White Collar Crime
White collar criminals are all around us, in the news and popular media. Names like “Bernie Madoff” and “Gordon Gecko” have become synonymous with the concept of high-profile, high-yield criminal acts. Yet most people do not really know what white collar crime is, how it is usually prosecuted, or whether they could unwittingly be the victims – or the perpetrators – of these crimes.
“White Collar Crime” is an umbrella term for a huge family of offenses, ranging from theft crimes to simple mail fraud to huge ponzi schemes. What these crimes have in common is that they all include some type of deceit or breach of trust. White collar crimes are almost always non-violent; however, the penalties and punishments can be as severe. Some common white collar criminal offenses include:
- Consumer Fraud
- Credit Card Fraud
- Insurance Fraud
- Identity Theft
- Fraudulent Use of an ID
- Bank Fraud
- Tax Evasion / Tax Fraud
- Worthless Checks
- Mortgage Fraud
Houston White Collar Crime Defense Attorney
No one should face the accusation of being a white collar criminal alone. This is a very complicated area of law, requiring skill, expertise and experience. Houston defense attorney Matt Horak has all three. Mr. Horak is prepared to listen to your story, assess the situation as a whole, and prepare a defense that is right for you. If you are located in Harris, Montgomery, or surrounding counties and you have been arrested or are being investigated for a white collar crime, you should contact Matt Horak at (713) 225-8000 to discuss your case.
Texas White Collar Crimes Information Center
- What is a white collar crime?
- What are the most common white collar crimes?
- When might an individual be liable for the crimes of another person and/or a corporation in Texas?
- What is a conspiracy?
According to the Department of Justice, white collar crime encompasses all nonviolent, illegal activities involving deceit, manipulation, breach of trust or concealment.
Common examples of white collar crimes include those crimes committed through the means of commerce, such as conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, securities fraud, bank fraud, and other related offenses.
If you or a loved one has been charged with any white collar crime or federal offense, or believe you may be, you should contact an attorney immediately.
The term “white collar crime” applies to a broad range of offenses. Some of the most commonly prosecuted crimes are:
- Mail fraud: Mail fraud is a federal crime under 18 USC 1341, meaning that it will be prosecuted by the federal government and not by Texas prosecutors. In order to convict someone of mail fraud, the government must show that there was a scheme to defraud (obtain money or property by fraudulent means). They must also show that the mail or a private carrier was used in furtherance of the scheme. Private carriers include UPS and Fed Ex. A classic example of mail fraud involves the “sale” of non-existent property to out-of-state residents using the mail.
- Wire Fraud: Wire fraud is also a federal crime. The law is very broad, allowing prosecutors to make a “federal case” out of virtually any fraud that uses wire (telephone), radio or television transmissions that cross state lines.
- Bankruptcy Fraud: Hiding assets or information in a federal bankruptcy action.
- Securities Fraud: Failure of a securities agency/company to truthfully disclose activities to investors and analysts. Sometimes insider trading is also included in the term securities fraud.
- Ponzi Schemes: Investment managers defraud investors by using the money from later investors to pay off earlier ones, rather than investing the money as they promised.
- Misrepresentation, concealment and perjury
- Money laundering: Using money that is illegally gained in a way that conceals/disguises its origins, violates tax laws, and/or supports an illegal activity.
These are just some examples of common white collar crimes. What constitutes a “white collar crime” really depends on the prosecutor’s definition. For example, some prosecutors define large drug rings or fencing schemes as types of white collar crimes.
White collar crime is a very complicated area of law, involving federal law and state law. You should never attempt to defend yourself in a white collar crime case. If you have been accused of any of the above acts, or any other crime, you should contact an experienced white collar crime defense attorney immediately.
One key element of many white collar crimes is proving that one defendant is liable for the behavior of another actor, whether that other actor be a person or a corporation. This is because oftentimes the defendant has engaged in a criminal action on behalf of another person (such as his boss) or a corporation.
Under the Federal Law, a corporation may be liable for the actions of its employees, under the theory of “Respondeat Superior.” If any employee was acting within the scope of his duties, on behalf of the corporation, and the company had knowledge that the activity was criminal (either through one employee, or the collective knowledge of all of its employees), then the corporation may be liable for the employee’s criminal act.
Texas’s rules are a little different. Under Texas Penal Code § 7.22, a corporation may only be responsible for the actions of an employee if:
- The employee was acting within the scope of his duties; and
- The employee was acting on behalf of the corporation; and
- The crime is defined (in the penal code or other law) as a strict liability crime or one that applies to corporations; or
- The act was authorized or requested by a majority of the Board of Directors or a high managerial agent, like the CEO.
However, under Texas Penal Code §7.02, responsibility for the crimes of another is defined broadly. A person may be liable for another person’s actions if he
- Forces them to perform the act;
- Solicits, attempts to aid, aids or encourages the act; or
- Has a legal duty to prevent/stop the act, and does not.
Therefore, under Texas law, it is very likely that one employee will be held liable for another employee’s actions. However, it is less likely that the company the employee works for will be held liable for the employee’s action. Under Federal law, there is a greater possibility that a corporation will be held responsible for its employees’ actions.
Another common element of many white collar crimes is conspiracy. This is because high-level white collar crimes are very seldom carried out by a single person. Oftentimes several actors will agree to commit a crime, and the prosecutor will seek to charge them all.
Under most conspiracy laws (both state and federal), prosecutors must show four elements to prove conspiracy:
- An agreement
- An unlawful purpose
- Knowledge and intent
- An overt act towards achieving the goal of the conspiracy – the crime need not actually be committed
Under Texas Penal Code §15.02, if you are convicted of conspiracy, your sentence will be 1 level lower than the level of the crime that was the object of the conspiracy. For example, if you are convicted of conspiring to commit a 1st degree felony, you will be punished as though you committed a second degree felony – even if no actual crime was ever committed.
Conspiracy is a favorite tool of the modern prosecutor. Virtually any crime can be charged as a conspiracy, and doing so offers the prosecutor special advantages, including the opportunity to use each conspirator’s statements against the others. Prosecutors may also try to cut deals with some of the conspirators, in exchange for their testimony against the others.
If you have been charged with conspiracy, you should not attempt to contact or communicate with the other alleged conspirators or the police. You should contact an experienced attorney immediately.
United States Department of Justice – Homepage for the Department of Justice, the Federal Agency which prosecutes crime (including white collar crimes)
Securities and Exchange Commission – Homepage of the SEC, the Federal Agency which protects investors in the securities (stocks and bonds) market
FBI White Collar Crime Page – Information on what white collar crime is, how to recognize and prevent it, and how it is investigated
White Collar Crime Professor’s Blog – Law professor’s blog about changes and developments in the law
Horak Law | Texas White Collar Crime Attorney
Matt Horak represent clients in Houston, Texas and the surrounding areas, including Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Galveston, Liberty, and Waller counties. If you are being investigated or have been arrested for a white collar crime, or if you believe that you are going to be in the future, contact an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer immediately at (713) 225-8000.