There are few privileges greater than being elected or appointed to public office. But even the best public servants make mistakes. When a public servant does make a mistake, the law can be particularly harsh. This harshness is compounded by the aggressiveness of the media, police, prosecutors, and courts in a public corruption case. An allegation of public corruption does not mean that you are corrupt, however. The federal government typically prosecutes actual graft (illegal activity in which people in power use their position and influence to get money and advantages). At the state level, “public corruption” is more often a long-standing political practice that’s due to be changed, oversight in the execution of duties, or commission of a petty crime unrelated to the public service. But the consequences are more than just conviction for a crime. Even misdemeanor convictions can result in sizeable monetary payments, removal from office or position, bars to future office-holding or employment, and loss of pensions. Without experienced representation at the first sign of trouble, you can be essentially convicted of public corruption before your case ever hits a courtroom. At Stracci Law Group, we’ve handled dozens of public corruption cases and know how to navigate the complex maze of reporters, investigators, and prosecutors to make sure you’re treated fairly, and that simple human mistakes are distinguished from true corruption.
Understanding the Allegations Against You
Often, the first question in a public corruption case is, “What crime did I commit?” Sometimes the answer is obvious. A public servant drives drunk. A police officer shoplifts. These types of cases should be handled no differently than any other shoplifting or drunk driving – a principle we at Stracci Law Group keep front and center in our representation. At other times, however, the answer is not so obvious. What if you mishandled government money or hired a relative in your office? What if you or one of your staff accidentally campaigned on government time or using government property? In Indiana, public corruption tied directly to the public position typically falls into one of four categories.
The word bribery, for most, brings to mind shady meetings where envelopes of cash are surreptitiously slid across tables in dimly-lit rooms. Bribery, however, is essentially any quid pro quo for an official act. Offering a police officer a restaurant gift card for stopping someone with a suspended license is bribery even though that officer had the power and obligation to do it anyway. Handing out “walking around money” to get people to the polls to vote for you, an old practice that not long ago was very common, meets the definition of bribery. Even free or discounted goods and services can, in some circumstances, constitute bribery, a level 6 felony, if there is a political will to pursue it. It is the nature of human beings generally and politics specifically to help each other out. Showing the difference between good intentions and those envelopes of cash in shady low-lit rooms requires tactful aggressive representation.
Like bribery, ghost employment evokes a certain picture: the employee who never comes to work but still receives a paycheck. But ghost employment can be much less. What if you take more paid time off than allotted due to a long-term family emergency? What if one of the employees in your office volunteers to pick up your dry cleaning or yard signs while they are out in the field? What if you invite your employees to come to a speaking event about your office that also doubles as a campaign event? These little kindnesses can, with the proper motivation, be prosecuted as ghost employment, a level 6 felony. And, they are all too common in a compassionate, team-oriented environment. Protecting you from politically motivated prosecution for being a team player takes experienced defense attorneys.
Conflict of Interest/Profiteering
Conflict of interest and profiteering bar having a pecuniary interest in government dealings during and after your public service. However, it covers more than simply paying yourself with government funds. What if you hire your kid’s summer painting company to touch up the office? What if you start a records preservation company right after leaving office to address the need for that office to modernize? These situations can often result in accusations of conflict of interest or profiteering, level 6 felonies, even when handled in an open and honest manner. But truly committing a crime in these situations depends heavily on minute details. If you’re accused of conflict of interest or profiteering, you need a defense well-versed in the nuances of government finance and criminal law.
Official misconduct is the hammer of state public corruption crimes. The Indiana Code is littered with specific offenses related to public service, many of which are infractions or misdemeanors. Interfering with or failing to provide a report to the state examiner is an infraction. So is failing to follow public notice rules for meetings or governmental actions. Making a purchase or lease on behalf of your office without competitive bidding can be an infraction or misdemeanor. Submitting a claim for money spent without a proper appropriation can be a misdemeanor. But all of these are actions that you, as a public servant, were prohibited from doing. Therefore, at the prosecutor’s discretion, committing these seemingly minor offenses can be charged as Official Misconduct, a level 6 felony. In addition to the normal felony penalties, official misconduct also carries extra punishment. Unlike other level 6 felonies, it cannot be reduced to a misdemeanor. Much of quality criminal defense is convincing the state, the court, or the jury to exercise sound discretion and to put away the hammer when a fly swatter will do. Nowhere is that ability more important than when facing charges of official misconduct.
Schedule a Free, Thorough Consultation About Your Northwest Indiana Public Corruption Case
The Stracci Law Group has the detailed knowledge and experience to help you if you have been charged with a public corruption crime. Paul Stracci has spent his entire career defending people like you from overly-aggressive politically-motivated prosecution. His assembled team includes four former deputy prosecutors who have handled hundreds of misdemeanor and major felony cases, two of which have otherwise served as public servants in local government. If you have been charged with public corruption in Northwest Indiana, we invite you to contact us to learn more about your case. We offer free, comprehensive, and confidential consultations, and we want you to feel confident that we are the best choice to defend your legal rights. Don’t let politics make you a criminal. To discuss your case with the Stracci Law Group, please contact us today at (219) 525-1000.