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Litigation White Collar Crime

Federal Public Corruption Prosecutions

This article describes pending federal prosecutions, which level corruption charges against high-level officials, considers how the theories of prosecution in these cases might be viewed in light of court decisions in other public corruption cases, and concludes with some observations about the outer limits of federal public corruption prosecutions.


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Proof of a “quid pro quo,” giving something of value in return for a specific action, is central to federal public corruption prosecutions. In recent years, cases have tended to focus on the “quo” part of the exchange — that is, the act a public official takes in return for the “quid.” See generally, Elkan Abramowitz and Jonathan S. Sack, “Limiting the Reach of the Supreme Court’s ‘McDonnell’ Decision, NYLJ (Oct. 1, 2019). The Supreme Court’s adoption of a narrow definition of “official act,” in McDonnell v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2355 (2016), turned out to have a significant impact on public corruption cases, for example, the Second Circuit’s partial reversal of convictions of former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. See, United States v. Silver, 948 F.3d 538, 545 (2d Cir. 2020).

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