University study on white collar crime: Is the government shifting focus?

A study reports two key findings: the overall number of prosecutions is down and the type of crimes the government targets has shifted.

A study out of Syracuse University is calling attention to changes in federal white collar crime prosecutions. The study was published by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) group at Syracuse University, a group that specializes in data gathering, research and distribution.

Researchers with the study poured over data from the Justice Department and made two key observations: overall prosecutions for white collar crimes at the federal level are at the lowest they have been in twenty years and the focus on these prosecutions is changing.

White collar crime study: Twenty year low

5,173 white collar crime prosecutions were brought at the federal level during the first nine months of the fiscal year of 2015. If the government continues to bring cases at their current rate, the total is projected to reach 6,897. This translates to a reduction of 12.3 percent compared to 2014, 29.1 percent from five years ago and 36.8 percent compared to levels from twenty years ago. This drop is in contrast to the rise in the population size as well as economic activity.

White collar crime study: Change in focus for federal prosecutions

Researchers with the study were careful to note that the decline in prosecutions does not translate into a decline in white collar crime. Instead, the group points to a shift in enforcement policies to explain the dropped number of prosecutions. Twenty years ago, prosecutions focused on mail fraud, ten years ago the focus was bank fraud and five years ago aggravated identity theft.

Current prosecutions focus on "fraud by wire, radio or television under 18 USC 1343" for the last two years with 617 charges filed so far this year. The second most common charge is fraud involving public money, property or records with 403 charges and the third is bank fraud with 390. However, the greatest increase involves cases in health care fraud, which increased 22.1 percent from five years ago.

White collar crime study: Takeaways

This shift has caught the attention of the legal community throughout the country. A recent article in The National Law Review, an American law journal and legal news website, discussed the issue, noting proactive and preventive lawyering for those who are involved in business activities that are often targeted for white collar criminal investigations has likely also contributed to the decline in prosecutions. This provides an example of the benefits of an experienced criminal defense attorney for both those who are facing charges of white collar crime or looking to ensure potentially questionable business practices are not targeted in the future.

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