Official Corruption Prosecutions Decline: February 2017

The latest available data from the Justice Department show that as of the end of February 2017 there have been 164 new official corruption prosecutions filed by federal prosecutors during the first five months of FY 2017. If the same pace continues then the number of such prosecutions for FY 2017 will be at a record low with a projected total of only 394 prosecutions for the entire year.

In February, the first complete month under the new Trump Administration, there were only 24 such prosecutions, down from an average of 35 per month during each of the previous four months.

During FY 2016, in contrast, the government reported 515 new official corruption prosecutions, while during FY 2015 the number of prosecutions totaled 505. Thus, during the past two years, federal prosecutors filed an average of 43 official corruption cases each month, as compared to the much lower figures so far in 2017.

These results are based upon case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. These detailed records were obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys.

The long term trend in official corruption prosecutions for these matters going back to FY 1997 is shown more clearly in Figure 1. In general while there have been year-to-year ups and downs, official corruption cases have generally been declining over most of the last two decades. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of official corruption prosecutions of this type recorded each fiscal year.

Figure 1. Official Corruption Prosecutions by Fiscal Year

Official Corruption Cases by Type

Within the broad category of official corruption, cases were classified by prosecutors into more specific types. Nearly half (46%) of these prosecutions during the first five months of FY 2017 were for various types of official corruption that occurred at the federal level. Corruption prosecutions of local level officials accounted for more than one out of three (35%) of these cases, while state corruption accounted for just 5 percent. See Table 1.

Table 1. Type of Public Corruption Prosecutions
  FY 2017 *
Type Number Percent
Fed Law Enforcement 11 7%
Fed Procurement 10 6%
Fed Program 20 12%
Fed Other 34 21%
Subtotal Federal 75 46%
State 8 5%
Local 58 35%
Other 23 14%
* first five months (Oct 2016-Feb 2017).

Leading Investigative Agencies

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was the lead investigative agency in just under half (46%) of official corruption prosecutions this year. They handled most of the corruption cases involving state and local officials, in additional to some official corruption matters at the federal level. Other investigative units within Justice accounted for an additional 14 percent (not considering Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives with separately accounted for an additional 4 percent).

A large number of other federal agencies each accounted for a much smaller number of cases. In third place, for example, was the Postal Service. It was the lead investigator on 6 percent of official corruption cases this year. Referrals from state and local authorities were credited with taking the lead on only a single case so far during FY 2017. Table 2 provides a complete agency-by-agency breakdown.

Table 2. Top charges for convictions
  FY 2017 *
Lead Investigative Agency Number Percent
Justice - Federal Bureau of Investigation 76 46.3%
Justice - Other 23 14.0%
Postal Service 10 6.1%
Homeland Security - Other 9 5.5%
Housing and Urban Development 7 4.3%
Justice - Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives 6 3.7%
Defense 3 1.8%
Health and Human Services 3 1.8%
Treasury - Internal Revenue Service 3 1.8%
Homeland Security - Secret Service 2 1.2%
Other - Social Security Administration 2 1.2%
Agriculture 1 0.6%
Commerce 1 0.6%
Homeland Security - Customs and Border Protection 1 0.6%
Homeland Security - Immigration and Customs Enforcement 1 0.6%
Interior 1 0.6%
Labor 1 0.6%
Treasury - Other 1 0.6%
Veterans Administration 1 0.6%
Other - State/Local Authorities 1 0.6%
Other 11 6.7%
* first five months (Oct 2016-Feb 2017).

TRAC offers free monthly reports on program categories such as white collar crime, immigration, drugs, weapons and terrorism and on selected government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, ATF and DHS. For the latest information on prosecutions and convictions, go to In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports for a specific agency, judicial district, program category, lead charge or judge via the TRAC Data Interpreter.