What is White Collar Crime?
White collar crime refers to those offenses that are designed to produce financial gain using some form of deception. This type of crime is usually committed by people in the business world who, as a result of their job position, are able to gain access to large amounts of other people’s money. White collar crime does not involve violent, drug-related, or overtly illegal activities. In fact, perpetrators are typically involved in otherwise lawful businesses and may hold respectable positions in the community prior to the discovery of their fraudulent schemes.
Most white collar crime is investigated and prosecuted by federal authorities. This is not good news for the accused, as federal conviction rates are high, and U.S. District Attorney’s offices have substantial resources available to pursue wrongdoers. There is a common misconception among the general public that defendants convicted of white collar crimes will be treated with leniency. In reality, sentences handed down for purely financial crimes can be as long or longer than sentences handed down in cases involving violence or drugs.
Common Types of Offenses
A broad range of white collar crimes are perpetrated each day in the United States, the variety of these crimes being limited only by the imagination of those who commit them. Examples include tax evasion, insider trading, insurance fraud, bribery, embezzlement, and money laundering. Some offenses are committed on a small scale, like when individuals filing for liquidation bankruptcy fail to disclose personal assets on their petition. Other times, a single fraud can affect the lives of hundreds or thousands of people, such as investment frauds committed by securities brokers.
The largest and most infamous example of white collar crime ever discovered took the form of a giant Ponzi scheme. Named after a swindler who operated nearly a century ago, Ponzi schemes involve the solicitation and misappropriation of investment money. Early clients are not paid from profits, but rather from investment funds collected from later clients. In this particular case, New York money manager Bernard Madoff used such a scheme to rob clients of an estimated $65 billion. He pleaded guilty in 2009 and was sentenced to 150 years in prison.
Dealing with an Investigation
One of the unique aspects of white collar crime is that suspects will often become aware of the fact that they are being investigated days, weeks, or even months prior to their arrest. While this can cause suspects to experience fear and apprehension about the future, it also provides an opportunity not available to those who are arrested without warning. By retaining a criminal defense attorney at the first indication of trouble, individuals may be able to considerably reduce their exposure to criminal liability and perhaps avoid charges all together.
A defense attorney will not directly impede the investigative efforts of law enforcement. However, individuals who are represented by counsel are far less likely to unknowingly waive constitutional legal protections, or relent to the demands of investigators when there is no need to do so. And while plea bargaining typically occurs following an arrest, a skilled criminal defense lawyer will act proactively, engaging the prosecuting attorneys early in the process. Many cases are successfully resolved through negotiation before formal court proceedings begin.
Strategies for Trial
In an ordinary criminal trial, several witnesses and police officers are called to testify, some physical exhibits are introduced into evidence, and the entire trial is finished in a day or two. By contrast, cases alleging white collar crimes may take weeks to try before the jury. The number of exhibits alone can be overwhelming, with potentially thousands of documents, emails, and other items of evidence that must be accepted by the judge and reviewed by the jury members. Fortunately for defendants, the size and complexities of these trials can sometimes be a strategic advantage.
The burden of proving a case belongs to the government. So while government prosecutors are inundating the jury with the volumes of financial records necessary to prove their case, the defendant can present his or her argument in a concise, simple manner. After all, it only takes a single flaw in the government’s case to obtain an acquittal. If the defendant can identify a flaw, and elucidate it succinctly, jury members will be grateful to the defendant for making their job easier. Poking a single hole in a complex case can be a winning trial strategy for white collar offenses, but it requires the ingenuity and finesse of an accomplished defense lawyer.
White Collar Crime Defense Attorneys
If you are in danger of being prosecuted for a white collar crime, your career and reputation are on the line. Worse yet, your very freedom may be at stake. With so much to lose, you need to retain a specialist. Contact a white collar crime lawyer today for advice about your situation.