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Corporations and White Collar Criminal Offenses

In addition to individuals, corporations can also face criminal charges in certain instances. Below, a Virginia federal white collar attorney discusses these types of charges and what steps a corporation can take to protect themselves.

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How Does The Government Decide Who to Charge?

Obviously every case is different, but often the variables they are looking for are the degrees of awareness and intent. If you have somebody who is just blatantly and knowingly violating federal law, they’re probably going to prosecute you. However, sometimes you have an individual or a corporation that just doesn’t have it together, they’re not very well organized and they might not necessarily realize the severity of the mistake that they’re making.

Intent is always an element of a white collar crime and the government will often look to determine whether or not they can prove intent when determining whether or not to charge an individual or corporation. If it can be argued that these were just simple mistakes that a judge or jury would believe, the case very likely won’t be charged.

Can a Corporation Be Charged With a White Collar Criminal Offense?

Absolutely. If a corporation has a systemic culture of violating federal law they can be prosecuted. One example of this is a recent case involving a government contracting agency. The contract the agency was working on with the government very clearly specified that due to the sensitive nature of the work they were to be doing, there were to be no people other than US citizens or green card holders that were going to be enabled to work on the contracts, but the company nevertheless hired H1 visa holders to conduct a lot of the work on that contract.

In this case, the US attorney’s office went after not only the individuals involved with the fraud but also the corporation as a whole. So that’s just one example of many where a corporation can absolutely be charged with a criminal offense.

What Penalties Might a Corporation Face For a White Collar Crime?

A corporation is an entity, so you can’t put a corporation in jail. However, they can be prevented from obtaining future contracts with the government and face very stiff fines and in many cases the seizure or forfeiture of assets that might cripple a corporation or force them to go out of business.

Those things do happen, but obviously not jail for a corporation. Now individuals within that corporation can certainly be facing the prospect of prison time but the corporation itself obviously cannot.

What Steps Can a Corporation Take If Being Investigated For a Federal Offense?

If the corporations have in-house counsel or law firms that they contract with to do their business practices, they need to notify them right away. It might be a simple misunderstanding that those attorneys can clear up but if it escalates beyond that point, or of it looks like the investigators have got real evidence, they need to call somebody who really understands white collar crime and not just business practices, but the actual defense of white collar crime.

In many cases, that decision will have to be made by a CEO or in some cases that will be made by their in-house counsel, who might determine that they need some outside help to defend against whatever it is that’s being alleged against the corporation.

Does The Government Typically Charge Corporations With White Collar Criminal Offenses?

They certainly can charge a corporation with white collar criminal offenses. It depends on what happens in the case. If the government sees or perceives there to be a systemic disregard for a particular set of government requirements, regulations and laws, then yeah they’ll prosecute that corporation and they’ll try to shut that corporation down completely.