The term white-collar crime refers to criminal offenses “characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust . . . to obtain or avoid losing money, property, or services or to secure a personal or business advantage.”i These crimes are committed using a pen rather than by wielding a weapon. Of course, crimes like embezzlement, Medicaid fraud, money laundering, insurance fraud, computer scams and swindles, securities fraud, tax fraud, insider trading, perjury, bribery, and other such offenses could be committed by a person wearing any color “collar.”
If you or someone you know is under investigation for suspected white-collar crimes in the Tampa – St. Petersburg area, then you should contact an experienced white-collar defense lawyer near you immediately. Do not wait until the investigating law enforcement agency makes an arrest. The best white-collar defense lawyers can take valuable steps before an arrest to protect the suspected offender and reduce the damage that could result from an unfounded prosecution.
Florida White Collar Crime Law
In Florida, the state legislature enacted a statute focusing on enhancing the punishment for white-collar criminals who engage in a pattern of similar white-collar criminal behavior. The Florida law defines white-collar crimes as those relating to the commission or conspiracy to commit any felony relating to:
- transmitting money
- theft, robbery, and related crimes
- computer-related crimes
- fraudulent practices
- abuse, neglect, or exploitation of elderly or disabled adults
- forgery and counterfeiting
- writing worthless checks and drafts
- bribery and abuse of public office
- offenses by public employees
- racketeering and collection of illegal debts
- financial transactions.
- defraud or conspiracy to defraud.
- intent to deprive a person of their property or conspiracy to do so, temporarily, or permanently
So inclusive is this statute that it even includes within its coverage the offense of robbery which is not typically considered a white-collar crime because it implies the use of force or the threat of force in the commission of the crime. White-collar crime traditionally only refers to non-violent offenses.
Aggravated White-Collar Crime — Enhanced Penalties in Florida
In Florida, the commission of a pattern of white-collar crimes opens a defendant up to being prosecuted as an “aggravated white-collar criminal.” This designation is actually a separate felony that can impose an additional 30-year prison sentence over and above the commission of the underlying offense.
The goal of the Florida statute is to detect and penalize serial schemers, people whose crimes are targeting groups of vulnerable populations, like the elderly, veterans, or state agencies or the agencies of any state subdivision. This special crime of “Aggravated White-Collar Crime” can be prosecuted against anyone whose victims include 10 or more elderly people, 10 or more veterans, 20 or more people, or a government agency, AND who obtains or attempts to obtain $50,000 or more.
If the defendant’s convictions include at least two felonies of conduct of twice committing a felony offense listed in the previous section that has similar characteristics, like similar intent, results, accomplices, or victims, then they are guilty of a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Defending White-Collar Crimes
Contacting a skilled white-collar defense lawyer is the first and most important step you can take to begin building your defense against any potential indictment for white-collar crime. An experienced white-collar criminal defense attorney will analyze your vulnerability and assess the strength and quality of the evidence the government may have already obtained. Expert counsel will also ensure that you don’t make the common errors of so many soon-to-be defendants, like providing false information to federal agents (a felony), or obstructing justice (another felony) by disposing of or tampering with evidence or witnesses.
To win a conviction in a white-collar criminal prosecution, the government’s lawyers must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. And the most important element of white-collar crimes is “intent.”
Offenses in the “white-collar” realm are crimes like embezzlement, fraud, money laundering, and other deceptive offenses whose primary motive is financial gain. All these crimes require a specific intent to take something (or keep something) you know is not yours. You cannot accidentally commit fraud. The core feature of fraud is the perpetrator’s knowledge that they are deceiving the victim.
Experienced criminal defense lawyers who practice white-collar defense often discover that the conduct being depicted by the government as intentional fraud was actually a mistake on the part of the defendant. If the defendant had a reasonable belief (even if incorrect) that their statements were accurate, or what they were suggesting to the “victim” would actually benefit the victim, then the government’s burden of proving the defendant’s “intent to defraud” would be extraordinarily high.
Challenging the allegation that the defendant intended to defraud the victim, or to take the money they “knew” was they were not entitled to, then no conviction should result.
Entrapment is the defense in which the defense can show that the defendant would not have engaged in the alleged criminal conduct unless enticed to do so by government informants or undercover agents. In some cases, government investigators suspect that a person has committed a crime for which the government cannot find sufficient evidence. The government then engages in an operation to present the suspect with the opportunity to commit a crime they would not otherwise commit.
For example, if the owner of a failing business is desperate to find funds to keep their business afloat, an undercover agent may approach the owner with an opportunity to make a huge profit in illegal insurance fraud. Despite the business owner’s misgivings and hesitance, with a little more prodding by the government’s agent, the owner agrees. The government indicts the owner for insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and prosecutes them by using tape recordings and photographs of the crime.
Entrapment is an affirmative defense that, if successful, is a complete defense to the charge. To prevail with an entrapment defense, the defendant needs to show that they were not predisposed to commit the crime (no previous record of the same or similar conduct), and they would not have done so but for the government’s encouragement.
Statement Was Not Fraudulent
White collar defendants are often indicted for alleged frauds that are not frauds at all. Some statements that are claimed to be deceitful or misleading enough to constitute fraud are less fraudulent than they are ambiguous. An unclear or parsed statement can sometimes be understood to say something other than what is intended by the speaker. For example, those “You’ve already won!” mailers you receive in your mailbox. When you look more closely at what appears to be a clear declaration that you did win a prize, you see the small print that clarifies that what you’ve won is valued at 1/100th of a cent, and a chance to buy magazines.
It seems like a fraud, but it passes the legal test keeping it from being criminal.
Though not a “defense” to the alleged crime, the best lawyers can present the defendant’s extraordinary life circumstances in a light that minimizes their moral culpability for acts that may violate the law. This strategy is especially successful where the defendant is dealing with personal tragedy, disease, substance use disorder or addictions, or other sympathetic situations. When first offenders are charged with white-collar crimes and can point to extreme conditions of understandable desperation, courts and even prosecutors can be surprisingly understanding. This approach requires an attorney skilled at communicating with others in a persuasive manner, a skill acquired after years of courtroom experience.
Florida White Collar Crime Defense
Trust experience when facing White-Collar Crime Charges. Lean on Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law; 813-280-1244.