White-collar crimes refer to financially motivated nonviolent crimes, usually perpetrated by business and government professionals. This is a broad category of crimes, so we will cover some of the most prevalent ones here. White-collar crimes are often charged as felonies, and as such are punished with severe penalties. If you are charged with a white-collar crime, it is important to seek a skilled lawyer who will either have your case dismissed or the charges reduced.
Embezzlement occurs when someone steals property that is entrusted to that person. For example, if you are an accountant and illicitly take some of your client’s money for yourself, that is embezzlement. Embezzlement is harshly prosecuted in Florida because the businesses that are usually the victims of this crime seek to deter this kind of behavior.
There are no statutory provisions that are specific to embezzlement. Instead, embezzlers are charged with either petit theft or grand theft. As our article on theft describes, the difference between the two is $300: if the amount stolen is worth less than $300, then it is a petit theft and a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 1 year in prison and $1,000. However, if the value of the stolen property amounts to $300 or more, it becomes a felony known as grand theft, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. If the amount is $20,000 or more, then the penalties increase even more.
Healthcare fraud refers to several illicit practices in the healthcare industry. For example, it is illegal to practice or attempt to practice one of many regulated healthcare professions without a valid license. Another common form of healthcare fraud involves doctors overstating the seriousness of a patient’s injuries in order to charge higher fees. There are also “pill mills” that will unnecessarily prescribe great quantities of controlled substances to patients, which can then be sold on the street.
Prosecution for healthcare fraud is pursued relentlessly by the government. This kind of fraud can cost the federal government billions of dollars, so federal prosecutors will often seek harsh punishments for those charged with this crime. In the State of Florida, healthcare fraud is almost always charged as a felony. Third degree felonies are punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 prison; if you are convicted of a second or first degree felony, the punishment could be as much as 30 years in prison. There may also be minimum mandatory sentences. For example, a conviction for the unlicensed practice of a healthcare profession carries with it a minimum mandatory sentence of 1 year in prison.
Identity theft is a particularly troublesome white-collar crime. Identity theft occurs when someone steals a victim’s bank information or other identifying information that can be used in the commission of fraud, or when a victim is impersonated. Although you may think identity theft happens once a perpetrator uses a victim’s information to commit fraud, it actually occurs as soon as the victim’s personal information is stolen. If that information is used to commit identity fraud, that is another crime in addition to identity theft. 6.64 percent of all consumers were victims of identity fraud in 2017 which highlights the severity of the issue. Therefore, if you are charged with identity theft, it is imperative that you seek competent legal help.
RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) is a powerful tool the government may use against criminal fraud operations. RICO gives the government greater power to prosecute businesses associated with organized crime, even legitimate businesses that may not be aware of the criminal association. As such, if you suspect you are the target of RICO, it is highly recommended to hire a lawyer to guide you through the complex legal territory involved.
Although RICO is federal legislation, Florida has its own version of the law. The Florida RICO act allows state prosecutors to arrest people who are associated with an organization and have engaged in at least two “racketeering” incidents through that organization with similar victims, results, methods of commission, or so forth. Florida’s RICO act charges defendants with a first degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
DEFENSE FOR WHITE COLLAR CRIMES
Here are a few of the many defenses a lawyer can use to defend you if you are charged with a white-collar crime.
Illegal Searches and Seizures
Law enforcement generally has a strict burden to meet when pursuing criminal charges. For example, the police must usually show probable cause that a crime is being committed and obtain a warrant from a magistrate before they can conduct electronic surveillance (e.g. “wiretapping”). If your lawyer can show that the police conducted an illegal search or seizure in their investigation and thus violated your constitutional rights, you may be able to have some or all of the evidence against you thrown out.
Engaging in Unregulated Activity
If, for example, you are charged with the unlicensed practice of a healthcare profession, your lawyer may strive to prove that the activity in which you were engaging was one not regulated by the Department of Health.
Lack of Intent
For some white collar crimes, intent is a crucial element to prove a crime has been committed, and a skilled lawyer will know how to attack this question of intent from all angles. For example, if the prosecutor cannot show beyond a reasonable doubt in an embezzlement case that you intended to steal the misplaced property, then the jury may not find you guilty of embezzlement.