Man in suit wearing handcuffs holding hundred dollar bills

“White-collar crime” is a phrase used to describe non-violent criminal conduct that involves the wrongful taking of money or other valuable things of value. It can and often does involve deceit, false pretenses, or a violation of trust. Generally speaking, “white-collar crime” involves money and therefore could also be referred to as “financial frauds.” White-collar criminal conduct is not limited to any particular type of individual. Rather, anyone from a CEO to an accountant to a low-level, back-office employee could be accused of financial fraud if their conduct involved the wrongful and unlawful taking of money.

As a financial center, both state and federal prosecutors in New York routinely bring white-collar cases, though prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York handle a greater volume and greater variety of financial frauds. Some are sophisticated frauds. Others are not. But the penalties for white-collar criminal conduct do not turn on the sophistication of the allegedly criminal conduct. Also, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission often brings parallel civil enforcement actions when a charged financial fraud involves the markets for publicly traded securities.

As one might expect, defending against white-collar criminal conduct more often than not involves understanding complex financial transactions. They are therefore best handled by an experienced defense lawyer.

What Crimes Are Considered White-Collar Crime?

White-collar criminal charges are typically motivated by the promise of financial gain. Common examples of financial frauds include securities fraud, insider trading, healthcare fraud, embezzlement, larceny, certain cyber offenses, identity theft, forgery, and a variety of other conduct that involves the misappropriation of money or other valuable assets.

Are White-Collar Crimes Less Serious?

No. Although they generally do not involve physical harm, both state and federal law harshly punish those convicted of white-collar crimes. Forms of punishment for financial frauds include time in prison, fines, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, and forfeiture of monies or other assets that were obtained through fraud. Under both state and federal law, the amount of money involved in any white-collar crime is the single most important factor in determining the severity of punishment following conviction for a financial fraud. Indeed, white-collar crimes involving large sums of money can result in prison terms measured in decades, not years. In addition to the penalties arising from a violation of the law, those convicted of white-collar crimes also often have to deal with damage to their professional reputations and other fallout of a personal nature.

In short, white-collar crimes are anything but minor infractions. They need to be appropriately handled by a legal professional who understands the subtle details involved.

Is Every Financial Fraud a Crime?

Not necessarily. Although every financial fraud could be criminally charged, not all financial frauds are. Rather, several governmental, regulatory, and self-regulatory authorities – such as the SEC, FINRA, the Federal Reserve, and other state and federal agencies are authorized to bring civil, not criminal, cases seeking to penalize those who engaged in a financial fraud. These agencies have wide powers and a lower burden of proof than criminal prosecutors – that is, they must prove their cases by a preponderance of the evidence rather than proving their cases beyond a reasonable doubt. The penalties for non-criminal white-collar crime are the same as those for criminal violations, except that only state and federal prosecutors have the authority to take away a white-collar offender’s freedom.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

Definitely. You should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who specializes in white-collar crime as soon as you get even the first inkling that you might be the subject of a criminal investigation involving alleged financial fraud. Though white-collar crimes – because of their complexity – can take months or even years to investigate, it’s not uncommon to learn that you are a person of interest before charges are brought. And the time period before prosecutors cement their views as to your involvement in potentially criminal conduct is critical to minimizing or even avoiding the bringing of charges. So, whether it’s a “target letter,” or whether agents show up your home or office with questions, or if you’ve already been arrested, there are a lot of options for a clever lawyer to improve your circumstances.

If law enforcement shows up at your home or office, don’t answer any questions. Call a lawyer instead. If you discover that your phone is tapped, your e-mails are being read, or your computer is being monitored, call an attorney. If you should get any indication that you are a subject or target or a criminal investigation, call an attorney. After all, an attorney cannot help if that attorney doesn’t learn of your problems.

Call NYC Attorney Harlan Protass for Help

If you think you are under investigation or have already been charged, contact Protass Law PLLC today. Time is of the essence. With decades of experience in complex financial fraud cases, Harlan will assess your situation, advise you and help to either avoid the bringing of charges or minimize their impact on you.

Harlan Protass will help achieve the best outcome possible in your white-collar case. Call him today at (212) 455-0335 or use our online contact form to reach out for a confidential consultation.