:
- A government official who awards contracts to an immediate family member without disclosing this conflict of interest
- A public official who receives a stream of gifts simply for being a public official and not for any particular act
- A company employee who takes advantage of an outside business opportunity without first informing his employer
- An executive who violates his company's conflict of interest policy through any conduct involving use of the mails or interstate wires.
Honest services mail and wire fraud charges, like conspiracy charges, are among the favorite weapons in the federal prosecutor's arsenal, because the concept of honest services fraud is broad enough to cover all kinds of conduct that the government disfavors. And if a federal prosecutor is after you and cannot find a real crime to charge you with, he is likely to seize on honest services fraud as an easier method of getting you out of the way.
The United States Supreme Court recently scaled back the reach of honest services fraud prosecutions with its opinion in Skilling v. United States. Unfortunately, the Court did not rule the honest services fraud statute unconstitutional, so we can expect to see continued aggressive use of this tool by the government. To arrange a consultation about allegations of public corruption, bribery or Hobbs Act violations, please contact us, white collar criminal defense attorneys Solomon L. Wisenberg and Adrienne Urrutia Wisenberg at the Washington, D.C. office of Barnes & Thornburg LLP.