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White Collar Crimes and What to Do if You're Accused of One

By
Daisy Rogozinsky
/
July 26, 2022
Last reviewed by
Boruch Burnham, Esq.
/
May 10, 2023

When most people think of crime, they imagine violent offenses such as assault or murder. However, there is an entire category of crimes called white-collar crime that is quite different in nature. In this article, we’ll explain what white-collar crimes are, give examples of various crimes that fit under this umbrella, and explain what you should do if you are accused of a white-collar crime. 

What is a White-Collar Crime?

White collar crimes are nonviolent crimes committed in usually commercial situations for financial gain. It is estimated to cost the U.S. more than $300 billion annually. The government has the power to penalize both individuals and corporations for white-collar crimes. Common penalties include:

  • Fines
  • Home detention
  • Community confinement
  • Paying the cost of prosecution
  • Forfeitures
  • Restitution
  • Imprisonment
  • Post-incarceration supervised release

Penalties for white-collar crimes will generally increase in severity based on the level of financial harm caused, your role and level of responsibility in the criminal activity, and any prior history of similar offenses. Conversely, you can have your penalties significantly reduced or even eliminated by cooperating with law enforcement in their investigations or pleading guilty to lesser charges.

Multiple federal agencies participate in the enforcement of federal white-collar crime legislation, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Additionally, states have their own agencies to enforce white-collar crime laws at the state level.

Examples of White-Collar Crimes

A list of white-collar crimes includes:

  • Antitrust violations
  • Bankruptcy fraud
  • Bribery
  • Computer and internet fraud
  • Counterfeiting
  • Credit card fraud
  • Economic espionage and trade secret theft
  • Embezzlement
  • Environmental law violations
  • Government fraud
  • Healthcare fraud
  • Insider trading
  • Insurance fraud,
  • Intellectual property theft/piracy
  • Kickbacks
  • Mail fraud
  • Money laundering
  • Securities fraud
  • Tax evasion
  • Phone and telemarketing fraud

What to Do if You’re Accused of a White-Collar Crime

1. Obtain a Lawyer

The first and most important step you should take if you are accused of a white-collar crime is to obtain counsel. They will prove invaluable in providing legal advice, reviewing your case, finding weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and putting together a defense strategy that can either reduce your sentence or have your case dismissed entirely. 

2. Protect Your Assets

Investigators of certain white-collar crimes can have the power to freeze and seize your bank accounts or other assets to use as evidence against you. Speak to your lawyer early on about your legal options for protecting your assets and the steps you can take to prevent the government from impeding your access to your accounts.

3. Do Not Speak About Your Case

As long as you are under investigation, do not speak to anyone about your case other than your legal team. This includes friends, family, and investigators. While there is something called “spousal privilege,” which can prevent law enforcement and courts from compelling someone to testify against their spouse regarding communications between them, the scope of spousal privilege can vary greatly by jurisdiction, is generally quite limited, and has numerous exceptions that the prosecution will try to utilize. Spousal privilege aside, family and friends can usually be compelled to testify against you regarding the information you communicate to them. Always remember that you have a right to remain silent regarding crimes you may have committed and that you should only speak to investigators and law enforcement when you have your lawyer present.

4. Know What Constitutes Guilt in a White-Collar Crime

To build the best possible defense, you must understand how the prosecution could be building a case against you. To do so, you should realize that to convict you of a crime, the prosecution must not only prove that you broke the law, but that you did so intentionally and wilfully. It's also important to know that you can be convicted of a criminal offense even if you did not successfully execute the planned criminal act. For example, an attempt or conspiracy to commit a crime are criminal offenses in their own right.

5. Gather Documentation

Your defense team must put together a case backed by evidence proving your innocence. You can use many types of documents as evidence, including receipts, invoices, emails, and so on. Your attorney can help you determine what documentation to gather to support your case.

6. Know the Possible Defense Strategies

While the exact defense strategy your team uses will depend on the jurisdiction and specific circumstances of your case, there are several common defense strategies for white-collar crimes that you should be familiar with.

  • Entrapment - This defense argues that law enforcement coerced you into committing the crime and asserts that you did not intend to commit a crime and would not have done so if it weren’t for the interference of government agents. 
  • Lack of knowledge - This defense asserts that you were unaware that your role in an operation was contributing to an illegal act. 
  • Duress - This defense argues that you only committed the crime because of a threat of death or serious physical harm against you, or in some jurisdictions, against another person.
  • Good faith reliance - This defense may be based on the claim that you reasonably, and in good faith, relied on the erroneous advice of professionals, such as your lawyers or accountants. 
  • Mental incapacity - This defense asserts that you did not have the mental capacity to understand the nature and criminality of your actions and their consequences at the time you committed the crime.

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