Any time stakes are high, there’s a potential for bribery, and for many parents, nothing is more important than getting their kids into a first-rate school. Take the recent high-profile case ensnared 32 parents, including celebrities Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, for bribing their childrens’ ways into elite schools.
Among the accused is an Aspen family. According to court documents, the family is accused of paying $125,000 to boost their daughter’s scores on three standardized tests for college admissions. One $50,000 payment was disguised as a charitable donation for a co-conspirator to proctor their daughter’s ACT exam and correct her answers. Similar schemes to boost her SAT and subject test scores were alleged.
Elements of Bribery in Colorado
In order to convict a defendant of bribery, the prosecution must be able to improve beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant gave, received or solicited something of value, or attempted to do so;
- For the purpose of influencing the action of an official;
- In the discharge of his or her public or legal duties
In order to prove the crime of bribery, the prosecution must also establish that the defendant(s) acted with corrupt intent. This means that the defendant intended to offer or receive a special benefit in return for payment or something else of value.
State Bribery Charges in Colorado
Colorado distinguishes the bribery of government officials from the bribery of other officials or commercial entities. Bribery of a government official is a Class 3 Felony punishable by 4-12 years in prison and a fine of $3,000-$750,000. Other forms of bribery are prosecuted as a Class 6 Felony punishable by 12-18 months in prison and a fine of $1,000-$100,000.
If the alleged offense involved other forms of fraud, the defendant may face additional Colorado fraud charges, or in some cases be prosecuted instead for fraud, as this is often easier to prove than bribery.
Federal Bribery Charges
When bribery takes place under certain circumstances, it is likely to be prosecuted at a federal level. When the crime takes place across state lines or is committed by mail or over the Internet, it falls under multiple jurisdictions, often drawing federal interest. Or when a crime involves financial institutions or officials of other agencies governed federally, often the feds will step in.
In the above college admissions scandal, the alleged offense involved co-conspirators in multiple states, which is why it is being prosecuted federally.
If you’ve been targeted for federal prosecution, you can expect far more in-depth investigation and harsher penalties if convicted. Here’s why:
- Federal investigative agencies have greater resources to investigate, potentially strengthening the case against you
- Federal prosecutors are more likely to seek the maximum sentence in order to “make an example” out of the case
- Inmates of federal prisons are not eligible for parole, meaning you will serve out the entirety of your sentence behind bars
If convicted of federal bribery, you could face face up to 15 years of imprisonment for each count, and substantial criminal fines. However, in order to lessen the burden of proof, federal prosecutors often use other statutes to prosecute bribery cases, including:
- Mail and wire fraud
- The Hobbs Act
- The RICO Act
- Computer crimes
Most bribery cases involve the transmission of fraudulent payments or other forms of fraud, and these offenses are generally much easier to prove than bribery itself. In the Aspen case, the defendants are being charged with mail and wire fraud for transmitting bribery payments disguised as charitable donations.
In any case, whether prosecuted federally or by the state, bribery charges are quite serious. That’s why it’s important to know the laws surrounding bribery, and to fight back proactively to beat any and all bribery charges against you.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.