White Collar Crimes
The term white collar crime is used to describe crime that is nonviolent in nature and is committed by people in power in order to garner some sort of benefit, usually monetary, with which they can maintain their high level of social standing in their communities. This type of crime includes internet fraud, tax evasion, corporate fraud, money-laundering, securities & commodities fraud, as well as many other types of fraud (National Check Fraud Center, 2011). While these crimes are deemed by many to be ‘victimless crimes’, this is not the case. White collar crime can, and does, ruin many lives, including the life of the person committing the crime.
Since being fabulized in 1939 by Edwin Sutherland, the term ‘white collar crime’ has become an umbrella term used to describe any crime committed by governmental and business professionals and officials. However, this is not always the case. The term ‘white collar crime’ does not mean that it is only perpetrated by white collar criminals; a blue collar truck driver, for example can commit a white collar crime by absconding with a part of his load and selling it for his own profit. It is not the social standing of the criminal that makes a crime a white collar crime, it is the nature of the crime itself (Barrett, n.d.).
White collar criminals are usually experts at getting people to do what they want. Many times, they are top management officials who will use intimidation, pressure and autocratic behavior within an organization as ways to hide their crimes from others. Other times, as in the case of the blue collar truck driver, it is simply the matter of a crime of opportunity. Greed also seems to play a monumental role in the decision to commit white collar crimes. The criminal sees an opportunity to benefit from an action and subsequently acts on that opportunity (Barrett, n.d.).
White collar crime that is nonviolent in nature, and is done in a political setting, is known as governmental crime. Governmental crime occurs when those in charge, in this case the state, assumes power that they should not have, and subsequently proceeds to exercise that power over its constituents. Ultimately, this culminates in the misuse of the political office for the criminal’s own personal material gain. Governmental crime also includes the actions taken by those in charge to garner a political advantage over their rivals. Bribery and fraud are the most commonly seen types of governmental crime (Montuma, 2014).
While the government usually indicts individuals for white collar crime, corporations and businesses can also be sanctioned. Penalties for white collar offenses can range from fines to restitution, supervised release and even prison. Should the person charged with the white collar crime help the prosecution investigate the criminal act, they can be given a lesser sentence. However, many times, the same offer of reduction of charges is often times used by defendants to claim that the government attempted to commit bribery. For example, in the case of United States v. Williams, 705 F.2d 603 (2nd Cir. 1983), it was argued, albeit unsuccessfully, that the government had attempted to get Senator Harrison Williams to accept a bribe in exchange for his testimony (OpenJurist, 1983).
The White-Collar Crime Penalty Enhancement Act of 2002 amends the original Federal criminal code to more thoroughly define what white collar crime is and increases the penalties for such crimes. The act then goes on to direct the United States Sentencing Commission to analyze the current penalties and ensure that they fit the seriousness of the crimes. It also asseverates the growing need to find ways to deter, prevent and punish these crimes (Library of Congress, 2002).
Within the past decade, there has been more emphasis placed on white collar crime. In 2006, the case of Jack Abramoff was one of the top news stories – bringing to light the unscrupulous actions of politicians and the mob in business holdings and fraud, conspiracy and tax evasions while attempting to cheat Indian casinos out of approximately $85 million dollars in fees. Abramoff was also later sentenced to 70 months in prison for his part in wire transfer fraud.
Probably one of the most recognizable cases within the United States occurred in 2008 – 2009. This case familiarized the American public with the term ‘Ponzi scheme’, when Bernie Madoff milked millions of dollars from investors in false trades. On June 29, 2009, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his role in eleven felony charges. These charges included money laundering, perjury, making false statements, securities fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, and false filings with the SEC, as well as other crimes (United States Department of Justice, 2015).
White collar crime, due to its nonviolent nature, is often times referred to as a ‘victimless crime’. Prevalent throughout society, it usually only comes to the attention of law enforcement and the media when committed in a grand measure by those attempting to gain or sustain a standard of living that they would not otherwise be able to maintain. This does not mean that these are the only white collar crimes committed, as something as simple as stealing paperclips from work, fall under its purview. Industry loses hundreds of billions of dollars each year to petty theft, fraud, and small time scams that are either short lived or so minor that they fly under the radar.
(2011). 10 white collar crime cases that made headlines. Criminal Justice USA. Retrieved from http://www.criminaljusticeusa.com/blog/2011/10-white-collar-crime-cases-that-made-headlines/
Barrett, Bill. (n.d.). Inside the Mind of the White-Collar Criminal. AccountingWeb. Retrieved from http://www.accountingweb.com/technology/trends/inside-the-mind-of-the-white-collar-criminal
Library of Congress. (2002). Summaries for the White-Collar Crime Penalty Enhancement Act of 2002. Govtrack.us. Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/107/s2717/summary
Montuma, Tamar. February 19, 2014. Governmental crime: state crime & political white collar crime. Prezi. Retrieved from https://prezi.com/8y9feoqhw8uo/governmental-crime-state-crime-political-white-collar-cr/
National Check Fraud Center. (2011). Types and Schemes of White Collar crime. Retrieved from http://www.ckfraud.org/whitecollar.html
OpenJurist. (1983). 705 F. 2d 603 – United States v. A Williams. United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. Retrieved from http://openjurist.org/705/f2d/603/united-states-v-a-williams
United States Department of Justice. (2015). United States V. Bernard L. Madoff and Related Cases. Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/programs/victim-witness-services/united-states-v-bernard-l-madoff-and-related-cases