Crimes involving elected and other public officials can be some of the most complex and highly
charged cases in the criminal justice system. Whether the accused is a local Spring Valley,
Rockland County mayor or trustee, a New York City judge, or a New York State Senator in
Albany, these cases can attract the public eye and the full focus of a District Attorney’s Office
like no other. Generally speaking, public corruption refers to situations in which a government
officials demands, accepts, solicits or agrees to accept something of value in return for their
influence or power. Public officials charged with public corruption crimes not only face the
penalties associated with a conviction, such as state prison or probation, but also embarrassment,
humiliation, the end of a career or removal from office. Having an attorney who is experience
with the unique implications and political dynamics of these kinds of prosecutions, as well as the
distinctive issues often presented at a trial on these charges, is essential.
Public corruption charges essentially boil down to the charge of Corrupting the Government in
either the First, Second, Third or Fourth Degree, PL 496.05, PL 496.04, PL 496.03, and PL
496.02, and the enhancement of other charges being committed "as a crime of Public
Corruption," PL 496.06. The last of these charges functions as an enhancement of certain other
enumerated offenses, which are Petit Larceny, PL 155.25, Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree,
PL 155.30, Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, PL 155.35 Grand Larceny in the Second
Degree, PL 155.40, Grand Larceny in the First Degree, PL 155.42, Scheme to Defraud in the
Second Degree, PL 190.60, and Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, PL 190.65. Other related
charges that can often accompany Corrupting the Government and Public Corruption charges are
Bribery, PL 200.04, and Official Misconduct, PL 195.00.
The charges against public officials also often rely on multiple distinct alleged instances of
misconduct, which can lead to the possibility of consecutive, rather than concurrent, sentencing.
This means that, very often, these charges come with the potential for extremely long prison
sentences, not to mention restitution and combined fines for all distinct alleged incidents.
With regard to real-world examples of these kinds of charges, indictments and prosecutions for
public corruption typically fall into one or more of five camps:
– Mishandling funds
In addition to these classic examples of public corruption, these charges can also stem from
alleged violations of non-Penal Law statutes and Ethics Code infractions, such as failing to abide
by requirements related to financial disclosures, Public Officers Law § 73-a.
The evidence in Public Corruption cases typically boils down to what are commonly referred to
as “paper cases” – cases in which most or all of the evidence amounts to bank records, ledgers,
affidavits, and other documentary evidence, as opposed to the testimony of witnesses. However
in certain circumstances, witness testimony becomes key. For example, in the context of
allegations for kickbacks from government contractors, the exhange of cash from contractor to
elected official often boils down to the word of the contractor or another eye witness, who may
have an axe to grind or may be cooperating with the prosecution in the hope of getting a
favorable deal on their own criminal case.
No matter what the particular circumstances of the case, it is critical that a government official
charged with public corruption be represented by counsel that is well-versed in not only this
unique and complex area of law, but also in the practical and real-world implications and
ramifications of this kind of prosecution.
This blog entry is not an attempt to substitute for an examination of your particular case by your own criminal defense lawyer who will determine what is best for your case. Instead, this entry can give you the foundation to better understand crimes of public corruption in New York. To better understand crimes, possible defenses, and how you can best protect yourself, consult with your criminal lawyer.