In St. Petersburg, people accused of trying to influence public servants illegally by offering money or some other benefit, along with elected officials or government employees who agree to accept money or under-the-table benefits in exchange for some type of favorable action, can face bribery charges [Fla. Stat. § 838.015]. Viewed as a white-collar crime, bribery is a second-degree felony, punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years, a maximum fine of $10,000 or both [Fla. Stat. §§ 775.082, 775.083]. A skilled criminal defense attorney at Goldman Wetzel may be able to mitigate charges.
A wide range of offenses can bring bribery charges, from a contractor offering government officials cash or something of value to win a competitive bid for services to a police officer accepting cash to “look the other way” and not arrest someone for a crime. People who attempt to bribe jurors in state criminal or civil trials may also face bribery charges.
But bribery is not limited to government offenses. Private individuals can be convicted of accepting a commercial bribe if they are:
- An agent or employee of another
- A legally recognized trustee, guardian or other fiduciary representative
- A lawyer, doctor, accountant, appraiser or other licensed professional
- An officer, director, partner, manager or anyone who directs the affairs of an organization
- An arbitrator or other third party, adjudicator, or mediator (including referees at sporting events)
A conviction of offering or receiving a commercial bribe in any of the above scenarios – a second degree felony – can bring a sentence of up to 15 years in prison [Fla. Stat. § 838.016(4)].
Federal Bribery Charges Are as Serious as Florida’s Charges
Willful bribery of a federal public official, juror, or witness in a trial (or accepting a bribe) is a federal crime if the offense involves any of (but not limited to) the following:
- An agent acting on behalf of the U.S. government, a federal employee, a witness under oath in any federal proceeding, or a juror [18 US Code § 201] – If the charge involves any of the aforementioned, the accused can be fined up to “three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value” and/or imprisoned for up to 15 years. The accused may also be banned from ever holding a similar office. This is in regards to bribery [18 US Code § 201(b)]. If the charges are in regards to illegal gratuities [18 US Code § 201(c)], the accused is subject to fines and/or up to two years in prison. Note: For bribery to take place, “there must be a quid pro quo – a specific intent to give or receive something of value in exchange for an official act.” But an illegal gratuity, “may constitute merely a reward for some future act that the public official will take (and may already have determined to take), or for a past act that he has already taken.” [U.S. Office of Government Ethics]
- A bank official [18 US Code § 215) – If the charge involves an employee of a financial institution, the accused may be fined up to $1 million dollars or up to three times the value of the bribe (whichever is greater) and/or imprisoned for up to 30 years. If the bribe is less than $1,000, the accused may face fines and/or imprisonment of up to one year.
- Port security or U.S. Customs [US Code § 226] – If the charges involve an attempt to circumvent port security or U.S. Customs, the accused can face fines and/or imprisonment of up to 15 years.
- A sporting event [US Code § 224] – If the charges involve a sporting event affecting interstate commerce, the accused may be fined and/or face up to 5 years in prison.
In instances of enterprise corruption, underlying charges of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, money laundering, fraud, and other charges might accompany the bribery allegations [18 US Code §§ 1503, 1504 & 1505].
Defenses of Bribery Charges in St. Petersburg
Because the burden of proof is on the prosecution in any bribery charge, there are many ways to defend yourself. A few of the most common include:
- Proving lack of interaction with the public official or accuser;
- Your credible reputation as a respected professional; and
- Your attorney successfully assails the credibility and background of the accuser.
Suspicion of bribery can destroy a person’s professional reputation well before the trial. This is why at the first hint of a bribery charge, it is essential that you retain an experienced criminal defense attorney at Goldman Wetzel to protect your constitutional rights during the investigation.
If you are charged with any bribery offense or are under investigation for such crimes, Goldman Wetzel offers a free evaluation and can help you mount the most effective defense possible. Contact us at 727-828-3900 or fill out our online contact form.