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What Is White Collar Crime?
White collar offenses are typically a type of crime committed by business people, entrepreneurs, public officials and professionals through deception normally committed in a commercial setting for financial gain, as opposed to street crimes which tend to involve force and violence.
White collar crimes include bribery, scams, embezzlement, bank fraud, extortion, larceny, commercial and consumer frauds, insider trading, various financial swindles such as Ponzi schemes, bribery, wire fraud and more.
White Collar vs. Blue Collar Crime: What’s the Difference?
White collar crime largely concerns itself with business, the financial sector and the government, often conducted on the sly, with professional techniques and accomplices working together to conceal their activities. Blue collar crime is typically concerned with more personal, face-to-face offenses.
According to the FBI, blue collar crime is often differentiated from white collar crime as the former typically involves physical violence or the threat of physical force, while white collar crime is generally non-violent (at least from this perspective).
White Collar Crime Examples
While there are a variety of versions of white collar crime to consider, some of the more popular forms are commonly found in crime statistics as well as popular culture.
Money laundering, for example, is a prime example of white collar crime. In a three-stage process, participants in a money laundering scheme place their “dirty” or ill-gotten funds into a bank, then layer their funds usually via a series of wire transfers throughout a number of other accounts, both on- and off-shore. Finally, filtering the money through legitimate businesses, the purchase of luxury assets and other more reputable investments, white collar criminals seek to distance the origin of these illicit funds as much as possible to hide the source of the money.
Securities and commodities fraud is also an example of high-profile white collar criminality. Former investment mogul Bernie Madoff is perhaps the most prominent example of a white collar criminal in recent American history, having been sentenced to 150 years imprisonment for his involvement in running a Ponzi scheme based upon fraudulent investment portfolios. Madoff died in prison in April of 2021.
White Collar Crime Punishment
The punishment for a white collar crime is generally determined by the offense committed, as well as the severity of the offense. Additionally, both state and federal courts have their own determination regarding sentencing, as well as the initial charges, which may differ in terms of scope and response.
At the federal level, a public sector worker or government agent tasked with taxpayer money may face embezzlement charges if they misdirect or misappropriate the funds they are responsible for managing. If convicted of this offense, you could face up to 10 years imprisonment in addition to a fine and remuneration totaling the value of the misappropriated funds if the sum embezzled exceeds $1,000. If the amount embezzled is less than $1,000, you could face no more than a year of imprisonment in addition to fines and remuneration equaling the amount stolen.
In some states such as California, if a person, company, officer or entity is prosecuted for willfully making false statements or providing a false tax return, penalties can be quite severe. A felony tax evasion conviction could result in a prison term of up to three years in addition to a steep fine of no more than $50,000.
White Collar Crime Defense Strategies
Experienced attorneys familiar with white collar crimes can frequently employ certain defenses, depending on the details of the alleged offense and the strength of your case.
If they can prove there was a lack of intent, particularly in cases where a simple error (such as in the case of filing a complex tax return) or insufficient evidence to establish clear, calculated intent, which is a prerequisite for many white collar criminal charges, you might have a successful defense strategy.
Arguing that authorities worked to entrap you (via a conducted sting operation or by otherwise ingratiating themselves with you) can also work as a defensive option in certain white collar criminal cases, depending on the case details and the jurisdiction.
How Can White Collar Crime Lawyers Help?
If you find yourself facing charges related to a white collar crime, it is advised that you seek the services of an established criminal defense attorney to help create the strongest defense possible.
Essentially, your white collar crimes attorney will work to get the charges dismissed, construct a strong defense if your case goes to trial or negotiate a plea agreement with the goal of eliminating or reducing incarceration time.
What Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Do?
To accomplish these goals, your attorney will take a number of steps, beginning with an initial consultation. At that meeting, your attorney will explain the applicable law and punishment, listen to your side of the situation and ask questions about the circumstances of your alleged involvement.
A criminal defense lawyer will then evaluate your position to determine if authorities have insufficient legally obtained evidence that may result in dismissal, or determine the best defense theory for your case. They will oversee an investigation of the allegations, including police investigations, the testimony of witnesses and victims and the physical evidence against you.
It is the responsibility of the government in criminal cases to prove your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which can be a heavy burden depending on the prosecution. Your defense attorney will challenge the government’s case to establish a reasonable doubt, which would end your trial in acquittal.
If that cannot be accomplished, your attorney will represent you at sentencing and produce evidence to mitigate the sentence the court imposes and reduce possible fines.
Should I Hire a White Collar Crime Attorney?
Although white collar crimes are not physically violent, they do carry prison terms ranging from one to 30 years, significant fines and loss of professional licenses. If you are charged with a white collar crime, or even if you think you are under investigation for such a crime, it is to your advantage to seek legal representation immediately.
White collar crime is a bit different than other crimes in that people generally know they are under investigation long before they are ever charged with a crime. If you know you are being investigated for a white collar crime you should contact an attorney immediately.
Even if you have not been charged, the sooner you get an attorney on board, the better defense they will be able to mount. In some cases, hiring an attorney at the onset of an investigation may prevent charges from being filed at all. In the event that charges are filed, an attorney will be able to negotiate on your behalf in hopes of getting more lenient treatment.