The term “honest services” fraud may sound vague and quaint. However, it describes what is commonly called bribery or embezzlement. Basically, it involves one party paying a bribe to another party or getting a kickback from them in exchange for receiving something.
This transaction harms yet another party who has been deprived “of the intangible right of honest services,” as federal law puts it.
Examples of this offense
Many of the people involved in the college admissions scandal in 2019 faced federal charges that included honest services fraud. For example, some paid coaches, through a middleman, to get their children into schools based on athletic skills and experience they didn’t have. While the schools were deprived of the honest services their coaches were supposed to provide in promoting the best athletes, it could be argued that other students who really did qualify for these spots based on their own merits also suffered harm.
Honest services offenses can include mail fraud and wire fraud. Just as with other fraud offenses, wire fraud typically applies to offenses committed using email, phone, text and the internet. Mail fraud, which is becoming less common, involves using the U.S. Mail or courier and delivery services like FedEx.
While these offenses sometimes involve government officials, including elected leaders and representatives, people in all kinds of private businesses can get caught up in these offenses. For example, doctors who refer patients to a particular specialist or hospital in exchange for kickbacks can be charged with honest services fraud.
The consequences of conviction can be serious
The criminal consequences are no “slap on the wrist.” They can carry prison sentences of as long as two decades in addition to fines. Although they didn’t serve this kind of time, we saw well-known people go to prison for their role in the college admission scandal.
It’s certainly possible to argue in some cases that you didn’t owe anyone “honest services” or that you weren’t aware that what you were given was indeed a bribe in exchange for doing something else. Every case is different and highly dependent on the evidence.
If you’re under investigation for or have already been charged with any kind of federal fraud offense, it’s crucial to seek experienced legal guidance as soon as possible. This can help you protect your rights, your reputation and your freedom.