How innocent people can be charged with white collar crime

On Behalf of | Apr 7, 2021 | White Collar Offenses |

When was the last time you chanced upon a television crime drama featuring a massive investigatory probe targeting an individual who arguably committed a so-called “white collar” criminal offense at the workplace?

You’re probably thinking back a bit, right? Commonplace TV fare like CSI/FBI shows almost exclusively features alleged bad guys with violent tendencies and physical mayhem on their minds.

The bottom line: The white collar crime realm is a typically deemphasized sphere in the collective public mind. An insightful Harvard Business Review piece duly points to violent crime as being America’s “national obsession.” The article underscores that white collar crime is often viewed with a high level of disinterest, noting that, “Complicated financial schemes are difficult to understand, and the perpetrators and victims are often unclear.”

A few notable facts to clear up concerning white collar crime

Candidly, and as amply borne out by myriad and diverse reports and studies, the white collar crime realm is not on the back burner for law enforcers. It is actually the case that probes into alleged wrongdoing have spiked markedly in recent years, with deep-pocketed federal and state task forces often working together in search of arrests and convictions.

And notably harsh sentencing outcomes, which is a point worth emphasizing. It is a widely held perception that convicted white collar defendants are punished in a relatively light manner, which is a view largely grounded in myth. An authoritative Middle Tennessee legal source addressing white collar crime stresses the reality of many charges carrying “steep penalties and the ominous possibility of prison time.

Lengthy and diverse: a listing of white collar criminal offenses

Prosecutors aggressively pursue white collar criminal targets and routinely file charges they hope will stick and yield exacting penalties. Those charges run a wide gamut and include offenses like these:

  • Health care fraud (e.g, false billings linked to Medicare)
  • Embezzlement and money laundering
  • Bank/mortgage fraud
  • Insider trading and acts like Ponzi-scheme engineering and stock manipulation
  • Identity theft
  • Fraudulent activity tied to credit cards, the Internet and the postal system
  • Tax fraud/evasion

Criminal intent: sometimes unclear and even unproven

The above-cited Harvard piece makes the compelling point that corporate crime cases often “come down to whether those accused knew their actions were illegal.”

That often makes for a sticky point and slippery slope. Many case outcomes spanning the country have ultimately spotlighted the absence of any criminal wrongdoing by a defendant. Juries and courts have often concluded this:

  • An actor’s good-faith reliance upon a management directive to proceed in a certain way (e.g., a routine carrying out of a manager’s orders)
  • Behavior engaged in following a go-ahead from a professional adviser such as an accountant or legal counsel
  • Actions followed through on that an actor believed were firmly within the realm of customary practice and standard operating procedure
  • Misunderstanding regarding legal/regulatory dictates

The mantra “I never knew it was wrong and had no intent to break the law” routinely surfaces in legions of white collar criminal cases and proves persuasive in many cases.

The white collar crime sphere is an unquestionably complex and fluid legal arena, with consequences being potentially severe for any alleged wrongdoer. A proven and empathetic criminal defense legal team with a deep well of demonstrated client advocacy can provide diligent representation in a given case.