White-collar crime is a term that was first coined back in 1939 by sociologist Edwin Sutherland. He defined white-collar crime as “a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of their occupation.” This definition generally still rings true today.

White-collar crimes are typically committed by professionals or other “white collar” workers. White-collar crimes are usually specifically motivated by financial reasons, usually leaving force or the threat of force out of the equation.

A white-collar crime becomes a federal case when it violates United States federal laws, or when the individual accused is committing illegal acts that cross state lines. It is important to note that the individual themselves does not have to cross state lines, just his or her activity has to cross state lines. This could be accomplished using a telephone, email, or regular mail. Federal agencies such as the FBI or SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) investigate and pursue federal white-collar crimes. It is not unusual to see federal white-collar crimes that include multimillion-dollar amounts alleged to have been illegally taken or used in some way.

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As stated before, federal white-collar crime differs from state white-collar crime in its range and scope. Some common examples of federal white-collar crime include:

  • Misrepresenting financial information to a federal agency
  • Self-dealing
  • Illegal pyramid or Ponzi schemes
  • Bribing public officials for political favors
  • Laundering or attempting to launder illegally acquired money
  • Misappropriating funds from employing company
  • Defrauding a federal health care agency
  • Signing falsified business documents


These and other activities can lead to various criminal charges within the federal court system. The most common specific charges that fit the definition of a white-collar crime can be found below. This is not a complete list, as federal white-collar crimes come in many varieties. 


  • Tax Evasion (26 U.S.C. § 7201)
  • Insider Trading (Securities Exchange Act of 1934)
  • Money Laundering (18 U.S.C. § 1956)
  • Embezzlement (18 U.S.C. Chap. 31)
  • Forgery (18 U.S.C. § 495)
  • Bribery (18 U.S.C. § 201)


If you are facing indictment any of the above federal white-collar crimes, then it is important to seek the advice of an experienced federal white-collar criminal defense attorney immediately. 

A conviction for a federal white-collar crime can carry significant penalties, a few examples of these penalties are listed below:


Jail/Prison: A conviction for money laundering can result in either jail or prison time, depending on the amount of money alleged to have been laundered. Money laundering is a felony that can result in 20 years of prison time. A conviction for forgery can result in up to 10 years in prison, while a conviction for insider trading can result in up to 20 years. As you can see, federal judges have a wide range of options in terms of sentence for a white-collar crime conviction.


Probation: Probation is an alternative to jail, and sometimes an additional sentence that comes with a federal white-collar crime conviction. If given the opportunity to be on probation, an offender will have to follow certain rules, such as staying alcohol and drug free. He or she will also be assigned a probation agent who will monitor them and make sure they are in compliance with the terms of their probation. Any violations of probation can result in jail or prison sentences up to the maximum allowed on the original crime.


Restitution: Cases involving white-collar crime often involve large amounts of money. A judge can and will routinely order an offender to pay back any money that was deprived of a victim (or company) due to illegal activity. White-collar crime convictions can easily result in significant dollar amounts in restitution ordered by judges.


Fines: Any conviction for a white-collar crime will likely involve hefty fines. A conviction for insider trading can result in up to a $5 million fine, while a conviction for tax evasion can result in up to a $100,000 fine. It is pretty easy to see how fines for white-collar crime convictions can easily end up in the millions of dollars.


Other: Convictions for federal white-collar crimes can result in the suspension or revocation of professional licenses such as law, medicine, and accounting. 

For a prosecutor to secure a conviction against someone for a white-collar crime, they have to prove that the crime was intentional. In proving intent, a prosecutor has to demonstrate that you had a criminal intent to actually commit a white-collar crime. What that means is that the prosecutor has to use whatever evidence they have to show that you specifically intended to commit that illegal act.  A common defense is that of mistake.


If it is shown that the alleged act was not intentional and/or without a criminal intent, then a jury could properly find you not guilty of a white-collar crime. If investigators violated your constitutional rights during the investigation, then you can bring those issues in front of a judge in the form of a motion to suppress to potentially have the evidence against you thrown out. 


There are a variety of potential defenses to white-collar crime and this is not a complete list by any means. A seasoned white-collar crime attorney will look to these and other defenses specific to your case in building your defense if you are accused of a federal white-collar crime.

If you or someone you love is facing the possibility of being charged with a white-collar crime, it is natural to have a number of questions. Finding a website like this one can be a great resource, but it is not a substitute for the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you have more questions about white-collar crime, then the attorneys at Oakes Law Group are available to you.


A federal white-collar crime requires a prosecutor to show that you intended to financially benefit in some illegal way. Was there a genuine, honest mistake in what was going on? Are you able to explain that even though things appear a certain way, there was nothing illegal going on? In order to present your best defense, your attorney has to be able to answer these questions. The only way to answer these and other necessary questions is for your defense to conduct its own investigation. Just as the prosecutor builds a case against you with their resources, you are able to build your defense in the same way.

At Oakes Law Group, we pride ourselves on not limiting your defense to simply trying to explain the prosecutor’s version of events. We defend cases by going on offense, by advancing your version of events based on our in-depth investigations.


If you are facing a criminal charge for a federal white-collar crime or are being investigated for one, then it is important to speak to an experienced federal criminal defense attorney immediately. At Oakes Law Group, we are proud to offer FREE consultations to all prospective clients.

If you are in the process of choosing your attorney or are looking for an honest assessment of your legal situation, then our attorneys are available to help you now. Feel free to contact us anytime at 1-888-886-5711 or email. Our advice is free, and our conversations will always be protected by attorney-client privilege. Make your first choice towards freedom with a consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney at Oakes Law Group today.