4 Commonly Misinterpreted Public Corruption Charges
Public corruption is a broad category of white collar crime. As such, various allegations of public corruption can be faced by government employees, public figures, politicians, and even businesspeople. Though you’ve probably heard terms like “embezzlement” and “bribery” in movies and on TV shows, you might not know the actual definition of terms like these and what can cause individuals to end up with devastating public corruption charges in real life.
In this blog post, we’ll be defining 4 commonly misinterpreted reasons for public corruption charges:
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Most people think of bribery like this: someone gives a public official money or something else valuable so that they will (corruptly) influence how the public official performs their duties. In actuality, the definition of bribery is somewhat broader than that.
Giving or just promising to give something of value with the corrupt intention of influencing how a public official performs their duties can be considered “bribing.” The act of a public official receiving or just agreeing to receive something of value in exchange for a corrupt act can be considered “accepting a bribe.”
Even if the public official doesn’t actually complete the task that was promised in exchange for money or whatever else, they could still face charges for a bribery offense.
Bribery vs. Gifts
There can be some confusion as to what ultimately separates a gift from a bribe. The distinction is important for public officials: a gift is given without any aim to influence the recipient’s discharge of their official duties.
Embezzlement is the act stealing or unauthorized use (misappropriation) of money, property, or another asset from a business partner, employer, or other person by someone who was entrusted to handle that money, property or other asset.
Many are quick to categorize embezzlement as a form of larceny or fraud, but there’s a major difference: the person who stole or misused the money was trusted with it in the first place. They were not authorized to take it for their own, but they did have some legitimate reason for handling it.
Embezzlement charges might result from someone’s actions while on the job or with property entrusted to them. For example, charging personal or unnecessary purchases to an organization’s expense account or borrowing money from an organization’s bank account without permission could result in embezzlement charges. Actions to cover up losses or misappropriation of funds, such as adjusting the books, fall under the “embezzlement umbrella” as well.
Misuse of a Public Office
While many people would like to apply this term to politicians or government officials they dislike, it probably would not be a correct legal usage of the term. In its most broad definition, misuse of public office occurs when a public official intentionally uses their public office either for their own private gain or for the gain of people or organizations with which they are personally associated.
This can take various forms, including using one’s title/office to:
Endorse a product, service, business, or enterprise with which they’re personally associated
Coerce others into taking a desired action
Make it appear as though a government has officially sanctioned something
Misuse of government property, personnel, property, data or other information, or anything else of value may also result in a criminal charge. It’s also important to note that a public official may not be the only one to get charged with a criminal offense: a non-public servant who helps them commit the offense may be charged as well.
Misappropriation of Public Funds
Misappropriation of public funds occurs when someone (usually a public official) misuses the funds in their area of responsibility. This crime is similar to embezzlement but pertains only to misused public funds. While public officials are usually the ones charged with this offense, any person with control of government money can also be charged.
Even if the funds were used with good intentions, a public official could still face a charge if the funds were not used within the bounds of their authority. For example, a public official might use public funds to help out a close friend or family member in need. Though a well-meaning gesture, this could result in a serious criminal charge.
For public corruption allegations, only the assistance of skilled defense attorneys can help you avoid a conviction and harsh punishments. Nick Lotito and Seth Kirschenbaum (both former federal prosecutors) have more than 60 years of combined trial experience, a commitment to excellence, and history of results that can benefit you.