December 9, 2023
White-collar crimes can be some of the most destructive criminal offenses in terms of their cost to society. They are also some of the most under-reported and under-emphasized.
It’s estimated that every year in the United States white-collar crime costs society over $1 trillion in damages. This can be compared to the more publicized street crimes that cause a yearly total of $15 billion in damages.
We examine why it is that white-collar crime seems to get so much less attention despite being more damaging to society. We’ll also go into some different examples fo white-collar crimes, what the penalties are if convicted of these crimes, and common defenses that can be used in these types of cases.
What Are Some Common Examples of White-Collar Crime?
Almost everyone can form a mental image when the words street crime is mentioned. Most people will think of gang violence or illicit drug use and distribution. Fewer people will be able to give similarly descriptive examples of white-collar crime.
In the broadest sense, white-collar crimes are those crimes committed in business and in politics and usually have to do with the theft of money, counterfeiting, fraud, or other financial crimes.
These can be committed at a high level and involve billions, such as the case of Bernie Madoff. Conversely, white-collar crime can be lower-level and involve only hundreds of dollars.
Some of the most common types of white-collar crimes include:
Fraud is defined by the Colorado Office of the State Auditor as the intentional misrepresentation of fact, whether by words or conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of what should have been disclosed.
Typically it involves an offender attempting to induce a victim to act, and the fraudulent activity cannot exist without the victim’s action. The actor must also know of the act’s falsity and the transaction must result in injury or damage.
Embezzlement is considered a form of theft in the state of Colorado. The crime is committed when a person in a position of trust over another’s assets, such as a banker or an accountant, steals those assets covertly.
The crime of embezzlement can be broken down into public and private with the embezzlement of public property considered more serious in terms of punishment.
This is one of the more high profile types of white-collar crime because of its association with other criminal elements such as organized crime. The Colorado Revised Statutes defines money laundering as:
“A person commits the criminal act of money laundering when they engage in or attempt to engage in any financial transaction that involves money, or other objects of value that they know is the product of a criminal offense.”
Why Do White-Collar Criminals Seem to Get Light Sentences?
The topic of white-collar criminals and their crimes has been studied quite extensively by psychologists and criminologists. One common theme that has come from this research is the idea that high-level white-collar criminals seem to get away with severe crimes and receive little to no penalty.
There are various reasons this is thought to be the case. For one, many of the highest level white-collar criminals are the very same people in charge of the major institutions of law and order. These are also very high-level businessmen and politicians who can skirt the law for various reasons.
High profile examples of these criminals who were caught include the Kenneth Lay, the Chairman of Enron, and Jordan Belfort, the founder of Stratton Oakmont. Both of these men were found to have defrauded millions and even billions of dollars out of their companies and the general populace. Yet, both men received what can be considered relatively light sentencing.
By contrast, a smaller level white-collar criminal, someone who commits basic identity theft, for example, faces much more severe punishment. There are various reasons this is thought to be the case.
One thing is certain, white-collar crime committed at the highest levels seems to be protected and it’s perpetrators shielded from the consequences of low-level white-collar criminals.
Defenses Against White-Collar Crime Charges
If you are ever charged with a white-collar crime such as identity theft or check fraud, an experienced attorney will understand how to develop the right defense strategy and is able to advise you on the best course of action.
Some of the most effective defenses against charges of white-collar crime include:
- Showing a lack of intent
- Finding errors in the prosecution’s arguments
- Demonstrating a lack of understanding
- Proving coercion
- Proving entrapment
- Proving the supposed victims are also guilty of white-collar crime
- Proving the statute of limitations has passed
- Plea bargaining for lesser charges
These are eight of the most commonly used defense tactics that can help you to properly defend yourself against white-collar charges. It’s important to remember that not all of these tactics are appropriate in every situation.
Always make sure you consult with an attorney who is both knowledgeable and experienced in handling white-collar crime cases and who can advise you on the best way to defend yourself against these types of charges.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been recognized by countless legal organizations for his exemplary defense work, including Avvo, Best DWI Attorneys, Expertise, Lawyers of Distinction, The National Trial Lawyers, and others. He was also named one of the 10 Best in Client Satisfaction in Colorado by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys for 2020, and is Lead Counsel rated.