While the image of "bribery" may bring to mind a meeting in an empty parking garage, or a shady deal with a suitcase full of money in a hotel room, bribery can result from a simple misunderstanding of how and when a gift can be given to a government official or business person. The State of Massachusetts takes bribery very seriously, and can impose serious penalties including jail time and fines, for anyone found guilty of bribery.
What is Bribery?
Bribery involves giving money or gifts or some item of value in order to influence the recipient of the gift. Bribery is a crime for both the person offering the bribe and for the person soliciting or receiving the bribe. Bribery involves more than giving a gift, and requires a "quid pro quo" relationship," meaning "something for something, " where the money or gift is contingent upon some beneficial treatment for the person offering the bribe.
There can be a substantial grey area in what kind of actions constitute bribery with public officials. For example, it may be legal to offer a campaign contribution to a politician, but it can turn to bribery if there is an understanding that the contribution gains the donor beneficial treatment not available without the "contribution."
Bribery of Public Officials in Massachusetts
Bribery falls under "corrupt gifts" in the Massachusetts General Laws. Whoever directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any state, county or municipal employee, or member of the judiciary, to give anything of value with the intent to influence an official act can be charged with the crime of bribing a public official. This could include influencing an official to take some action or to fail to act in violation of their lawful duty.
The same holds true for public officials, who directly or indirectly, corruptly asks, demands, solicits, accepts, or receives anything of value in return for influence can also be charged with bribery. This includes bribery to influence witnesses, or change testimony under oath in any trial or hearing, or to make themselves absent instead of appearing to testify.
Penalties for bribery of a public official, for either the official or the person paying the bribe, include imprisonment for up to 10 years, and a fine of up to $100,000. A conviction for bribery will also bar the individual from ever holding an office of trust, honor or profit under the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or for any other state, county or municipal agency.
In addition, bribery is a felony crime, and can have a lasting impact for anyone convicted of a felony, including limitations on the right to vote and the right to own a firearm, and on future job prospects.
Massachusetts is one of a handful of states with a specific statute penalizing certain commercial bribery. Commercial bribery involves gifts to influence business affairs, and is considered a crime against public policy.
Whoever offers, gives or agrees to give an agent any benefit or anything of value with the intent to influence the recipient's conduct, in relation to any business transaction or matter, can be charged with commercial bribery. This also applies to any agent or fiduciary who solicits, accepts or agrees to accept any benefit or anything of value with the agreement or understanding that it will influence their conduct.
Commercial bribery is considered a felony, and can be punished by prison of up to 5 years, and a fine of up to $10,000. As with bribery of a public official, a conviction for commercial bribery can result in losing a professional license, and can restrict future job prospects, especially for government jobs, or a position of trust.
Investigating and Prosecuting Bribery Charges
It can be difficult to prove charges of bribing a public official, which includes demonstrating the intent of either or both parties that the gift of money was used to influence a change of the official's authorized duties. Once law enforcement or other government officials become aware of possible bribery charges, they may set up a sting operation to catch the government official on camera or with audio recording, and use that evidence to establish intent.
Federal Bribery Charges
Bribery may be a federal crime if it involves any federal official. Under federal bribery laws, an executive branch employee may not demand, seek, receive, accept or agree to accept anything of value "in return for being influenced in the performance of any official act." Federal crimes are prosecuted in federal court, and jail time is served in a federal penitentiary.
Legal Defenses to Bribery Charges
The laws and defenses involving bribery of a public official or commercial bribery can be very complicated. An experienced Boston-area defense attorney with experience in these practice areas will be able to clarify the issues facing their client, and develop a defense strategy to get bribery charges dismissed, or reduced.
At Dhar Law, LLP, our committed criminal defense lawyers have years of experience representing clients facing bribery investigations or criminal bribery charges. If you become aware of a bribery investigation, learn of criminal bribery charges, or have any questions about bribery of a public official or commercial bribery, please contact our offices today for a consultation.