“White collar crime” is a term that is used to refer to nonviolent theft crimes which are committed by one individual for financial gain. White collar crimes are often motivated by gaining money, gaining property, or obtaining services. In legal terms, a white collar crime is a crime that is committed by an individual, typically in a commercial situation, that involves a form of financial theft or fraud.

Most white collar crimes are prosecuted by government attorneys, who are known as prosecutors. Depending on the facts and nature of the white collar crime that was committed, an individual may be prosecuted by an attorney that works in the county attorney’s office, the district attorney’s office, or other federal authority.

If the white collar crime is based in a specific jurisdiction, that jurisdiction’s prosecution office will be responsible for the administration of justice against the offender. When determining whether or not a jurisdiction will prosecute the white collar crime, they will often refer to the police report and addendum to analyze the facts of the case, and determine what charges (if any) they will file.

For white collar crimes that arise to a felony, prosecutors often will use grand juries to make the charging decisions. A grand jury is composed of 16 to 23 randomly selected individuals from the community. The individuals selected to be a part of a grand jury will consider all of the evidence and decide what (if any) charges are to be filed against the offender. It is important to note that at least 12 members must concur in an indictment.

After the grand jury decides what charges to file against the offender, the prosecution will then begin gathering evidence to prepare for hearings and a final trial. Additionally, the party accused of the crime will be assigned or have a chance to hire an attorney to represent them in the criminal case.

What Are Some Examples Of White Collar Crime?

As mentioned above, white collar crime is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide array of various non-violent crimes that are committed for financial gain. As such, there is a wide variety of crimes that may constitute white collar crime. For example, the following is a non exhaustive list of common white collar crimes:

  • Criminal Fraud: Criminal fraud is a type of white collar crime that involves a scheme intended to cheat or deceive another individual or entity. Criminal fraud is done in order to obtain a financial or similar type of gain. According to criminal fraud law, any action that is intended to deceive another through false representation of fact, that results in legal detriment to the person who relied on the information, could be considered criminal fraud. Examples of criminal fraud include identity theft, forgery, and perjury;
  • Embezzlement: Embezzlement is a white collar crime that occurs when a person, who is in a position of trust with another person, i.e. they are entrusted to handle the finances of a business, illegally takes money or property for their own personal use. The most common example of embezzlement is when an employee that is in charge or has access to funds for a business, launders money from their employer. One way in which an employee may illegally take money from their employer is by forging checks, or altering the financial books to take money from their employer;
  • Racketeering: Racketeering is a white collar crime that involves the operation of an illegal business, or racket. Racketeering is generally associated with organized crime. A few examples of criminal rackets include the importation and sale of illegal drugs, prostitution rings, trafficking, and gambling. Additionally, “protection rackets” involve a criminal organization extorting money from businesses for “protection” against crimes, which would most likely be committed by the criminal organization itself. A historical example of racketeering is the mafia;
  • Securities Fraud: Securities fraud is any fraud that is used in connection with the sale of a security. Securities fraud law is generally intended to prevent anyone from using a scheme to defraud, make untrue statements, and/or fail to make a statement that deceives investors.
    • For example, individuals that illegally manipulate the stock market through deceiving others, may be charged with securities fraud. Additionally, individuals that steal from others’ securities accounts, will be charged with security fraud; and/or
  • Tax Evasion: Tax evasion occurs when a person commits a criminal act that is designed to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”). The definition of tax evasion is very broad. The broad definition is intentional, as it allows the IRS to pursue an individual for almost any known misstatements on their taxes. Tax evasion generally involves an individual or corporation misrepresenting their income to the IRS in an attempt to pay less taxes.

What Are the Punishments for White Collar Crimes?

Generally speaking, white collar crime punishments are determined according to the amount of economic damages involved. For example, if the amount of economic damages involved is less than $500, the crime may be considered petty theft, and charged as a misdemeanor. However, if the amount of economic damages involved is greater than $500, then the crime will likely be charged as a felony. It is important to note that the range of economic damages and limits between misdemeanor and felony charges will differ based on jurisdiction.

Additionally, punishments for white collar crimes may be determined according to other factors, such as but not limited to:

  • The amount of property damage resulting from the commission of the crime;
  • The amount of environmental harm caused, such as the amount of harm caused by illegal dumping;
  • Whether the crime is considered to be highly offensive to public policies and standards of acceptable conduct, such as defrauding the elderly or disabled;
  • Whether the accused party has a criminal history, or if this is their first offense; and
  • The number of people who were harmed or involved in the crime scheme.

White collar crimes are serious offenses that are usually tried in Federal court. However, as noted above, depending on the jurisdiction of the crime, they may also be tried in local court. Generally speaking, penalties for violations of white collar crime laws can include but may not be limited to:

  • Fines of up to $1,000 for misdemeanor offenses, or heavy fines of up to $10,000 or more for felony offenses;
  • Imprisonment for less than 1 year for misdemeanor offenses, or imprisonment for 10 years or more for felony offenses;
  • Forfeiture of all assets, monetary funds and/or property;
  • Restitution, that is, paying back money that rightfully belonged to another person or business;
  • Loss of licensure, loss of right to vote, loss of right to possess a firearm (if the crime is charged as a felony); and/or
  • Supervised release, probation, or home arrest.

Do I Need An Attorney For White Collar Crime?

If you are being accused of committing a white collar crime, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced and local criminal defense attorney.

An experienced and local lawyer will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s specific laws regarding white collar crimes, and what your legal rights and legal options are under those laws. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.