Charged with a White-Collar Crime: Now What?
White-collar crime cases are serious and should be given the weight they deserve. Oftentimes, people joke that those accused and convicted of white-collar crimes are sentenced to resort-style “prisons” to serve out their terms in style. This is not an accurate depiction of what can happen if you are charged with a white-collar crime. Most white-collar crimes are federal offenses with the potential for hefty fines and prison sentences (in real prisons) as just two of the consequences. Protecting yourself against a charge of white-collar crime requires the guidance and expertise of a criminal attorney who specializes in white-collar criminal defense.
So, what happens if you are accused of committing a white-collar crime? Taking the right steps from the moment you learn you are under suspicion can make all the difference in the outcome.
What are some white-collar crime examples?
White-collar crime often is confused with corporate crime. While both are non-violent crimes related to financial activity, that is where the similarity ends. The key differences come down to two factors: who benefits from the crime and who pays for it.
With white-collar crimes, it is usually an individual who both benefits from the crime and who will be held criminally liable for its commission if caught. We will use the example of an accountant who decides to start skimming a little bit off the top from his clients to line his pockets. This is called embezzling. The only person profiting from the crime is the accountant. If he chooses to give some of the stolen funds to other people, prosecutors must prove the recipients knew the money was obtained illegally before they could be held accountable. In the end, if the accountant is caught, he will bear the full brunt of responsibility.
Corporate crime is quite different. While it also takes place in a business setting, the perpetrators of the crime and who pays for it may be two different entities. Let’s take the case of insider trading, which involves buying or selling stocks based on company information not known to the public. An employee with the knowledge that a product their company produces is about to be recalled could sell off their stock before prices plummet, preventing personal financial disaster. In this instance, the employee is both benefiting from the crime and paying for it if caught. Another example would be a chemical company accidentally releasing toxic gas near a populated city, then actively taking steps to cover up their crime. In this case, the company and any company executives or officials involved with the decision to hide these details is culpable.
How is white-collar crime investigated?
As previously mentioned, most white-collar crimes fall under federal jurisdiction. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) handles any cases the fall under the descriptor. This can include (but is not limited to) public corruption, money laundering, corporate fraud, securities and commodities fraud, mortgage fraud, financial institution fraud, bank fraud and embezzlement, and fraud against the government.
Once a case is turned over to the FBI, there is a process it follows to fully investigate if a crime has occurred. With other criminal cases, an investigation usually begins after an arrest is made. This is not protocol for white-collar crime cases. What usually starts the ball rolling is an accusation of misconduct. Before an arrest, the FBI may take the following steps to build a case:
- Subpoenaing bank or other financial records.
- Executing search warrants at a suspect’s home or place of business.
- Monitoring devices, including landline phones, mobile phones, and other digital modes of communicating.
- Interviewing alleged victims.
- Coordinating with other agencies (IRS, FDA, DHS) to compile and review documentation related to the alleged crime.
Once the FBI has enough evidence to support charges, an arrest will follow. Charges typically are filed within the federal court system, with U.S. prosecutors in charge of the case. As a rule, prosecutors must prove there was an agreement to perform an illegal act and that the act was performed.
What is the most common defense against white-collar crime charges?
There is not a cookie-cutter defense strategy that works for every white-collar crime defense. Intent plays a huge role in how your criminal defense attorney approaches your case. For instance, a person who makes a significant mistake on their tax filing – albeit unintentional – is likely to have a better angle for defense than someone who knowingly committed tax fraud.
Entrapment is an effective method for defending against some white-collar criminal charges. This goes back to what was mentioned earlier about an investigation occurring before an arrest with white-collar crime cases. This can backfire on law enforcement if they rely on any kind of sting operation to try to catch the suspect “in the act.” If anyone involved with a sting operation compels the target of the investigation to act criminally, that is entrapment.
What is the most common punishment for white-collar crime?
Punishment depends on the severity of the crime and the number of victims. While white-collar crime does not involve physical harm to victims, it does cause significant financial harm to victims. Juries and courts weigh the extent of the financial (and emotional) damage to victims when handing down a sentence. Some of the most common punishments include:
- Federal prison
- Probation and supervised release
- House arrest/electronic monitoring
Regardless of which sentence you receive if convicted of a white-collar crime, there are lasting consequences. Felony convictions can ban you from ever doing business with a government entity in the future. You also will lose your right to vote and cannot legally own firearms. It also precludes you from ever holding a federal office or receiving federal benefits. This is just the tip of the iceberg. This is why it is important to choose legal representation by a high-skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney.
Choosing a white-collar crime attorney
If you are accused of committing a white-collar crime, it goes without saying you will need a top-notch attorney with experience in handling such charges. Marcus Cameron has the knowledge and experience necessary to obtain the best possible outcome for clients accused of white-collar crimes. Call 505-218-7844 or send us a request online to schedule a no-obligation consultation with Marcus today.