Public corruption and its penalties

As a public official, whether at the local, state or federal level, your constituents – and the law – hold you to a high standard of ethical conduct. Should someone accuse you of doing something that breaches the public’s trust in you, you could find yourself accused of public corruption and prosecuted therefor. 

Public corruption represents an umbrella term that includes a number of specific crimes, including the following: 

  • Solicitation of or acceptance of a bribe 
  • Solicitation of or acceptance of a kickback 
  • Mishandling of government funds 
  • Extortion 
  • Any type of fraud 

Public corruption penalties

The FBI serves as the main investigatory body for virtually all public corruption allegations. However, each jurisdiction sets its own penalties for conviction of each type of public corruption. These penalties generally increase in severity based on the seriousness of the crime and its impact on the public. 

If you are a California public official, for instance, and a court convicts you of bribery, you could spend as long as four years in a state prison, whether or not you actually accepted the bribe. If you did not, you still face having to pay a restitution fine of between $4,000 and $20,000 in addition to serving your prison sentence. 

If convicted of accepting a bribe, again you face a maximum 4-year prison term, but the amount of your restitution fine depends on the amount of the bribe you accepted. For smaller bribe, California Penal Code, Section 85, sets the fine at the bribe’s actual amount or $4,000, whichever is greater. For larger bribes, your fine amount could be double the bribe amount or $20,000, whichever is higher.