Understanding White Collar Criminal Charges In Illinois

While many people are familiar with the term white collar crimes, they may not be completely certain about some of the activities that may fit under this label. A white collar crime usually involves the theft or retrieval of financial assets, which includes data, with the intent to use this information for personal gain. They are called white collar crimes because they frequently occur in professional settings, and, there is little actual contact between the offender and the victim. In fact, in many circumstances, the victim may not even be aware that the offense is even happening.

Some of the more common white collar crimes in Illinois include:

  • Identity theft – using a social security number or other identifying information belonging to another person to make purchases/apply for credit
  • Credit card theft – stealing the actual credit cards of an individual or using the numbers to make fraudulent copies of the cards for personal use
  • Ponzi schemes – promising a significant return to investors, then encouraging new individuals to invest in the plan, using these new funds to repay others
  • Embezzlement – stealing, concealing or misdirecting finances from accounts into personal accounts; most often happens in professional settings
  • Fraud – using means to deceive other individuals of property, could include fabricated documents or other complex schemes
  • Wire fraud – using the internet or telephone to make purchases or transfer funds stolen from another person; could quickly become a federal crime if multi-state schemes are involved
  • Money laundering – taking money earned in an illegal enterprise and attempting to make the money appear as though it was made in a legitimate manner
  • Forgery – changing, altering or completely fabricating new documents in an effort to gain access to another person's assets

The complex nature of these crimes means that several different statutes may come into play to determine if the offender engaged in criminal behavior. These include not only Illinois laws focused on theft, fraud and identity theft, but also federal statutes that the individual may have violated, which could potentially result in the person facing more serious federal charges.

In these crimes, a person is accused of taking property that does not belong to him or her, either by deception, concealment or threats. These individuals then use the property in a manner which intends to deprive the original owner of any permanent benefits of the property.

For example, in a small business, the owner may hire an accountant to help keep the books. When the individual starts listing assets and expenses, certain funds may be misdirected or underreported. These funds are kept by the accountant, as his or her property, in the hopes that the owner never finds out about the missing assets. Should the owner conduct an audit in an effort to locate these assets, and discovers that the accountant has been stealing from the business, it is likely that the accountant will be facing criminal charges.

Some may have questions about how investigators determine that this sort of thing is happening. In some situations, it can be very difficult to learn about or uncover evidence regarding the alleged theft. Often, this will require a comprehensive analysis of financial documents. The "paper trail" is closely examined to check for any inconsistencies that could potentially reveal the criminal activity. This can quickly become a very consuming task, and it is essential that those who learn that they are suspected of engaging in these criminal acts consult an experience attorney immediately to begin preparing their own review of these documents.

Illinois law bases the potential penalties for these crimes on the dollar value of the property that was stolen. The more these values increase, the longer the possible jail time, and the higher the fines the individual will be facing if convicted. Determining the value at issue can also be challenging, as there may be disputes over what certain property is worth.

It should be pointed out that the return of the allegedly stolen property is not a defense to these allegations. If the business owner in our previous example confronted the accountant about the missing funds, and the individual agreed to return the assets, criminal charges will still be possible. Be sure to consult an attorney before engaging in any discussions with law enforcement or property owners, as any of the information that is disclosed in these communications could be used to pursue a conviction.

White Collar Crimes At The Federal Level

If an individual is charged with violating a federal statute, there are very significant consequences that the person needs to know about before making any decisions about how these wish to proceed with their case. Each section of the code has a potential maximum sentence that could be handed down if an individual is convicted of that offense.

However, the maximum sentence may not always be handed down in every case. Offenders need to realize that the maximum sentence might not be the most important issue that they need to focus on. Instead, they should be concerned with the mandatory minimum sentence, which sets a specific amount of time that each offender will be required to serve in federal prison for committing a federal crime.

To understand mandatory minimum sentences at the federal level, it is important to know how the offender's prior criminal history, as well as the facts of the current crime impact the amount of time that may result.

The federal courts use a chart to determine the sentences that apply. One side of the chart concerns the offender's prior record. Each prior conviction is analyzed to see if it should be included in computing the mandatory minimum. The more prior offenses, the more likely it is that the offender will be receiving a longer mandatory minimum sentence.

The next item to be examined will be the facts of the particular crime. Often, the code sections themselves set a base offense level. This means that no matter what else happened in the case, the individual can expect to receive at least that much time in prison. The more serious the offense, the higher the base offense level, and the more time the offender will be required to serve.

There are additional factors listed in each code section that can increase the base offense level. The more funds involved, as well as the number of victims, both can lead to longer sentences. There may be disputes regarding the actual value of the assets in the case, because the federal courts may look at the intended value that was to be involved, rather than the actual value of the theft. So, if an individual has a scheme to defraud investors of $5 million, but only receives $3 million, the $5 million mark could still be applied in certain situations.

Another factor that leads to enhancements in many of these cases is the use of sophisticated means. This could be due to using a computer to complete the crime or even being involved in a multi-person effort to defraud individuals or investors, such as a Ponzi scheme.

In some situations, individuals receive notice that they are under investigation by a federal law enforcement agency. When they receive a target letter, they might not understand the seriousness of the situation. They need to immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to begin preparing a response to these accusations.

Because of the mandatory minimum sentences, it is essential that individuals act sooner rather than later when preparing their defense. There are possible sentencing departures for individuals who cooperate with the investigation, which could be something that offenders may wish to consider. An attorney can explain any of these possible departures, and help individuals decide what would be the best option at this time.

What You Should Do If You Are Facing Accusations Of Committing A State Or Federal White Collar Crime

The most important step that you can take if you have been charged with a white collar crime is to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. You need to work with a law firm that knows how prosecutors handle these kinds of cases, because of the extensive investigations often involved. The sooner you can begin conducting your own investigations, the better opportunities you will have to present a defense to these charges.

A conviction of a white collar crime could destroy your professional reputation. Even being suspected of the crime may be enough for you to lose your job, so it is important that you protect your future. Many companies will refuse to place these kinds of offenders in any kind of position of trust, because they do not want to take a chance that the crimes could happen again.

By preparing a strong defense to these allegations, you will be able to decide what is best for your future. Your attorney will be able to advocate on your behalf, including taking your case into the courtroom, if it is in your best interests.

Because every case is so unique, you need to be sure that you have a clear picture of what is exactly happening in your specific situation. This means understanding how prior criminal offenses could mean longer prison sentences if convicted, or, how your situation could be impacted due to the mistakes made in the investigation. Pleading guilty to the charges may seem like your only option, but, this is not true. There are many things that your attorney can do to help protect your freedom.