Official Corruption Prosecutions Decline Under Obama

Table 1. Criminal Official
Corruption Prosecutions
Number Year-to-date 302
Percent Change from previous year -18.6
Percent Change from 5 years ago -28.5
Percent Change from 10 years ago -31.8
Percent Change from 20 years ago -27.1

The number of individuals prosecuted for criminal public corruption offenses during the Obama Administration has fallen from levels seen in the Bush and Clinton years. The latest available data from the Justice Department show that during the first seven months of FY 2014 the government reported 302 new official corruption prosecutions. If this activity continues at the same pace, the annual total of prosecutions will be 518 for this fiscal year. According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this estimate is down 18.6 percent over the past fiscal year when the number of prosecutions totaled 636.

Prosecutions over the past year are lower than they were ten years ago. Overall, the data show that prosecutions of this type are down 31.8 percent from the level of 760 reported in 2004 and down 27.1 percent from the level of 711 reported in 1994. These comparisons of the number of defendants charged with official corruption offenses are based on case-by-case information obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (see Table 1).

The decline in official corruption prosecutions under President Obama is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of official corruption prosecutions recorded each fiscal year (for the current fiscal year, projected figures are shown). Each presidential administration is distinguished by the color of the bars.

Public corruption referrals to federal prosecutors by investigative agencies during the last five years averaged 1,674 individuals, about the same annual number as during the Bush presidency where the annual average was 1,663. The number of prosecutions, however, has fallen under Obama because a smaller percentage of these referrals (39.5%) ends up being pursued by prosecutors. So far during FY 2014 only about one out of every three (34.0%) were prosecuted. During the Bush years, 41.6 percent of the official corruption referrals resulted in prosecution.

Bar chart of shortyear
Figure 1. Criminal Official Corruption Prosecutions over the Last 20 Years

Leading Program Categories

Official Corruption. Criminal prosecutions of public employees for misconduct in, or misuse of, office, including attempts by private citizens to bribe or otherwise corrupt public employees are classified by federal prosecutors into the following more specific types:

Official corruption involves the misconduct of public employees in office, or misuse of their office, and can include the attempts of private citizens to bribe or otherwise corrupt public employees. These types of prosecutions can be categorized by the level (federal, state, or local) and for federal employees by corruption area. See sidebar for descriptions of the categories used by federal prosecutors.

Thus far during FY 2014, the most common type of official corruption case prosecuted by the federal government was one involving the alleged corruption of local public employees, with 126 individuals prosecuted — just over four out of every ten referred by federal agencies. Prosecution of federal officials and employees was second, with 115 prosecutions so far this year. Prosecutions for public corruption by state officials have been relatively infrequent, with only 24 during this period. See Table 2 for counts and percentages for all types of official corruption prosecutions.

Table 2. Official Corruption Referrals to Federal Prosecutors by Category
Number Percent
Prosecuted Not Prosecuted Prosecuted Not Prosecuted
All Official Corruption Referrals 302 586 34 66
Federal Corruption
Federal Law Enforcement
Federal Procurement
Federal Program
Federal - Other
State Corruption 24 65 27 73
Local Corruption 126 237 35 65
Other Corruption 37 66 36 64

The FBI was the lead investigative agency for about half (48.3%) of the referrals which resulted in prosecution. The rest were widely distributed across other state, federal and local investigative agencies. Among these the Postal Service had the largest number but its prosecutions still accounted for only 5.6 percent.

Top Ranked Lead Charges

Table 3 shows the top lead charges recorded in the prosecutions of official corruption matters filed in U.S. District Court during the first seven months of FY 2014.

Note: There were an additional 122 other lead charges which were not individually ranked. See TRAC's latest monthly report for all lead charges included in rankings for the latest month. Or use TRACFed's criminal analyzer tool to generate a complete listing for any year (subscription required).

Table 3. Top Charges Filed
Lead Charge Count Rank 1 yr ago 5 yrs ago 10 yrs ago 20 yrs ago
18 USC 666 - Theft or bribery in programs receiving Fed funds 65 1 1 1 1 2
18 USC 371 - Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud US 35 2 7 7 2 3
18 USC 201 - Bribery of public officials and witnesses 24 3 2 3 3 1
18 USC 641 - Public money, property or records 17 4 6 5 4 5
18 USC 1341 - Mail Fraud - Frauds and swindles 17 4 5 6 6 7
18 USC 1951 - Hobbs Act 15 6 4 4 4 4
18 USC 1791 - Providing or possessing contraband in prison 12 7 12 14 18 41
18 USC 1343 - Fraud by wire, radio, or television 11 8 8 11 13 41
18 USC 1001 - Fraud/false statements or entries generally 9 9 9 9 7 8
18 USC 1709 - Theft of mail matter by officer or employee 8 10 11 7 9 10

Among these top ten lead charges, the one showing the greatest projected increase in prosecutions — up 71.4  percent — compared to one year ago was Title 18 U.S.C Section 371 that involves "Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud US." This was the same statute that had the largest projected increase — 106 percent — compared with five years ago.

Again among the top ten lead charges, the one showing the sharpest projected decline in prosecutions compared to one year ago — down 48.6 percent — was "Hobbs Act" (Title 18 U.S.C Section 1951). This was the same statute that had the largest projected decrease — 60.4 percent — compared with five years ago.

Table 4. Top Districts
Judicial District Count Rank
Montana 18 1
Fla, S 15 2
Cal, S 11 3
N. J. 11 3
N Mexico 10 5
Ga, N 9 6
Mass 9 6
Miss, S 9 6
Texas, N 9 6
D. C. 8 10
Penn, W 8 10

Top Ranked Judicial Districts

The District of Montana, with 18 prosecutions, was the most active through April 2014. In second place with 15 official corruption prosecutions so far this year was the Southern District of Florida (Miami). The Southern District of California (San Diego) and District of New Jersey tied for third place, each with 11 official corruption prosecutions.

The districts registering the largest number of prosecutions of this type during the first seven months of FY 2014 are shown in Table 4.

Report Date: July 7, 2014
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Copyright 2014, TRAC Reports, Inc.