Bribery is a serious crime that can be prosecuted in state or federal court. Those convicted of it can face steep fines as well as years behind bars. However, there are a lot of misconceptions around exactly what it is and who can be charged with bribery. It is defined under the law as either offering or accepting something of value in return for exerting influence on a public official or an employee of an organization.

Bribery Can Occur in Multiple Spheres

People often associate bribery with public officials, which describes a wide variety of people, including mid-level federal government employees and elected politicians. Many of the bribery cases that we hear about in the media involve an executive bribing a public official to award his or her company a lucrative contract in return for money or something else of value. The thing of value can be tangible or intangible (for example, political support.)

Bribery can also occur in the corporate world, with no connection to the public sphere. For example, in industries competing for relatively few talented people, sometimes an executives or others with the company will offer money or other "bribes" to employees of a competitor to recruit colleagues for them.

Sports is another arena where bribery can have significant financial consequences. Sometimes high-stakes gamblers will bribe an athlete, referee or other official to deliberately cause a team to lose ("throw") a game so that the gambler can have a large payday.

What Do Prosecutors Need to Prove Bribery?

Prosecutors don't need a written agreement detailing the bribe to charge those they believe are involved. Often, there's nothing in writing. However, they need evidence that the bribe took place and that both the person offering the bribe and the person accepting it did so with corrupt intentions. This evidence might include taped phone conversations and/or video of one defendant giving cash to another. Prosecutors also have to show a connection between the alleged bribe and the outcome that was intended to ensue, and that the two things weren't simply a coincidence.

If you are being investigated for alleged bribery or have already been charged, it's essential to seek legal guidance from a criminal defense attorney who has experience with this type of case. A bribery charge, let alone a conviction, can have long-lasting consequences for a person's career, reputation and life.