By: Mark Diaz
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Galveston Criminal Defense Attorney Discusses White Collar Crime
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What Is White Collar Crime?
The easiest way to put it is that white collar crime generally involves some type of fraud. It generally has a financial motive. There are a lot of ways to commit what people call white-collar crimes. What is important to note is that white-collar crime isn’t a section of law. The term, white collar crime, was first defined by the sociologist, Edwin Sutherland, in 1939. He defined it as a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of their occupation.
However, if you look in the Texas codes or the federal codes, both big books, there’s not a section for this. It’s just a term used to describe the way people perceive certain offenses. We see a lot of different types of crimes that you would classify as white-collar crimes.
A simple example that we’ve seen locally, a couple of times in recent years, is someone who works for an employer, and over time, has taken money from their employer without their employer’s knowledge. I’ve seen that as complex as having someone create a company that supposedly provides a service to the company they work for, and then submitting those invoices and having them paid to the company.
While it’s the individual who owns that company and is pocketing that money. I’ve seen it as simple as someone has the checkbook in the office, and they just start paying their own bills with company money. Shockingly to me, in that case, it went undetected for several years. By the time the employer found out, it was a very large sum of money that had been stolen.
The reason I say that is shocking to me is that you would think that a company doing business on the volume that they were would have had an accountant or someone flagging what certain expenses were, I have always used an accountant. My accountants certainly have always asked me anytime they come across what they thought was a strange charge. For me, it’s usually me paying for something and not classifying it. I’ve never had anyone that worked for me abusing any of my financial systems. That should give you sort of an overview of what we’re talking about when we see people charged with white-collar crimes.
Locally, we kind of see an uptick in white-collar crime after natural disasters. I remember I had one case of that nature after hurricane Ike. It turned out to be one of many that happened after Hurricane Ike. I had a young man as a client who filled out false information on his FEMA forms and applications to get financial assistance. It was later discovered because, in his case, it was the address where he was claiming that he lived. When the true homeowner made their claim, FEMA said wait a minute, we’ve already paid on this claim.
Then it was discovered that my client’s claim was a fraud. I’m trying to think of an instance where it would not be a financial incentive behind a white-collar crime, and I just can’t think of one. Almost every case I’ve ever been involved in, that you would call white-collar, had some aspect of financial gain for someone, even if it wasn’t necessarily the person charged.
Recently, we’ve seen an uptick in the postal service side of white-collar. Also classified as white-collar crimes can be identity theft. There have been many cases in the region of people taking mail and then washing checks. Washing checks is a process whereby if you apply certain chemicals, you can remove what a person has written on a check and make the check payable to someone else. Also, credit cards that are shipped in the mail, things like that, can be altered.
Generally, that’s considered white collar, though, because it involves the Postal Service inspection. I’ve had a case where my client had somehow gotten the master key for the Postal Service, for neighborhood mailboxes in the master plan communities. They had gotten a master key, and would just open it from the back where the mailman does, and steal all the mail. That was for financial gain.
On the identity theft side, I’ve had someone finance a car in someone else’s name. The victim in that case, whose credit was being used to finance the car, didn’t even know until they were alerted by law enforcement. Sometimes the crimes can be fairly complex, to the point that it takes a lot of investigation to get to the bottom of it. In some of these cases, the evidence is pretty shocking how clever people are. Sometimes it’s so simple that you don’t know how they got away with it.
Punishment For White Collar Crimes
Another thing people ask or people perceive is that white-collar crimes are punished to a lesser degree than many other crimes. If you’re looking at the numbers, I understand why people think that. However the flip side of that is the average white-collar criminal is usually middle-aged, never had a criminal history, and is only in the position to do what they’re doing because they’re in a position of trust.
Looking from the outside it would seem like maybe some of the sentences are light, but when you take into consideration all the collateral consequences that a person would seek, like loss of career, loss of everything, a shorter sentence seems to make more sense. It’s not the type of crime that is usually going to be repeated. The person has no prior criminal history, they saw an opportunity and took it.
From a punishment standpoint, that’s different from the person who decides to take a gun and rob a store or some crime like that. So, it’s typically perceived that white-collar criminals are punished to a lesser degree. In my opinion, that is not the case. What I’ve found is that it depends on the underlying offense, whether it becomes a state crime or a federal crime. When I gave the examples talking about white-collar crimes we have seen locally, where employees were caught taking money from the company without the company’s knowledge.
Usually, those remain state cases and do not go federal. The ones that typically go federal, are the more complex. Money laundering is another type of white-collar crime. The schemes get fairly complicated and use banking institutions, wire transfers, and that type of stuff. Those are usually charged federally because it took more than a local agency to investigate it.
Is White Collar Crime Prosecuted Locally Or Federally?
If someone was stealing from me in my office, the Galveston Police Department could easily investigate that and close the case. Whereas if there were some kind of fraud going out of here, that was through the internet and going out of the country or out of state, that takes so many more agencies that usually goes federal because they have more resources than just a local department. So it kind of depends on the offense that is committed to determine whether or not it is going to be charged locally or federally.
Income Tax Fraud
Another big chunk of white-collar crimes that happen at a certain time of the year is income tax fraud. People committing fraud to get returns that they’re not due. Another aspect of that is these tax preparation services making fraudulent returns for people. Those offenses pick up a lot when income taxes are due. White-collar crime generally involves fraud for monetary gain.
We all get phone calls that we don’t want. The way that you can easily tell it’s a bogus phone call is when they’re calling from a spam number. I’ve had car dealerships show up as the caller ID, but then it’s someone wanting to talk to me about my social security. I know it’s a scam when they can’t even call me from a legitimate number.
Contact Our Galveston White Collar Crime Attorneys
Every white-collar criminal case is unique. And given the depth and variety of possible charges, it is impossible to briefly list every possible defense that may arise. But here are some of the issues we look at when representing a white-collar client:
- Did you act with criminal intent? For instance, while tax evasion is illegal, making an honest mistake on your tax return is not a crime. The prosecution must show you acted with some illegal intent.
- Was there duress? Were you effectively forced to commit the crime by a third party who was really in control?
- Were you physically or mentally incapacitated–say, due to intoxication–at the time the alleged crime occurred?
- Was this a case of entrapment? While law enforcement is allowed to conduct undercover operations to apprehend suspects, the government is not allowed to convince you to commit a crime that you otherwise had no intention of committing.
Even in cases where the evidence against you may seem overwhelming, a qualified defense attorney can still assist you in negotiating a possible plea agreement with the prosecution. Indeed, most white-collar criminal cases are resolved this way. In some cases, prosecutors may agree that a defendant will serve little or no jail time in exchange for their cooperation with a larger investigation.
This is why it is always in your best interest to work with an experienced Galveston white-collar crime criminal defense attorney, even if you are simply under investigation and have not yet been arrested and formally charged. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation so we can sit down and learn more about your situation and how we may be able to serve you.