What are considered white collar crimes and how they’re punished

Crimes such as fraud, corruption, embezzlement, tax evasion and environmental law violations all fall under the umbrella of white collar crimes. This term was first used in 1939 by the then-head of the American Sociological Society in a speech.

In that speech, the president of the professional organization referred to the any crime committed by a high esteem individual in the course of his or her work as a white collar crime. Over time, this type of federal offense has come to encompass any number of different nonviolent crimes that have as the end goal some type of financial gain.

Another attribute that defines white collar crimes is sophistication or complexity. One of the reasons that prosecutors can take a significant amount of time in pressing charges in these types of cases is because perpetrators of these crimes are notorious for concealing their actions amidst a web of transactions. Investigating these types of crimes is painstaking work and focuses heavily on piecing together what occurred.

Whistleblowers are one of the reasons many cases of white collar crime are uncovered and prosecuted. It’s their unique placement inside of the company that gives them an unparalleled insight.

In fact, in 2015 alone, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reported having received as many as 3,923 tips regarding bribes, corruption and other types of white collar infractions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates that the United States government loses $300 billion in revenue each year as the result of individuals and corporations engaging in white collar crimes.

Penalties associated with an individual being charged with a white collar crime vary greatly. On one hand, their sentence depends on how much of a financial harm they caused another. On another, it matters whether the defendant took responsibility in the case.

In cases in which the perpetrator admits to his or her indiscretions or assists prosecutors in investigating the case, her or she is more apt to receive what some may consider to be a more lenient sentence. This may include shorter prison terms, home confinement or supervised release.

If you’re facing a charge for one of the aforementioned white collar crimes, then it’s important that you consult with an Orange County, California, criminal defense attorney in order to begin crafting a defense in your legal matter.


Source: Cornell Law School, “White-collar crime: An overview,” accessed June 13, 2017

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