White Collar Prosecutions Down, But Some Offenses Still Hot Targets
Despite widely-publicized outrage aimed at Wall Street, bankers and shifty corporate leaders of all stripes, the number of criminal cases targeting white collar offenses has actually been spiraling downward over the last decade.
Yet, businesspeople should not archive the number of that Atlantic City white collar crimes attorney just yet. The drop in prosecutions aside, law enforcement officials are still very watchful for certain types of corporate fraud, and some experts are predicting a “bubble” in white collar cases as long-term investigations begin to bear fruit.
Lack of Resources, Investigative Challenges Hinder Prosecutions
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, over the last ten years, the number of federal financial fraud cases has fallen by 57.7 percent, notwithstanding indicators that do not appear to reveal a corresponding drop in crime rates. So why are fewer cases being prosecuted?
Investigating complex white collar cases can be very expensive. Budgetary constraints are cited as one reason for the declining prosecution rates.
Given the government belt-tightening that is going on across the country, enforcement agencies have to be more careful about where they focus resources. Couple this reality with a string of recent legal decisions that invalidate what were once comparatively cheap white collar investigative tactics, and the fiscal strain generated by white collar cases becomes readily apparent.
The inherent difficulty of investigating white collar cases, particularly as new technologies become increasingly integrated into the business world, also contributes to the downward trend in prosecutions. The nature of business fraud and other white collar crimes may mean that prosecuting attorneys require expertise or skills outside their normal areas of expertise in order to develop strong cases.
Meanwhile, defense attorneys are more likely to be able to specialize in white collar cases, and are often retained as soon as an SEC investigation begins, resulting in a serious head start. Often, this advantage is enough to stop a white collar criminal case before it even begins: studies show that approximately 48 percent of cases recommended for prosecution by the SEC are not prosecuted and never go to trial.
A Bubble of White Collar Prosecutions?
Even with a general trend towards fewer white collar prosecutions, investigations of fraud, embezzlement, computer crimes and identity theft remain a top government priority. And, some experts expect a coming spike in white collar prosecution numbers.
Given the long timeframe required to investigate corporate crimes, indictments tied to 2008’s financial meltdown may soon begin to surface. If they do, courts could see an unparalleled surge in white collar prosecutions, and a possible end to the downward trend.