Public officials, including public employees, are usually tasked in reviewing controversial projects, high stakes approvals, or polarizing public policy issues. Unfortunately, local government leaders and employees are sometimes subject to increased and unfair scrutiny and allegations of public corruption, breach of trust or abuse of power. Whether receiving bribes or illegal gratuities, embezzling government funds or property, or conspiring to participate in criminal conduct, public corruption is a crime that is vigorously prosecuted in federal and state courts.
In fact, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office has a dedicated Public Corruption Unit that is made of up senior prosecutors “that aggressively prosecute government employees, elected officials and others who violate the public trust.” The State is so serious and aggressive in tackling public corruption that it also works to identify potential cases and runs an anonymous tip line.
Not only can a conviction lead to severe penalties, including fines and imprisonment, disgraced public officials typically suffer permanent reputational harm. With so much at stake, it is essential for any public official or employee who has been accused of public corruption to have aggressive and experienced legal representation.
Located in West Palm Beach, Herman Law, P.A. has extensive experience handling public corruption charges throughout the state of Florida. Well-versed in the applicable federal and state statutes and criminal procedures, we have a proven track record of successfully trying public corruption cases and a well-earned reputation for protecting the rights of our clients.
What is public corruption?
Public corruption occurs when public officials act in their own best interest by accepting money from third parties for acting on their behalf, misappropriating public funds, or stealing government property. Public officials include officers, employees or agents of the United States or any department, agency or branch of the federal government who are acting in an official capacity.
While public corruption is a federal crime that is investigated and prosecuted by federal agencies including the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), all local, state and federal government officials are subject to federal anticorruption laws.
Florida’s Anti-Corruption Act applies to any government employee or officer, and public contractors, and carries heavy criminal penalties.
Do I need to worry about an Ethics Code or Florida Sunshine Law investigation?
Although criminal penalties for violations of the state ethics code no longer apply, state and local ethics commissions can and have referred violations to the state attorney’s office for prosecution. For example, in Palm Beach County, public officials, employees, lobbyists, and board members are subject to the County’s Code of Ethics which prohibits certain conduct, as well as requires certain conduct, such as disclosures.
Florida is also proud of its broad Sunshine Law, which requires that public officials meet in the open and that the government retain and provide records to the public. Violations of the Sunshine Law can also result in criminal charges. Although an innocent public official may think they can handle a simple ethics code or Sunshine Law investigation, a misstep or a statement to an investigator could have serious implications down the road and result in additional subpoenas, longer and more detailed investigation and more severe charges. The earlier we are retained, the better we can help defend your case and reputation.
At Herman Law, P.A. we have defended public officials, employees, and contractors against the following public corruption charges:
- Receiving a Bribe — Public officials may not act corruptly (i.e., act with an unlawful purpose), directly or indirectly demand, or agree to receive, something of value in exchange for being influenced in the performance or nonperformance of an official act. An official act includes any decision or action taken by, or any proceeding that may be brought before, a public official. Bribery may be punishable by up to fifteen years in federal prison and fines, or both.
- Receiving an Illegal Gratuity — Public officials may not demand of receive something of value in exchange for performing an official act, punishable by up to two years in prison and fines, or both.
- Theft of Government Money or Property — Public officials are prohibited from knowingly stealing or embezzling government money or property for their own use. The punishment is determined by the market value of the property at any time during the commission of the crime. If the property is valued at $1,000 or more, punishable by fines and up to ten years in a federal prison; less than $1,000, up to one year in a federal prison and fines, or both.
- Conspiracy — Occurs when a public official willfully agrees with one or more other parties to engage in criminal conduct, and at least one of the individuals involved takes one act to carry out the crime. The public official must only be aware of the scheme, however, and does not need to know all of the details of the crime or the identities of other participants involved. Conspiracy charges still apply even if the goals of the conspiracy are not achieved. Generally considered a felony, punishable by up to five years in federal prison and fines, or both.
- Financial Disclosure Violations — failure to fully complete and timely file all required financial forms, disclose potential voting conflicts, and otherwise comply with numerous obligations to which public officials and employees are subject, usually forms the basis of criminal charges.
How Herman Law, P.A. Defends Public Corruption Charges and Ethics Laws Violations
If you are under investigation for public corruption, the sooner you call us, the stronger your defense will be. We have a proven track record of designing effective legal defense strategies against public corruption charges. Our attorneys will assess the activities that are being investigated and what the potential charges and penalties may be. We will also represent you before any government investigators and prosecutors so that your rights are fully protected, particularly your right not to incriminate yourself.
Knowing that the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed a crime, we will aggressively challenge the government’s evidence and demonstrate the weakness of the case against you. Moreover, prosecutors must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intentionally acted in an unlawful manner. We will explain to you and discuss together the elements of the crime and whether you lacked the necessary intent to commit the alleged crimes.
If you are facing public corruption charges, we will work to win an acquittal, preserve any professional licenses, and help you avoid jail time and fines. Depending on the strength of the evidence against you, we may also have to have the charges reduced. Above all, we believe that anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty, including public officials, and will work tirelessly to protect your rights and your good name. When your reputation and livelihood as a public servant are in jeopardy, you need aggressive legal representation that we are prepared to provide. Please reach out by contacting us in confidence today.