When you are facing federal charges for a white-collar crime, you need to get in touch with an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer as soon as you can to begin working on your defense strategy.  It is important to understand how white-collar crimes are classified, what types of federal offenses “count” as white-collar crimes, how they are investigated, circumstances for white-collar crime arrests, penalties for conviction of a federal white-collar crime, and how you can defend against charges of a federal white-collar crime.  At the Marcilliat & Mills PLLC, we represent clients charged with a range of federal white-collar crimes, and we have years of experience building strong defenses to the various types of white-collar charges a person can face in North Carolina.  Do not hesitate to get in touch with one of our North Carolina federal white-collar criminal defense attorneys today to learn more about how we can assist you with your defense.

In the meantime, the following are the top things that you should know about federal white-collar crime offenses.

The Phrase “White-Collar Crime” Does Not Refer to a Specific Criminal Offense, But Rather to a Category of Criminal Offenses

When people refer to white-collar crimes or white-collar criminal offenses, they are not referring to a specific criminal offense.  You cannot face a charge of “white-collar crime” under state or federal law.  Rather, white-collar crime is a category of criminal offenses that typically involve non-violent acts involving fraud, financial deception, and similar tactics to obtain money or assets of other people by unlawful means.  According to Georgetown Law, white-collar criminal offenses are specific types of crimes that are “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.”  The overarching framework that connects various types of white-collar crimes is that they are committed intentionally and for financial gain.

Both domestic (i.e., within the United States) and international businesses can be involved in or implicated for white-collar crimes.  The federal government often has the authority to investigate white-collar crimes involving foreign businesses through the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), particularly in cases involving money laundering, bribery, or when the foreign business implicated is listed on the U.S. Stock Exchange or otherwise conducts business within the United States.

White-Collar Crime as a Category Has Been Around for Less Than 100 Years

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the use of the term white-collar crime “was reportedly coined in 1939 and has since become synonymous with the full range of frauds committed by business and government professionals.”

Many Kinds of White-Collar Crimes Exist

There are various types of white-collar crimes, and some common examples include the following:

  • Business or corporate fraud;
  • Public fraud and public corruption;
  • Bankruptcy fraud;
  • Credit card fraud;
  • Health care fraud;
  • Mail fraud;
  • Wire fraud;
  • Securities fraud;
  • Insider trading;
  • Embezzlement;
  • Counterfeiting;
  • Forgery;
  • Identity theft;
  • Computer crimes, including identity theft through cybercrimes;
  • Ponzi schemes;
  • Extortion;
  • Bribery;
  • Tax evasion;
  • Money laundering;
  • Racketeering; and
  • Corporate espionage.

Depending upon the way the alleged crime occurred, a person may face multiple types of federal charges.

Most White-Collar Crimes Are Charged Under Federal Law

While there are some situations in which a white-collar crime could be charged under state law, the majority of white-collar crimes are charged under various federal laws.  Accordingly, if you are being investigated for a white-collar crime (which we will discuss in more detail below), you should know that you should anticipate federal as opposed to state criminal charges.  Furthermore, since most white-collar crimes are charged under federal law, you will need a lawyer on your side who has experience defending clients in federal white-collar criminal cases.

Most White-Collar Crimes Will be Heard in a Federal Court

Since most white-collar crimes are federal offenses, this means they will be heard in federal court. There are numerous federal courts in each state, and the court in which your case will be heard will depend on the specific facts of your case.  According to the U.S. Courts, there are a total of 94 federal U.S. District Courts (a number that does not include federal appeals courts), one of which is likely where your case will be heard.  There is at least one district in every U.S. state.  In North Carolina, there are three federal district courts: Eastern District, Middle District, and Western District.

White-Collar Crimes are Serious Offenses

Although white-collar crimes are typically non-violent offenses, you should not expect a federal investigator or prosecutor to go lightly on a person who has allegedly committed a white-collar crime.  To be sure, the federal government takes white-collar offenses extremely seriously, and the FBI emphasizes that white-collar crimes “can destroy a company, devastate families by wiping out their life savings, or cost investors billions of dollars.”  Indeed, the FBI says, “these are not victimless crimes.”

Most White-Collar Criminal Charges Start With an Investigation

Rather than beginning with a stop, a search, or even a warrant for an arrest as is common with other types of criminal offenses, most white-collar crimes will begin with a lengthy investigation. The federal agency investigating the particular offense will likely begin seeking information contained in paper and electronic documents by issuing subpoenas or obtaining warrants to conduct searches of a corporation’s offices, including its computers and the emails and other electronic communications contained within them.  Therefore, you could be subject to a federal investigation without even realizing it.

Many Different Federal Agencies Can Be Involved in Investigating White-Collar Crimes

Many different federal agencies may be involved in investigations of white-collar crime, such as:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI);
  • S. Department of Justice (DOJ);
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA);
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS);
  • S. Department of Homeland Security (DHA);
  • S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA);
  • S. Department of Labor (DOL); and
  • S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

Do Not Expect to Have a White-Collar Criminal Conviction Removed from Your Record

Federal criminal offenses, including white-collar crimes, are not eligible for expunction under any federal statute. As such, you should not expect to seek an expungement if you are convicted. Rather, you should focus on obtaining experienced counsel to argue for a dismissal of the charges you are facing.

White-Collar Crime Can Include Public Fraud

While white-collar crime often involves acts of fraud against private individuals or private businesses, you should know that white-collar crime can also include allegations of public fraud, which may involve attempts to defraud a federal agency or attempts to unlawfully obtain public benefits.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, public fraud is usually investigated by the Fraud and Public Corruption Section of the DOJ.  The DOJ explains that it typically investigates forms of public fraud, which include “the payment and receipt of bribes and gratuities, honest services fraud, theft of government property, and financial conflict of interest.”

Crimes involving public fraud can result in a variety of criminal charges, such as:

  • Mail fraud;
  • Wire fraud;
  • Mortgage fraud;
  • Bank fraud;
  • Tax crimes;
  • False claims;
  • Government contract fraud;
  • Money laundering; and
  • Receipt and payment of kickbacks on government contracts.

Public fraud can also involve the Stolen Valor Act. While the original Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the United States v. Alvarez (2012), President Barack Obama signed a new version of the law, the Stolen Valor Act of 2013.  Although the original law resulted in the punishment of an individual who engaged in fraud to claim a medal of honor or other military decoration, the Cornell Legal Information Institute explains that the “2013 Stolen Valor Act punishes individuals who, through such fraudulent claims, intend to obtain money, property, or another tangible benefit.”

Elements the Government Must Prove Will Depend Upon Specific Criminal Charges

The specific elements of a white-collar crime that the Government must prove in order to convict you will vary depending upon the particular offense for which you have been charged, but generally speaking, most white-collar crimes require an Assistant United States Attorney to prove intent to defraud or knowing involvement in a scheme in which there was an intent to defraud. However, as mentioned above, each criminal offense will have specific elements that the prosecution must prove.

Defense Strategies Will be Based on the Criminal Charges, But Multiple Defense Options May be Available

There are many different defense strategies that may be available for white-collar crimes, but you will need to work with a defense attorney to determine the particular defense strategies that may be applicable to your case.  In looking at the particular elements of the offense, you may be able to identify a clear defense strategy if one of the requisite elements of the crime does not apply to your case.

Corporate Officers Can Be Held Accountable for White-Collar Crimes Committed by the Corporation

If you are a high-ranking corporate officer in a business and you have been charged with a white-collar crime, you might think that a clear and obvious defense is that you had no actual knowledge of the crime being perpetrated by the corporation, and as such the prosecution will not be able to prove the required elements of the offense. However, it is critical to understand that according to the “responsible corporate officer” (RCO) doctrine, or the “responsible relation doctrine,” a high-ranking corporate officer can face criminal charges for the actions of the corporation.  Indeed, according to the Cornell Legal Information Institute (LII), the RCO doctrine “creates a presumption that a high-ranking corporate officer is aware of his or her corporation’s wrongdoing,” which means that “a corporate officer could be found guilty of a crime of which the officer had no knowledge.

This doctrine comes out of two U.S. Supreme Court cases, United States v. Dotterweich (1943) and United States v. Park (1975).

Consequences of a White-Collar Criminal Conviction are Serious and Often Involve Prison Time

If you are convicted of a white-collar crime, you will be facing serious penalties. Most federal white-collar crimes are charged as federal felony offenses, and convictions carry severe penalties and extended prison sentences. For example:

  • Tax evasion can result in a fine of up to $100,000 for an individual and up to $500,000 for a corporation, as well as up to five years of imprisonment;
  • Bank fraud can result in a fine of up to $1 million and up to 30 years of imprisonment;
  • Mail fraud, along with wire fraud, can result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines;
  • Securities fraud can result in a monetary fine based on the amount obtained fraudulently, as well as a prison sentence of up to 25 years; and
  • Money laundering can result in a monetary fine of twice the amount of the money laundered, a penalty of up to $500,000, and up to 20 years in prison.

Seek Advice from Our Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys in North Carolina

Given that many white-collar criminal offenses begin with an investigation process that involves requests for documents or wiretaps, it is essential to begin working with an experienced North Carolina federal criminal defense lawyer as soon as you have any indication that you are under investigation. The sooner you begin working with a lawyer on your case, the better your chances in preventing investigators from obtaining certain information about you or from you that can be used to charge you with a federal white-collar crime, and the better your chances ultimately will be of developing a strong and effective defense strategy that can result in an acquittal.

Our firm can speak with you today about your case, whether you have early concerns about a federal white-collar criminal investigation or you have already been charged with an offense. Contact The Marcilliat & Mills PLLC for more information about how we can assist you with your defense.