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We cannot pick up a newspaper or, more common these days, read a newspaper online, without finding an article about someone who has been charged with committing a white collar crime.  Just what is white collar crime?

The term white collar crime was actually first defined by a sociologist, Edwin Sutherland, in 1939, as a “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.”

White collar charges encompasses many types of crime committed by more than “high social status” criminals in today’s world.  Bank fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, credit card fraud, identity theft – these are all types of white collar crimes, and are examples of financially motivated, nonviolent crimes committed for illegal monetary gain.  This type of crime is most commonly associated with the full range of frauds committed by business and government professionals.

Many times when we think of white collar crime, we think of Enron, Worldcom, and Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme.  However, white collar charges are not limited to well-known Wall Street companies, but the average business owner can be charged as well.

Small business owners can be charged with white collar crimes if the government feels the individual operated his business without the required license.  Sometimes the government will pursue a business where the government feels a proper license was procured fraudulently, such as through a “straw man.”

For example, at many federal construction sites in New York, the projects require what are normally called “minority business enterprises.”  Sometimes zealous prosecutors will charge a minority business with being a front for a non-minority business.  The government’s belief is that when the non-minority construction business owner wanted the project, he found an individual of an ethnic minority or maybe even his wife, to pose as the business owner or president to enable his business to qualify for the minority business construction projects.  The government then alleges that the business owner committed fraud by placing the business in the name of the other person, someone who either know nothing about running the business or has no real assets to run the business.

White collar crime charges can be filed against large corporations, small business owners, home business owners and individuals.  Whether the government believes you fraudulently obtained a business license or that you defrauded thousands out of their savings by filing false documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission, you can be charged with committing white collar crime.

Obviously, these crimes are not your garden-variety criminal cases. Due to the complexity of the charges, as well as the sophistication and resources of the government, it is incumbent upon anyone who is charged with fraud to immediately seek the advice of a criminal defense lawyer experienced in these types of cases.