A public corruption investigation or prosecution can often destroy a person's career, as well as his or her public image. These cases include allegations of bribery, government contract fraud, theft of honest services, and a host of other matters. These cases are often investigated by the federal government, and result in prosecution in the federal court system. Public corruption cases involve some unique legal issues. Additionally, these matters come with intense media scrutiny. Anyone caught up in such an investigation or prosecution needs the services of a highly skilled and competent criminal defense lawyer who is accustomed to working in the federal system.
Like most white collar matters, during the course of its investigation, the Government generally relies upon grand jury subpoenas to gather information and facilitate the investigative process. As described elsewhere on this site, responding to a grand jury subpoena requires expertise and experience in handling this crucial phase of an investigation. Even more important is the fact that while the grand jury is supposed to handle its business in secret, quite often there is a “leak” to the media to the effect that some person or entity got a subpoena related to a potential public corruption matter. The lawyer handling the matter needs to not only know how to respond to the subpoena itself, he or she must have a strategy in place to handle the publicity that always comes about after someone leaks to the press about how the grand jury is looking into the situation.
Another favorite tactic in such investigations is when a federal agent shows up at your door unannounced and asks to speak with you. They know that you will rarely refuse to speak with an agent who knocks on the door and flashes his or her badge. This is why anyone who is remotely involved in such a case needs to be prepared in advance for what to do if the agents make one of these “home visits.”
If the grand jury decides to return indictments in a public corruption matter, the next question is what type of crimes will be alleged against the defendant. We discuss elsewhere on this site how the mail fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud statues are often the favorite choices of federal prosecutors. Over the past two decades there have been a series of cases decided in the United States Supreme Court which have greatly affected the reach of these statutes. For example, until fairly recently federal prosecutors brought many public corruption cases by using what is called the “honest services” theory. The idea behind this theory is that even if a public official did not get any money or property from his or her fraudulent conduct, the official nevertheless robbed the public of its intangible right to honest services. Recent rulings have tremendously affected the use of the honest services theory. Any person named in a public corruption indictment needs an attorney who is well-versed on these laws, the honest services theory and how the courts have refined the breadth of these statutes.
Not only do public corruption cases often involve unique challenges based on grand jury leaks, publicity and ever-changing interpretations of the fraud statutes, such cases also require an in-depth understanding of the wickedly complex Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Any person named as a defendant in such a case needs to have a lawyer who can make a reasonably accurate prediction as to how these sentencing rules might play out if the defendant is convicted by a jury or decides to plead guilty.
For all of these reasons, it is critical to seek competent counsel as soon as you learn that your name has been associated with a public corruption investigation. Throughout the course of our careers, we have handled a wide variety of matters involving allegations of public corruption. Feel free to call us at (404) 588-3991 or contact us online if you need any assistance on a public corruption matter.