18 Sep 23

18 U.S.C. § 666 – Theft from program receiving federal funds

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Last Updated on: 29th September 2023, 12:54 pm


18 U.S.C. § 666 – Theft from program receiving federal funds

18 U.S.C. § 666 is a federal statute that prohibits theft or bribery involving organizations or state/local governments that receive significant federal funds. This law, sometimes called “program bribery” or “program fraud,” aims to protect the integrity of federal money distributed to these entities. Let’s break down what this law covers and what it means if you violate it.

What does 18 U.S.C. § 666 prohibit?

There are two main prohibited acts under 18 U.S.C. § 666:

  • Theft or embezzlement of property valued over $5,000 from an organization or government agency receiving federal funds (section a)
  • Bribery of an agent of an organization or government agency receiving federal funds (section b)

So in simple terms, this law makes it a federal crime to steal from or bribe someone connected with an entity that gets significant federal money. The purpose is to protect all those federal funds from being misused or diverted.

What organizations and agencies does this law apply to?

18 U.S.C. § 666 applies to any organization, state, or local government agency that receives more than $10,000 in federal assistance during a 1-year period. This covers a huge range of entities, like:

  • Public schools
  • Colleges and universities
  • Hospitals
  • State and local government agencies
  • Indian tribal organizations
  • Private corporations

Basically any organization, non-profit, or government body that gets over $10k in federal funds annually could be covered under 18 U.S.C. § 666. This law is meant to have broad application to protect federal money wherever it goes.

What constitutes “theft” under 18 U.S.C. § 666?

The theft component of 18 U.S.C. § 666 (section a) covers taking property without right, under false pretenses, or by embezzlement. The stolen property must:

  • Be valued at $5,000 or more
  • Be owned by or under the care of the organization/agency
  • Come from the organization/agency receiving federal funds

So this could be an employee stealing equipment, a contractor inflating bills, a college student taking grant money – any theft over $5k from a federally funded entity.

What constitutes “bribery” under 18 U.S.C. § 666?

The bribery component of 18 U.S.C. § 666 (section b) covers giving or accepting anything of value with intent to influence or reward an agent of the organization or agency. This agent could be an employee, contractor, volunteer, or any person acting on behalf of that entity. And the bribe does not have to succeed in influencing them. Just the offer or solicitation is enough.

For example, if a construction contractor paid a public works manager $20,000 to award them a contract, that would be bribery under 18 U.S.C. § 666. Or if a non-profit employee agreed to provide donor data in exchange for concert tickets, that could also violate the law.

What are the penalties for violating 18 U.S.C. § 666?

If convicted of theft or bribery under this statute, penalties can include:

  • Up to 10 years in federal prison
  • Fines up to $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for organizations
  • Paying back any ill-gotten gains from the crime

So these are felony-level offenses with substantial prison time and fines possible. The feds take misuse of federal funds very seriously.

When does the federal government prosecute 18 U.S.C. § 666 cases?

Federal prosecutors tend to pursue charges under 18 U.S.C. § 666 when:

  • The theft or bribery involves a substantial amount of money
  • The conduct is repetitive or systematic, not just a one-time incident
  • The case has interstate connections making it appropriate for federal jurisdiction
  • There is a federal interest, like the entity involved got millions in federal grants

So you’re more likely to see federal program fraud charges if there was an ongoing embezzlement scheme that stole a large amount of money from an entity funded mainly by federal dollars.

What are some examples of 18 U.S.C. § 666 violations?

Here are a few real-world examples of 18 U.S.C. § 666 charges:

  • A school district CFO embezzled over $3 million in federal funds received by the district [1].
  • A state senator accepted bribes from a carnival promoter in exchange for helping the carnival get profitable state contracts [2].
  • A construction contractor bribed a public housing authority official to get inflated contracts for maintenance work on government-funded projects [3].

As you can see, 18 U.S.C. § 666 covers a wide range of misconduct involving theft or bribery connected to federal funds. This statute gives prosecutors a powerful tool to go after such cases.

What are some key cases related to 18 U.S.C. § 666?

There have been several noteworthy court decisions that interpret elements of 18 U.S.C. § 666:

  • Sabri v. United States – Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 666 [4].
  • United States v. Ng – Court ruled 18 U.S.C. § 666 prohibits bribes paid to influence any acts of an agent, not just official acts [5].
  • United States v. Fernandez – Court held 18 U.S.C. § 666 covers bribes, not gratuities [6].

These and other court decisions continue to shape our understanding of federal program bribery and fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 666. The law remains a frequently used arrow in federal prosecutors’ quiver.

How can someone defend against 18 U.S.C. § 666 charges?

Some potential defenses to 18 U.S.C. § 666 charges include:

  • The entity did not actually receive the required $10,000+ in federal funds
  • The defendant did not meet the definition of an “agent” of the entity
  • The alleged bribe was just a gratuity, not an agreed exchange
  • The defendant did not act “corruptly” or with criminal intent
  • The property involved did not actually belong to the federally funded program

An experienced federal white collar defense attorney can analyze the specifics of your case and build defenses against 18 U.S.C. § 666 charges if possible.

Key Takeaways

  • 18 U.S.C. § 666 prohibits theft/embezzlement or bribery involving federally funded organizations or agencies
  • Charges can lead to substantial prison time and fines if convicted
  • Federal prosecutors pursue § 666 charges when large sums or systemic issues are involved
  • An attorney can help raise defenses challenging elements the government must prove

The bottom line is 18 U.S.C. § 666 is a broad federal fraud and bribery law used to safeguard federal funds. Don’t take lightly any investigation into potential violations – engage experienced legal counsel immediately. Vigorously contesting the charges may help avoid or minimize the serious penalties.