West Palm Beach
White Collar Crime Lawyer
Your complex federal case demands
an experienced defense attorney
White collar crimes encompass many forms of fraud or misappropriation of funds due to manipulation of records or transactions. These offenses often intersect with federal laws related to financial operations and prevention of government corruption. Federal criminal charges almost always raise the specter of imprisonment as well as fines. Allegations of white collar crimes must be taken seriously despite the perception that these offenses do not cause physical harm. A vigorous defense by a West Palm Beach white collar crime lawyer is necessary to protect the rights of a suspect during an investigation or after an arrest.
Definition of white collar crime
History credits sociologist Edwin Sutherland with creating the term white collar crime in 1949. The clothing reference comes from the fact that offenders are generally owners, managers, and other office professionals who dress in professional attire. Their positions of power, authority, and control of company or governmental resources give them the opportunity to enrich themselves or protect their financial interests illegally. The FBI defines this crime category as a non-violent crime arising from deceit, concealment, or violation of trust used to create a financial advantage for an individual or sometimes a whole enterprise.
Who commits white collar crime?
Although executives and employees at any type of business or government agency could commit white collar crimes, these offenders tend to be in certain business sectors, especially:
- financial services
- mortgage lending
- health care
Government officials in charge of hiring and paying contractors and suppliers are in a position to manipulate records for illicit self enrichment. Additionally, people at government regulatory agencies or the judiciary may be susceptible to bribery schemes.
The demographics of the people convicted of white collar crimes are quite interesting. Although this information can only be based on the offenses that are actually detected, the data about white collar criminals reveal that:
- over half are age 41 to 60
- approximately 90% are male
- three-quarters of offenders are white
This demographic profile reflects who tends to be in a position to commit white collar crimes. Middle-aged people, especially men, will have developed their careers to the point of gaining authority and trust. This status puts them in a position where temptations to divert funds for personal gain could lead to wrongdoing.
From a criminal defense perspective, it is important to note that any people entrusted with some level of financial access at their jobs could be subject to investigations when money appears to have gone missing. At larger organizations, multiple individuals may come under scrutiny as the organization and law enforcement search for the responsible party. Individuals subject to a white collar crime investigation should know that seeking legal advice early on is appropriate. A defense lawyer knowledgeable about financial investigations can provide advice that helps a person navigate conversations with investigators.
Do not say anything that might incriminate you. Speak with an attorney first.
Major categories of white collar crime
White collar crimes cover substantial legal territory. A federal criminal defense lawyer must have the resources to delve into extremely detailed evidence to look for issues that could expose the shortcomings of a West Palm Beach prosecutor’s case.
A defendant might face one or more of the following situations after law enforcement makes an arrest:
RICO / Racketeering Defense
At the federal level, the Racketeer Influenced or Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act defines racketeering crimes and establishes penalties. Florida also has criminal statutes used against people involved in rackets. A racket describes an organized criminal enterprise that profits from dishonest services designed to solve problems caused by the criminals to generate need for their service.
Racketeering takes many forms, including:
- illegal gambling
- protection schemes
- money laundering
- drug trafficking
A racketeering criminal charge relies on proving a pattern of criminal behavior. A single crime cannot qualify for a racketeering charge. The government must show that a defendant orchestrated or participated in a series of related crimes. Due to the complexity of this offense, defense strategies can attack the validity of the individual crimes as well as the alleged pattern of wrongdoing. Overall, racketeering is a difficult offense to prove but should be treated with great seriousness. A conviction could send someone to prison for 20 years. A RICO conviction involving a murder could potentially result in a life sentence.
Money Laundering Defense
Federal charges of money laundering are commonplace for white collar defendants. Money collected through criminal activity, such as fraud or embezzlement, often needs to be “laundered” or made to look legitimate on someone’s financial records.
The process of money laundering moves through three stages:
Placement is the act of putting money derived from illegal activity into the financial system. This could be done by depositing proceeds into the account of a front business or paying off a loan. Moving money to different countries to buy assets is another method. Afterward, layering can occur as an individual shifts the money through multiple transactions in an effort to obscure its origins. With integration, the proceeds are returned to the originator of the cash or assets with its illicit nature theoretically erased.
A key aspect of a money laundering defense is frequently what the person knew about the origins of the money. Participation in a money laundering transaction is not enough to convict if it cannot be proven that the person knew the money was illegal.
Embezzlement may be the white collar crime that people are most familiar with. The bookkeeper who took part of a business’s daily deposits is the classic example. However, many sorts of people in administrative jobs or upper management engineer elaborate schemes to divert company or government money to themselves. For example, they may pay invoices from fictitious companies that they set up.
In some cases, an alleged act of embezzlement may be defended on the basis of the person making a mistake, especially with complex accounting. A prosecutor is required to prove that the person intended to take the money. Other cases might create doubt about guilt if the defense can show that the defendant was not the only person with access to the funds or financial records. Sometimes people commit acts that appear like embezzlement because superiors ordered them to do them as part of some larger scheme. The threat of job loss compels the person to participate.
A bribe occurs when money or something of value is offered or given to a public official in exchange for performing a duty of that office. As a federal crime, bribery can extend beyond public officials to those employed in the banking sector due to the federal government’s regulation of financial services and lending. Solicitation of money by a public official in exchange for performing a duty is also a bribe. Elected officials or appointees who use their influence to enrich themselves through their official acts would be accused of graft, which is very similar to bribery.
Some examples of bribery include paying a planning official to approve a building permit or paying a judge to issue a lenient sentence. To defend someone from a bribery charge, a lawyer might raise doubts about the person’s intent. Bribery is defined legally as a crime of intent. People in positions of power who had some related business dealings might not have intended any of the transactions to serve as a bribes. Evidence must also confirm beyond a reasonable doubt that the offer or acceptance of value took place at all.
Overview of white collar crime penalties
Federal and state laws outline sentencing guidelines that include both fines and prison time. The severity of sentences varies for each individual charge, but federal charges could lead to years or even decades in prison. White collar criminals frequently face multiple charges, which allows for a sentence for EACH charge that produces a conviction.
Among defendants who do not succeed in having all of their charges dismissed, many will face fines ranging from a few thousand dollars into the millions depending on the extent of the offense.
Current research reported in 2022 indicated that the average prison sentence for a white collar defendant was 27 months.
A racketeering conviction raises the chance of a lengthy prison sentence. Racketeering or extortion defendants had prison sentences of 79 months on average.
Build your white collar crime defense today
Joffe Law, P.A. has represented people accused of federal white collar crimes for over 35 years. Our firm can offer an insightful and realistic evaluation of your case that will reveal your best options for fighting charges and protecting your freedom. If you have been arrested, do not rely on information provided solely by the criminal justice system. You deserve to understand your rights fully before answering questions or making a decision about how to plead. For confidential legal assistance in West Palm Beach, call our office immediately.
White Collar Crime: FAQs
How is white collar crime investigated?
An organization might first suspect white collar crime after an internal audit or an owner or manager raises concerns about missing funds or inventory or odd transactions. A company or agency could investigate the matter privately before bringing in law enforcement or go directly to law enforcement as soon as suspicions arise.
However, companies do not always detect or want to detect problems, but an external source alerts law enforcement. A bank official could notice suspicious transactions or customers could complain to a government agency about losing their money inexplicably.
State or federal investigators will conduct an extensive investigation because they need to collect thorough evidence to arrest someone and potentially convict. Law enforcement can interview people, request search warrants, and subpoena financial records. If necessary, a prosecutor could convene a grand jury to review evidence. When evidence is compelling on its own, a prosecutor could go straight to requesting criminal charges against an individual.
Federal criminal charges are often the result when alleged crimes cross state or international lines or involve a federal agency in some way.
Do I need a lawyer after being arrested for a white collar crime?
The non-violent nature of white collar crimes can convince some defendants that the charges will not lead to serious consequences. They might have observed other people over the years engage in the same crimes and never face justice. However, prison time, fines, forfeiture, and restitution orders are all possible if convicted of a white collar crime.
All defendants need a competent defense attorney who can explain the charges and penalties and propose a defense strategy. Even if pleading guilty appears necessary, a defense attorney could work to eliminate the worst charges and negotiate a plea deal.
Ideally, a lawyer will cast so much doubt on evidence or get evidence removed due to violations of a defendant’s rights that the government chooses not to proceed with the case.
For this reason, an individual should obtain legal representation immediately after arrest or upon learning that an investigation is under way. A lawyer can help a person avoid self-incrimination that can occur through misguided attempts to cooperate with an investigation in the hopes of appeasing law enforcement. A defendant benefits most when supported by reliable legal counsel about how to answer questions or comply with a subpoena.
How will a white collar crime conviction affect my career?
Most criminal convictions impact people’s career choices. In the case of white collar crimes, a conviction is likely to eliminate opportunities to work in a position of financial responsibility in the future. A bank will not employ someone with a criminal record of this nature. Most financial services companies are required to conduct background checks on employees before entrusting them with confidential information. In general, few companies in any sector would choose to knowingly hire a person proven to have misappropriated funds. A professional career reliant on maintaining licensing and certifications will likely be derailed by a conviction because the credentials will be revoked.
Although being charged with a crime can inflict serious reputational damage to a professional, a successful legal defense that prevents conviction can preserve someone’s career opportunities. Innocent people do get charged, but innocence does not reduce the need for a white collar crimes defense lawyer.