White collar crimes are considerably serious offenses that are generally tried in Federal court. They refer to financial and other business-related crimes that do not necessarily involve the use of physical force in order to commit the crime. White collar crime is most commonly motivated by the desire to obtain financial gain, or to increase business assets. Penalties for violations of white collar crime laws will be further discussed below, but in general can include:

  • Heavy criminal fines;
  • Jail or prison sentences, depending on whether the crime is considered to be a misdemeanor or a felony;
  • Forfeiture of assets, or, giving up monetary funds and/or property gained through the crime;
  • Restitution, or, paying back money that is rightfully owed to another person and/or business;
  • Supervised release or probation; and/or
  • Home arrest.

Because these crimes are generally committed by a professional, who is either employed by a legitimate business or posing as one, the actions involved are committed through a series of fraudulent and/or deceitful behaviors.

What Are Some Examples Of White Collar Crime?

There is a considerably broad range of crimes that would be considered white collar crimes. Some of the most common examples of white collar or business crimes include:

  • Embezzlement: This is the act of withholding funds that are entrusted to you for the purpose of taking them from the rightful owner. Embezzlement generally occurs when an employee takes money from their employer for their own financial gain;
  • Ponzi Scheme: When a Ponzi Scheme is being conducted, initial investors are lured in and are paid out through new investors. False promises of returns or company growth are what sustain the investor’s interest although no such returns exist, as the money is sourced from new investors only;
  • Pyramid Scheme: Very similar to a ponzi investment scheme, a pyramid scheme has initial investors recruit two or more investors. They then require each new scheme victim to recruit two or more persons. The only funds that are being used to pay earlier investors come from the new investors. Multi-level marketing, or MLM, would be an example of popular pyramid schemes;
  • Kickbacks: Kickbacks are a type of negotiated bribery in which two parties agree to a sum amount. This amount will act as a sort of commission or bribe to one of the parties, in exchange for an illegal service and/or transaction;
  • Bankruptcy Fraud: Bankruptcy fraud involves hiding business assets from creditors or the court, in order to avoid liquidating them or paying the debt that is owed;
  • Healthcare Fraud: Health care fraud schemes generally involve health insurance fraud. An example of this would be billing for medical services that were not rendered, or overbilling in an attempt to make more money;
  • Insider Trading: Insider trading refers to when those with access to confidential information regarding a company’s performance or finances sell that information. Alternatively, they may use that information to profit on the stock market for themselves; and/or
  • Antitrust Violations: Antitrust violations involve the joint participation of two or more companies, in order to control an industry market and fix prices to their benefit.

Money transactions are frequently conducted online, over wires, or through paper instruments such as a check. Because of this, many criminals set up fake websites or advertise on legitimate sites in order to attract potential victims. They do this by promising jobs, business services, and/or an opportunity to invest. This “opportunity” turns out to be a fraudulent means in order to obtain money from the victim.

Which Agencies Investigate White Collar Crimes?

Agents of many different Federal agencies are frequently involved in white collar crime investigations. This includes, but may not be limited to:

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”);
  • Internal Revenue Services (“IRS”);
  • Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”); and
  • The U.S. Treasury.

Because so many different agencies are involved, white collar crime investigations can frequently be extensive and complex.

An investigation could be ordered even if you yourself are not suspected of committing a white collar crime. An example of this would be how your business might be investigated because it was mentioned by a witness or informant involved in an ongoing trial. You may also be subject to investigation if your business:

  • Received a subpoena in a grand jury trial, instructing you to produce business records and/or to supply a witness in trial;
  • Was presented with a valid search and seizure warrant in order to obtain relevant documents;
  • Has been contacted by a government agent who wishes to question an employee of yours; and/or
  • Recently received a “subject letter” or “target letter,” which states that an investigation is necessary for whatever reason.

If your business is the subject of a white collar crime investigation, it is very important that you respond honestly. Additionally, while you are expected to cooperate with investigators, it is imperative that you do not incriminate yourself in the process. As such, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible for advice when dealing with investigators.

It is important to remember that any information that you disclose to an investigating agent can and will be used against you in a court of law. A lawyer can inform you of which confidential business documents are protected from seizure under business laws, and you can make your participating decisions based on that information.

Can You Defend Against Allegations Of White Collar Crime?

Depending on the circumstances of your specific case, as well as which specific crime you are being accused of, there may be several defenses to white collar crime available to you. One of the most common defenses would be a lack of the required intent to commit the crime.

Another common defense would be entrapment, in which a government agent convinces a person to commit a crime that they otherwise would never have committed. Authorities frequently use undercover agents in an effort to obtain information associated with white collar crimes.

Some other examples of defenses that may be available to you include:

  • Duress, or that you were forced by someone else to commit the crime;
  • Intoxication;
  • Incapacity; and
  • Insanity.

If the white collar crime has violated Federal laws, a judge may impose penalties according to Federal Sentencing Guidelines. These guidelines recommend punishments based on the level of the crime committed, as well as the defendant’s prior criminal history. It is important to note that the guidelines are not binding on the courts, although many federal judges will use them as a basis for the sentences that they give.

Federal sentencing guidelines intended to make sentencing fairer. An example of this would be how the guidelines ignore factors such as the race or economic status of the defendant, which has helped limit sentencing disparity.

Additionally, these guidelines generally make sentencing more predictable and transparent. Prior to the introduction of the guidelines, sentencing varied widely from judge to judge. Because the guidelines are available for anyone to see, they have made the process of federal sentencing considerably more open and less mysterious.

Do I Need An Attorney To Defend Against Allegations Of White Collar Crime?

If you are facing charges for a white collar crime, you will need to work with an experienced and local criminal lawyer immediately. An attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your rights and legal options under your state’s specific criminal laws.

Additionally, your criminal defense attorney will also help you determine whether any defenses are available to you based on the specifics of your case. Finally, your attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.