The Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section specializes in investigating federal public corruption of both state and federal officials. There are three statutes that are commonly used against state and local officials charged with public corruption. As the United States Supreme Court observed, “[A] democracy is effective only if the people have faith in those who govern, and that faith is bound to be shattered when high officials and their appointees engage in activities which arouse suspicions of malfeasance and corruption.” United States v. Miss. Valley Generating Co., 364 U.S. 520, 562 (1961).
Honest Services Fraud, Mail and Wire Fraud (18 USC 1341, 1343)
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Under these statutes, sending an email or mailer as part of a scheme to defraud is sufficient for a conviction. The email or mailer does not need to have any fraudulent information. Federal prosecutors need only show that the mailing or email was a “step” in the fraudulent scheme. “To be part of the execution of the fraud, however, the use of the mails need not be an essential element of the scheme. It is sufficient for the mailing to be incident to an essential part of the scheme, or a step in [the] plot.” Schmuck v. United States, 489 U.S. 705, 710-11 (U.S. 1989). A fraudulent scheme includes “a scheme . . . to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.” (18 USC §1346). Click here for mail fraud and wire fraud.
The Hobbs Act (18 USC 1951)
The Hobbs Act can be used to prosecute bribery even though it is traditionally thought of as the robbery statute. United States v. Evans, 504 U.S. 255 (1992). “[T]he offense is completed at the time when the public official receives a payment in return for his agreement to perform specific official acts; fulfillment of the quid pro quo is not an element of the offense.”
The RICO Act (18 USC 1962)
The RICO Act makes it makes it unlawful for a public official, “employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities or which affect interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate . . . in the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity.” A Hobbs Act violation can become a basis for a RICO Act prosecution when there are two or more shareable or indictable or punishable predicate offenses. The RICO Act makes the public official subject to higher penalties than under the Hobbs Act. A conviction under the RICO Act (with predicate acts of bribery) carries a potential 20-year sentence.
The laws surrounding public corruption can be complex. Charges can be brought at the state or federal level. If you are charged with or investigated for public corruption, reach out to our attorneys for the most up-to-date laws, their application, and a strategy session.