Public Corruption

While there is some corruption in government throughout the United States, most public officials work hard and perform their jobs properly. In those rare cases where public officials or money are tainted by corruption, there is a chance that an investigator, a journalist, or even a concerned citizen will look into and possibly expose the situation. That can lead to a public corruption prosecution. Paul Kish is an experienced Atlanta Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer who has handled many public corruption cases over his 36-year career.

Just because there is an investigation or publicity, that does not mean that a crime happened or that there will actually be a prosecution. Anyone caught up in these situations needs an attorney who has been through this process before. The lawyer needs to know what happened, he or she needs to assess the investigation, the attorney must decide whether it makes sense to respond to inquiries from the news media, all while communicating with the prosecutor who is in charge of the investigation. Representing someone in a public corruption matter is a balancing act, and anyone caught up in these storms should strongly consider hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Public corruption cases arise out of wide variety of fact patterns. Usually, most public officials are prosecuted for crimes such as bribery, abuse of power, and misappropriation of public money. Furthermore, these cases can come about in just about any level of government. Paul has represented clients as diverse as a small-town Mayor to candidates for and former members of the United States Congress and people in various executive branch agencies. Paul has also represented scores of law enforcement officials, from county Sheriffs to police officers to prison guards to individuals at higher echelons of these organizations. Other clients have been executives in large business organizations who are trying to obtain and keep major governmental contracts.

While public corruption cases arise in all levels of government and throughout the United States, most of these matters end up in federal court if a prosecutor decides to “make a federal case out of it.” However, the federal laws used in these cases are often imprecise, ambiguous and quite unfair to the person charged with a crime.

For example, the federal bribery statute makes it a crime to corruptly give, offer, or promise anything of value to a federal public official or someone appointed by that official if done so with the intent to influence the official or appointee to perform an official act or to commit fraud. The flip side of these situations is also covered, for this statute prohibits accepting the bribe or payment. The public corruption laws also criminalize what are called illegal “gratuities”, which is a gift or payment that is provided because of an official act. The difference between an illegal gratuity and bribery is subtle: the former requires what is called a “quid pro quo”, but there is no such requirement for an illegal gratuity. The punishments are also quite different, clients found guilty of illegal gratuities face a maximum of 2 years in custody, while those involved in a bribery case could be sentenced to up to 15 years in a federal prison. Federal prosecutors also make liberal use of the “honest services” branch of mail and wire fraud. Under this theory, paying money or providing benefits to a public official can sometimes be a crime if the payment or benefit was in return for the performance of an “official act” and part of a scheme to defraud the public out of the official’s “honest services.” Obviously, these are very ambiguous concepts, and the United States Supreme Court greatly restricted the breadth of this law in a major ruling in 2016.

Many public corruption matters begin with a grand jury investigation. Prosecutors will often issue grand jury subpoenas to obtain information. Sometimes, they issue subpoenas to the organizations under investigation, and the lawyer representing the company or group cannot also be the attorney for individual executives or employees. These individuals need separate attorneys. Federal prosecutors often use the investigation and grand jury subpoena process to convince the lawyer for one or more individual executives or employees to become a government witness against the company or higher-level executives.

Another common theme in public corruption cases is the fact that these matters are often accompanied by publicity. Obviously, the public has the right to know whether the government is performing its job correctly, but publicity can often be extremely unfair to the people whose names are linked to an investigation or prosecution. There is no single strategy for handling a public corruption matter with significant publicity, each case is different. Sometimes, the best strategy is to say nothing. Other times, the lawyer needs to get in front of the press and explain his or her client’s position.

If a prosecutor indicts a client or organization for a public corruption offense, the experienced criminal defense lawyer will focus on the best defense. As noted above, many of the public corruption laws are quite ambiguous, and the attorney needs to hold the prosecution to its burden of proof on each and every element of a crime. Furthermore, many of these laws require a “corrupt intent, a “quid pro quo” or the “intent to influence” a public official. It is not a crime to engage in economic transactions with public officials unless the prosecutor establishes these elements of the public corruption laws.

If a person charged with a public corruption case is found guilty, he or she needs an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can handle the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The lawyer must be able to predict how these sentencing rules might apply. Then the lawyer needs to figure out if there are other methods for getting the best possible sentence. Paul Kish is an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer in Atlanta who has obtained satisfactory sentences for clients in public corruption matters throughout the country. If you have such a case, consider contacting him.

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