Bribery in Chicago: Raising Standards of Public Service

jack-young-143113-300x200The adage of “The Chicago Way” has been used to stereotype the city as a hub of crime. Bribery is a part of corruption and mismanagement, but its subtlety means that the crime is hard to prosecute. The fact that it erodes public confidence in the system means that the jail sentences for the crime are increasing. Most of the relevant cases focus on the behavior of politicians and public officials yet bribery can also lead to questions about the conduct of the person that is offering the bribe. In some cases, the bribe is not monetary but rather influences insidious levels of influence peddling, nepotism, and cronyism. The courts will have to untangle the web of deceit that is involved in cases in which a sophisticated criminal deliberately exploits a culture of bribery.

Chicago is unfortunate in having two former governors serving jail time for bribery-related criminality. The worst affected departments include justice, law, and administration because that is where the real power is. Bribery essentially involves asking people to pay you extra for doing your job or not doing your job. In some of the worst cases, bribery leads to other forms of criminality because the public official becomes negligent or corrupt in the execution of his or her duties. The belief that officials are powerful means that the courts are harsh on defendants who commit a breach of trust. The defense attorneys typically attempt to present their clients as low-lying officials who are at worst incompetent or naïve.

The Bribery Law as it Stands Today

The relevant definitions and statutory powers are enshrined in instrument number 720 ILCS 5/33-1. The law captures even those who offer the bribe, particularly if they are trying to influence a public officer. The potential benefits list includes money and other advantages. A distinction is made between bribery and the lawful acceptance of gifts or payments. There are cases in which the crime will be linked to other offenses. For example, it can become a case of witness obstruction or interference when a court process is involved. Furthermore, the act highlights the culpability of the person that solicits or receives the bribe. Protections are provided for whistle-blowers and agents provocateurs as part of an investigative process.

For the defense attorney, there might be some confusion about the definitions because the statute applies to a wide range of conduct or misbehavior. The range of criminality is also significantly wide. The prosecutor may decide in some instances that prosecuting the offense is not in the public interest. At other times the implications of the bribery go to the heart of the legislative processes. A case in point is when legislators are paid to veto certain bills.

At other times the bribe is paid in order to dismiss a criminal charge that had every prospect of being followed through correctly. Sometimes the more sophisticated recipients of the bribe make an arrangement in which it is only passed on to a member of their family in order to hide what is going on. Needless to say the courts tend to thoroughly investigate the origins and destinations of the bribe so that all people in the chain can be dealt with.

Developing a Possible Defense

There are a number of possible defenses available to those accused of bribery, including deliberate entrapment or even coercion (see People v Dorrough). Although ignorance of the law is not an acceptable defense, the defending attorney might make it a mitigating feature. The conviction not only leads to a loss of societal position but might also be followed by civil recovery procedures. Therefore, the defending attorneys should prepare for this eventuality. If you need an excellent lawyer to take your case, contact David Freidberg attorney at law today at (312) 560-7100.


(image courtesy of Jack Young)

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