Public Corruption


Public corruption is a broad category. Federal prosecutors’ offices often have specialized units that do nothing but public corruption work; perhaps the best known office for these kinds of cases is the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section.

These offices do a broad range of cases. They will bring some very high profile charges, like the indictment of former governor Bob McDonnell, or charges against former U.S. Senator and Presidential Candidate John Edwards.

But they also do cases that have a lower profile. Public integrity units in U.S. Attorney’s Offices will bring cases against a broad range of people who aren’t senior politicians.

For example, the Department of Justice often brings criminal cases against federal employees based on allegations of a criminal conflict of interest. The federal conflict of interest laws are complex, and carry criminal sanctions with them. Federal employees can run afoul of these relatively easily. Prosecutors will say that they only prosecute the worst offenders, but there’s room for people to disagree with that assessment.

Federal employees receive other scrutiny by the government – and criminal prosecution – for wage and hour fraud, bribery, false statements on the job, and a host of other things. There’s even a statute, which is thankfully very rarely used, that makes it a crime for a federal employee to do his or her job when there’s a government shutdown because of Washington political wrangling.

The Department of Justice also brings cases against federal contractors and people involved in the federal contracting and procurement process. Fraud, bribery, and bid rigging are all charges we’ve seen based on someone’s involvement with federal contracting.

Federal prosecutors can sometimes bring cases against state officials for campaign finance violations, or for abusing their government positions.

Prosecutors who bring public corruption charges don’t generally restrict themselves to just bribery or campaign finance allegations; they use the entire set of criminal laws to charge the people they’re investigating and prosecuting. So, for example, it’s not uncommon at all for a federal prosecutor to bring a wire fraud charge or an obstruction of justice charge. Virtually all federal indictments contain a conspiracy charge. And tax counts are still available and present in many public corruption cases.

If you’ve been charged with a public corruption offense, or are under investigation for something related to public corruption, and you want to know what to expect and what will happen to you, you ought to spend some time learning about what happens in a federal criminal case generally – a public corruption investigation functions much like any other federal criminal investigation. The pretrial and trial process in federal court for a case against a Senator is basically the same as it is for a case against a drug dealer. Your appeal options don’t change just because it’s a case involving the federal or state government.

That said, there are some unique things about public corruption cases. The law can be slightly different and the information here can help you with that. Also, if you’re a federal employee, you may want to check out some of our information that applies primarily to federal employees.

Ultimately, the more you know about the law, the process, and what’s happening to you, the better you’ll be able to respond to the charges against you and survive the process. Please, take the time to understand the information on this page.

If you are interested in hiring a lawyer, this page on our site should give you some guidance. And we would be happy to talk to you as well

Additional Public Corruption Resources: