FBI and White Collar Crime: Beware of Overreach

This recent article discusses what would have happened to the FBI if the government had shut down. Amongst other things, the FBI would not have had the funding to fight federal white collar crimes. It is a good starting point for looking at the vast scope of the FBI, its role in fighting white collar crime, and what it means for the accused.

“White collar crime” is a general term for the numerous frauds and scams committed by businessmen and government professionals. Types of fraud include money laundering, bankruptcy fraud (where the person files false information or conceals assets), mortgage fraud, insurance fraud, and more. Scams include pyramid schemes where people are encouraged to participate in a program with no real product or service, so “profits” come solely from participants’ investments. Sometimes white collar crime comes in the form of cyber crimes. The white collar criminal could be a lone anonymous businessman, or it could be Bernie Madoff or one of the powerful people who ran Enron. Either way, innocent victims lose their life savings as a result.

Yet investors may not be the only innocent victims. With the FBI working aggressively with other federal agencies, people who committed no crime risk getting caught up in their net. The FBI fights white collar crime on multiple fronts. With bankruptcy fraud, for instance, it looks not only at individuals and businesses who could be concealing assets, but also those with multiple bankruptcy filings, and those whose filings could be associated with another criminal enterprise. For money laundering, the FBI created the Forensic Accountant Program (FAP) in 2009 to attract professionals who could do thorough forensic financial investigations. With so many targets, it is almost inevitable that the FBI will cast its net too wide, ensnaring innocent people. When that happens, they need to find a federal criminal defense attorney who will fight for their interests.

The threat of FBI overreach is still present, even as the article noted that its focus has been diverted somewhat by the threat of terrorism. Innocent people could then find themselves the target of federal grand jury investigations. Those investigations could take months, even years. The target of an investigation would need to make sure that a federal defense attorney with years of experience was at his back.