When lobbying government officials becomes a crime

The old saying, greasing the skids, commonly refers to a person, who usually who wants something done for his or her business even on a personal level, developing relationships with public officials and regulators.

The point of these professional relationships is, ultimately, to be able to accomplish one's goal without running in to government red tape or roadblocks that could slow down or even derail a project.

As long as one does it legally, there is nothing wrong with a person approaching a government official or employee, even if the point is to procure a lawful favor or get insight in to how a process might work. Even outright lobbying for a particular political position is not per se illegal.

However, both public officials in Indiana and private citizens who work with them need to be careful that their conduct does not cross the line and, thus, raise suspicions that someone has committed felony bribery under Indiana law. One should also be aware that acts of official corruption are also frequently prosecuted as federal crimes.

Under Indiana law, a person may not give, and a public official may not accept, any property, money, real estate or even seemingly innocuous items like a gift card to a nice Indianapolis restaurant, if the point is to get the public official to act in particular way.

To give a hypothetical example, it may be legal for a property developer to go with a city official out to lunch in order to get her insight in to how the permit approval process works, but actually paying for the official's lunch may at best look bad and, at worst, be used by prosecutors as evidence of bribery.

It is sometimes practically a business necessity to try to build up constructive relationships with government officials. Because of this, an honest but perhaps hapless Indianapolis resident can easily find himself accused of making or accepting bribes. In these sorts of situations, one will want to consider mounting a strong defense.

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