Movies like The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short, and American Hustle may glamourize white collar crime, but the reality is that white collar crimes are extremely serious and are punishable by strict penalties, including prison time. Although Hollywood gets many of the facts right, there is a lot of misinformation out there about what constitutes a white collar crime and what types of people get caught up in these kinds of cases. Here are some of the most common questions and answers about white collar crimes.
What Is White Collar Crime?
In general, “white collar crime” is an umbrella term that refers to financial crimes. There is no single federal or state statute that defines “white collar crime.” Rather, these types of offenses are defined in various statutes and tend to involve the theft, manipulation, or mishandling of money, commodities, stocks, mortgages, taxes, and many other types of financial products.
Although white collar crimes definitely involve victims, they don’t involve violent acts or the use of physical force. In many cases, a white collar crime also involves someone in a position of power or authority abusing their position or betraying another’s trust. This is the type of abuse you see in large-scale fraud, such as Ponzi schemes.
These offenses are referred to as “white collar” because the people who perpetrate them tend to be non-violent criminals who work in the financial industry. By contrast, “blue collar” workers were historically known as those who worked in factories, construction, or other manual labor industries. Although this distinction is less applicable now, the terms persist as a way of distinguishing between a perceived higher-class, more educated worker versus someone who works in a skilled trade or by performing manual labor.
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The FBI states, “Reportedly coined in 1939, the term white-collar crime is now synonymous with the full range of frauds committed by business and government professionals. These crimes are characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust and are not dependent on the application or threat of physical force or violence. The motivation behind these crimes is financial — to obtain or avoid losing money, property, or services or to secure a personal or business advantage.”
Who Commits White Collar Crimes?
Because stories of complicated, wide-ranging financial crimes are interesting to the film industry, it’s easy to think that white collar crimes only involve Wall Street bankers and executives at big mortgage companies. While individuals in positions of prestige and power have certainly been implicated in white collar crimes, it’s untrue that authorities only investigate people involved in multimillion-dollar schemes.
The reality is that everyday people can get caught up in white-collar crime investigations. For example, an employee of a clerk of courts office in Ohio was charged with stealing more than $100,000 from the office. In Santa Ana, California, a postal worker was accused of stealing over 6,000 credit cards from the mail.
Are White Collar Crimes Prosecuted in Federal or State Court?
In most cases, individuals accused of committing white collar crimes are prosecuted in federal court. Because many white collar crimes involve the theft of large sums of money — and because a growing number of white collar crimes involve computer-related offenses that send information across state lines — a large majority of these cases are handled in federal court. Federal investigators and authorities are also more likely to have the resources and expertise to handle a complex financial crime.
However, some white collar offenses are handled in state court. It’s also possible for a defendant to face charges in both federal and state court. Regardless of which system the charges are brought in, anyone facing charges for a financial crime should work with the best criminal defense lawyer who has handled white collar crimes in the past.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have Been Charged with a White Collar Crime?
If you’re facing a white-collar crime investigation or charges, it’s important to understand the potential consequences of a conviction — including the possibility of prison time. In the past, people convicted of white collar crimes were often punished by being forced to pay fines or restitution — with few defendants serving time in prison.
However, this is not the case today. In recent decades, a large number of individuals have been sentenced to years and sometimes decades in prison for white collar crimes. Perhaps most famously, Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his $65 billion fraud scheme. Sholam Weiss, who was convicted on 78 counts of racketeering and other charges, received an 845-year sentence. Norman Schmidt, who is currently serving time at a high-security federal prison in Texas, was sentenced to 330 years for running numerous fraudulent investment schemes. While these represent some of the most extreme cases of white-collar crime sentencing, courts today have shown that they are not averse to handing down jail time and prison sentences for individuals who commit financial crimes.
Broden & Mickelsen
Broden & Mickelsen, LLP
2600 State St Dallas, Texas 75204
Main Phone: (214) 720-9552
Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case. Recoveries always depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case, the injuries suffered, damages incurred, and the responsibility of those involved.