White Collar Crimes
The term “white collar crime” is loosely used to refer to the full range of frauds committed by business and government professionals. However, not everyone who commits white collar crimes wears a suit and tie to work as the term implies. White collar crimes are characterized by deceit, concealment, and violation of trust. They do not depend on the use or threat of physical force—but while they are not by nature violent, they are also not victimless. White collar schemes can ruin a person’s credit, wipe out a family’s life savings, or defraud investors of millions of dollars. Meanwhile, the offenders—likely acting out of financial motivations—hope that they will gain money, property, services, and personal or business advantage.
White collar crimes can be tried at the state or federal level depending on the circumstances of a case. When prosecuted by the federal government, the same offenses likely carry greater penalties. A conviction may result in imprisonment and heavy fines along with other serious criminal penalties that will affect a person for years to come.
Some of the more common white collar crimes include:
- Embezzlement. Embezzlement, also known as employee theft, takes place when a person wrongfully appropriates funds entrusted to his or her care but owned by someone else. Embezzlement is typically committed by employees, business partners, and contract workers, such as bank tellers, store clerks, office managers, accountants, or stock brokers. In Florida, embezzlement is prosecuted under Florida Statutes Section 812.014. Penalties depend on the value of the stolen property, and, as with standard theft offenses, embezzlement can be charged as either petit theft (a misdemeanor) or grand theft (a felony). Grand theft includes three different levels. If the amount stolen is between $300 and $20,000, the offense is third-degree grand theft, and the penalty is up to 5 years in prison. If the amount stolen is between $20,000 and $100,000, the offense is second-degree grand theft, and the penalty is up to 15 years in prison. If the amount stolen exceeds $100,000, the offense is first-degree grand theft, and the penalty is up to 30 years in prison.
- Extortion. According to Florida Statutes Section 836.05, extortion occurs when someone maliciously threatens—either verbally or in writing—to accuse another person of a crime, to expose another person to disgrace, to expose a secret affecting another person, to impute deformity or unchastity to another person, or to cause injury to another person or another person’s reputation or property. This threat must be made with the intent to extort money or pecuniary advantage or to compel the threatened person or any other person to do something against his or her will. In Florida, extortion is a second-degree felony.
- Forgery. Florida Statutes Section 831.01 defines forgery as falsely making, altering, forging, or counterfeiting a document held out as true and legal with the intent to injure or defraud another person or entity. Forgery is a third-degree felony.
- Scheme to Defraud. Per Florida Statutes Section 817.034, a scheme to defraud is a systematic, ongoing course of conduct in which there is intent to defraud somebody or to obtain property using willful misrepresentations of a future act or false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises. The offense is charged and punished under two subcategories: communications fraud and organized fraud. Communications fraud occurs when a person uses electronic or written communication to further a scheme to defraud another person. Organized fraud occurs once the accused actually obtains something as the result of a scheme. Under Florida law, any person who engages in a scheme to defraud and thereby obtains funds or other property is guilty of organized fraud, and it is punishable as a felony as follows:
- If the property obtained has an aggregate value of $50,000 or more, the violator is guilty of a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
- If the property obtained has an aggregate value greater than $20,000 but less than $50,000, the violator is guilty of a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
- If the property obtained has an aggregate value smaller than $20,000, the violator is guilty of a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
- Mortgage Fraud. As laid out in Florida Statutes Section 817.545, a person commits mortgage fraud if he or she receives proceeds from knowingly making a material misstatement, misrepresentation, or omission during the mortgage lending process. The person must have had the intent to defraud, as well as the intent for the misinformation to be relied on by a mortgage lender, borrower, or other person or entity involved in the mortgage lending process. Depending on the amount of money involved and other circumstances, mortgage fraud can be either a second- or third-degree felony.
- Credit Card Fraud. Credit card crimes include buying, using, or selling stolen or forged credit cards, unauthorized use of expired credit cards, and counterfeiting or altering credit cards. Florida law defines “credit cards” to also include ATM cards, banking cards, check cards, debit cards, and other types of cards related to financial transactions. Fortunately for financial transaction fraud offenders, victims of these crimes are often more concerned with restitution than with putting the offender behind bars. However, credit card fraud is a serious crime, and prosecutors will push to enforce strict penalties under Florida Statutes Section 817.61. The penalties are determined by the value of the goods obtained using the card and the number of times the card was used. If, in any 6-month period, a credit card is unlawfully used no more than twice and the value of the items obtained is less than $100, the offender can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. If, in any 6-month period, a credit card is unlawfully used more than twice and the value of the items obtained is more than $100, the offender can be charged with a third-degree felony.
- Insurance Fraud. A person commits insurance fraud by submitting a claim based on a false, exaggerated, or deliberate loss or injury. Florida Statutes Section 817.234 prohibits submitting false or misleading information to an insurer on a claim or application for an insurance policy related to healthcare, motor vehicles, homes, commercial policies, disability, arson, and life insurance. Insurance crimes can include organized schemes to defraud the public and insurers, internal fraud resulting in the insolvency of insurance companies, and criminal activity by unauthorized entities illegally doing business in Florida. If the value of the property involved in the fraud is less than $20,000, the offender commits a third-degree felony. If the value of the property is more than $20,000 but less than $100,000, the offender commits a second-degree felony. If the value is $100,000 or more, the offender commits a first-degree felony.
- Worthless Checks. Under Florida Statutes Section 832.05(2)(a), it is a crime to obtain goods, services, or anything of value by means of a check or draft if the person issuing the check or draft knows at the time he or she does so that there are insufficient funds on deposit to cover the transaction. If the check or draft is in an amount less than $150, the offense is a first-degree misdemeanor. If the check or draft is in an amount of $150 or more, the offense is a third-degree felony. There are a number of viable defenses to these charges, and in certain circumstances, pre-trial diversion may be an option.
- Identity Theft. Identity theft is illegal under both state and federal law. As a state offense, the criminal use of personal identification information is prohibited under Florida Statutes Section 817.568. Identity theft can be prosecuted under this statute as a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 in fines. On the federal level, identity theft is criminalized under 18 U.S. Code Section 1028. The punishment for identity theft under the federal statute is a fine and up to 20 years in prison.
The Florida Legislature passed the White Collar Crime Victim Protection Act, contained in Florida Statutes Section 775.0844, to address the frequency with which victims—particularly the elderly—are deceived and cheated into substantial loss of property. In particular, the Legislature sought to protect the public’s property, enhance the sanctions imposed for nonviolent frauds, and assist in prosecuting white collar criminals.
This act defines white collar crime as committing or conspiring to commit any felony offense:
- with the intent to defraud,
- that involves a conspiracy to defraud,
- with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive a person of his or her property,
- that involves a conspiracy to temporarily or permanently deprive a person of his or her property,
- that involves or results in the commission of fraud or deceit upon a person, or
- that involves a conspiracy to commit fraud or deceit upon a person.
The penalties for white collar crimes are enhanced by the existence of certain aggravating circumstances. One example is when at least two white collar crimes are shown to be interrelated and not isolated incidents, such as if they share the same or similar intents, results, accomplices, victims, or methods of commission. Other aggravating circumstances occur when the offender victimizes 20 or more people, 10 or more elderly people, the state of Florida, a state agency, a state political subdivision, or an agency of a state political subdivision.
White collar crimes are often highly complex, involving complicated financial transactions and lengthy investigations. You need a lawyer on your side who has the resources to dedicate to a full independent investigation and evaluation of the evidence to uncover information that can clear your name or positively affect your case.
Criminal defense attorney Robert Foley is a retired FBI Agent who has led multiple significant white collar crime investigations throughout his 20-year career. Having put many of these complex cases together, he knows what to look for, where the problems lie, and how to disassemble an investigation. He understands how to evaluate the government’s evidence, and he is adept at developing effective counter-strategies. In addition, Foley’s experience as a prosecutor allows him to offer advice and evaluate your case from several different viewpoints, and as a result of getting his Master’s Degree in Business Administration, he is knowledgeable about accounting rules and procedures, business practices, corporate compliance, and governmental regulations.
To assist in the assessment of white collar criminal allegations involving complex financial transactions and computer crimes, Foley also draws upon a network of forensic accountants, financial analysts, computer experts, and other professionals. These specialists can be critical to your defense, and they can provide persuasive testimony in court.
Call the Robert Foley Law Firm for a free initial consultation on your white collar crime problem.