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Probing a Bribe’s Going Rate

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Clearly, the bribes Hedgepeth is accused of taking hardly compare to the vote-buying that went on the big-boom 1980s — remember Abscam? — when bribes ran as high $50,000. And kickbacks for awarding government contracts to friends have always been more lucrative; they typically bring in between 5 percent and 10 percent of the contract’s value.

But don’t dismiss the power of $2,500.

“It’s not an everyday occurrence, but it’s not uncommon,” says Michael Kramer, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who specializes in bribery cases. “There are many examples where relatively small amounts of money, even nongifts and favors, are held by the courts to be bribes.”

Kramer says bribes can run as low as 50 cents. It’s not the amount, he says, but the intent. “They begin as small gifts and favors, the use of credit cards,” he says. “Sometimes the transactions are less than $1,000. It’s hard to predict.”

While there is no way to compare Hedgepeth’s alleged bribe to those received by other government officials across the country, Kramer agrees $2,500 isn’t exactly impressive. But, he adds, “You don’t know if that was the only payment.”

Grant E. Leister, a certified fraud examiner and partner at CPA firm Witt, Mares & Co., says the money isn’t worth it. “A few thousand bucks seems pretty stupid,” he says. Leister is quick to point out that he doesn’t condone taking larger bribes, even if it’s millions of dollars. “I am not willing to commit a felony,” Leister says.

Richmond Councilman G. Manoli Loupassi concurs. “No one in their right mind would come to me with any kind of proposition,” Loupassi says emphatically. “There is no amount of money on the face of the planet that would allow me to question my integrity.”— Scott Bass

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