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White Collar Crime

The term "white collar crime" broadly refers to any type of illegal conduct in a business setting. Examples include:
  • Fraud
  • Theft
  • Bribery
  • Extortion
  • Tax evasion
  • Other acts of corruption  
These crimes carry stiff penalties, including prison sentences that sometimes exceed jail time given for armed robbery. The ability to prosecute white collar crimes is a strong weapon in a prosecutor's arsenal. It was income tax evasion, for example, that brought down Al Capone. Government agencies now have the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ("RICO") laws, which make it much easier to get convictions for patterns of criminal activity and have been applied in many situations involving white collar crimes.
A white collar criminal defendant will always be "outgunned" in terms of resources. Wiretappings, recordings, and other surveillance tactics are commonplace. Criminal prosecution of friends and family is also common. Furthermore, prosecutors can simply file different charges after an acquittal on initial charges.
Today, many executives find themselves in the difficult position of either agreeing to a plea bargain for a white collar crime or rolling the dice on being sent to prison for many years if they go to trial and are convicted by a jury. Prosecutors have a lot of discretion in deciding whom they prosecute for white collar crimes. For this reason alone, cooperation with government officials during corporate investigations is suggested because even the simplest of inquiries can turn into criminal investigations if not handled properly.
The law in this area can also be a trap for the unwary because anyone who had anything to do with a criminal act or an attempted criminal act can be charged with the crime of conspiracy. Even if charges are never filed, obstruction of justice may occur if an individual interferes with a pending criminal investigation. It may take nothing more to step over the line than calling up a friend who is a prospective witness in the investigation.
Criminal liability is not limited to individuals, as corporations and business entities can also be convicted of criminal wrongdoing. Obviously, while a corporation cannot be incarcerated, fines and injunctions are a powerful weapon that prosecutors can use to bring a business to its knees.