Violent crimes, drug crimes, and sex crimes are serious offenses in Texas that capture much of the media and public’s attention. Although white collar crimes often fly under the radar, fraud-related offenses are zealously prosecuted by both the state and the federal government. Additionally, contrary to public perception, they can contain very stiff prison sentences. The Texas Attorney General, and federal agencies such as the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service, and other state and local agencies, have vast resources to investigate white-collar crimes, and often work collaboratively to prosecute fraud cases. If you have been charged with a white collar crime, having aggressive, experienced legal representation is essential.
Located in El Paso, Benjamin Law Firm is a premier criminal defense practice serving clients throughout the state of Texas. Founding attorney Brock Benjamin is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a testament to his specific legal knowledge and mastery of courtroom strategy. Brock’s prior experience as a prosecutor gives him unique insights into tactics that state and federal prosecutors use in trying white collar crimes.
When you consult us, you will have confidence, knowing that fierce advocates are in your corner, fighting for your freedom and your future. More so than any other type of offense, an investigation into a white collar crime can begin innocuously with a simple request to provide documents or sit down with investigators. Whether it is a parallel investigation by your employer or an investigation by the government, however, providing information, denials or statements can harm your defense if not done with an understanding of the situation.
What are white collar crimes?
A white collar allegation encompasses nonviolent, financially motivated offenses that combine elements of deceit, concealment, and/ or a violation of trust, collectively referred to as fraud.
Many “white collar” cases have parallel investigations. What are they and why are dangerous?
Any time that you are being investigated it is important to mount a strong defense. However, white collar cases can begin in a way that you may not even recognize the possible criminal consequences when the investigation is beginning. A parallel investigation is simply defined as an investigation mounted by two or more entities that are similar in nature. As an example, a company with allegations of embezzlement against a employee or contractor will conduct an internal investigation and move to terminate the employee, while the police or FBI investigate the same embezzlement or theft. As a target of either investigation you want to defend your name, position and freedom. However it is vital to know what you are defending against.
Is the termination notice simply a civil action for embezzlement/ theft? This will likely occur first. Or is the employer/contractor seeking to gain information in pursuit of an ongoing criminal investigation? The Department of Justice has given guidance that it is to use civilian investigations when possible because of the many benefits that they can provide. Interviews may not need to be done pursuant to Miranda, employers can and will “break” into your computer (that they probably have the password to it) or your office. Employers can take such actions unless challenged, and sometimes even then.
Being aware of theses possibilities allows Brock Benjamin to help you decide how to defend the matter. Whether the accused is an individual, business, executive, or employee, it takes an adept criminal defense attorney to achieve successful outcomes in jury trials and plea negotiations. Let’s take a look of some of the common fraud crimes that are prosecuted in the state of Texas.
Bank fraud occurs when a person (1) uses illegal means to obtain money or assets from a bank or other financial institution or (2) attempts to obtain money from a bank’s depositors by falsely pretending to be a bank or financial institution.
Common types of bank fraud include:
- Loan Fraud — providing false information or using forged documents (e.g. bank statements, W-2s, income tax returns) to obtain a mortgage, auto, or business loan
- Forgery — altering a check or other financial instrument by changing the name or the amount
- Stolen checks — stealing checks and opening a bank account under an assumed name to deposit the checks
- Bank impersonation –falsely acting as a financial institution through companies or websites to lure people into depositing funds
- Internet Fraud — creating or using a website for the purpose of posing as a bank or other financial institution, to fraudulently obtain money deposited by other people
Bank fraud is a federal crime, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, fines of up to $1 million, probation, and restitution, which makes consulting Brock Benjamin a wise choice.
Bankruptcy fraud is a federal white collar crime that involves a debtor knowingly committing certain prohibited acts under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code such as:
- Concealing assets to avoid forfeiture
- Intentionally filing false information with, or withholding information from, the bankruptcy court
- Filing multiple bankruptcy petitions using false information, or filing accurate or false information in multiple jurisdictions
- Attempting to bribe a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee
The majority of bankruptcy fraud cases involve the concealment of assets, whether by failing to disclose assets to the trustee or transferring undisclosed assets to relatives, friends or business associates, which is known as fraudulent conveyance. In any event, the maximum penalties for bankruptcy fraud are up to 5 years in federal prison and/or a $250,000 fine. Benjamin Law Firm represents individuals and businesses against bankruptcy fraud charges in Texas.
Credit Card Fraud
Credit card fraud is considered a form of identity theft, a white collar crime that occurs when an individual or entity:
- Fraudulently obtains, uses, sells, buys, or forges another’s credit card, debit card, or credit information
- Knowingly uses revoked or expired credit, or an account that lacks sufficient funds to pay for the items charged
- Knowingly buys goods or services with a credit or debit card that was illegally obtained or using one without authorization
Depending on the severity of the offense, such as whether it was a one-time event or an ongoing pattern of behavior, a conviction for credit card fraud is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and/or fines up to $10,000.
Embezzlement occurs when an individual has legal access to, but does not own, another person’s assets, and uses such assets for his or her own gain. Generally, there are two elements involved (1) stealing for personal gain and (2) violating a special position of trust.
Embezzlement also involves elements of fraud, and can occur in a number of settings. In an employment setting, for instance, embezzlement may involve:
- An employee stealing company assets
- An officer misappropriating company funds
- An executive underreporting assets
- An accountant altering balance sheets or expense reports
Embezzlement can also occur if an investment professional diverts funds from a client’s account for personal gain, or family members or caretakers steal money or property from a person in their care.
In any event, the penalties for embezzlement in Texas are determined by the value of the goods, services or cash stolen. If you have been charged with embezzlement, Benjamin Law Firm will choose the best line of defense.
Healthcare Fraud (Medicare/Medicaid fraud)
Healthcare fraud is a white collar crime that occurs when a person submits false or misleading information to a health insurer, Medicare, or Medicaid to recover payment for healthcare services. Examples of healthcare fraud include
- Billing for services that were not actually provided
- Administering unnecessary services
- Billing for a more costly service than the one actually performed (upcoding)
- Billing each stage of a procedure as if it were a separate procedure (unbundling)
Because Medicare is a federal program, and Medicaid is jointly run by the state and the federal government, healthcare fraud can lead to both state and federal charges. At the federal level, healthcare fraud is governed by a variety of statutes, including:
- False Claims Act
- Anti-Kickback statute
- Stark Law
- Criminal Health Care Fraud Statute
The applicable healthcare fraud laws in Texas include:
- The Texas Patient Solicitation Act
- Texas False Claims Act
- Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act
Benjamin Law Firm has a proven track record of successfully defending health care professionals and others against healthcare fraud charges in both state and federal court.
Generally, identity theft is a form of white collar crime that occurs when a party uses another individual’s personal identifying information (e.g. name, Social Security number, or credit or debit card information) without permission for personal gain.
Under Texas law, identity theft occurs when an individual (or entity), with the intent to harm or defraud another person, obtains, possesses, transfers, or uses:
- Identifying information of an individual without their consent
- A deceased person’s identifying information
- Identifying information of an individual under the age of 18
Depending on the circumstances, identity theft can be charged as a state jail felony, felony of the third degree, felony of the second degree, or felony of the first degree.
The penalties may be elevated if the defendant has a prior felony conviction, committed identity theft against an elderly person, caused death or serious bodily injury to another person during the commission of the crime, and/or used a weapon while committing or attempting to steal another person’s identity (such as while stealing a purse). It takes a criminal defense attorney like Brock Benjamin to defend you against charges of identity theft in Texas.
Insurance fraud is a white collar crime that occurs when a person or business intentionally deceives an insurance company to obtain money by knowingly (i) presenting a false claim for payment, (ii) providing false, incomplete or misleading information concerning a claim, (iii) submitting a false application to obtain an insurance policy or (iv) concealing information regarding an insurance application or claim.
Common insurance fraud schemes in Texas include:
- Stolen Car — a car owner selling his or her car to a body shop (or “chop shop”) to be cut up for parts, and then reporting the car stolen, or an owner selling a car overseas, without any paperwork, and then reporting it stolen
- Staged Car Accident — a driver and an accident “victim” staging an automobile collision to recover money for the auto damages
- Staged Home Fire — hiring individuals to set fire to a home, or to break in and vandalize the home, creating the appearance that the homeowner had been victimized
- Storm Fraud — after hurricanes and floods, homeowners may take advantage of insurers by enhancing the storm damage to their homes, or submitting claims for damage that did not occur to obtain a higher pay out
- Faked Death — an individual obtains life insurance, names his or her spouse as beneficiary on the policy, and then fakes his/her own death so the spouse can obtain the death benefit
The penalties for a conviction of insurance fraud vary based on the amount or value of the claim. A claim of less than $50, for example, is a “Class C” misdemeanor, which carries a $500 fine. In the case of as fraudulent claim of $200,000 or more, however, the fraud is charged as a first degree felony, punishable by 5 to 99 years in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Finally, falsifying information on an insurance application will be charged as a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to 2 years in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
The white collar crime of money laundering or “bulk cash smuggling” is a financial transaction scheme designed to integrate funds gained from unlawful activities into legitimate resources while (1) concealing the identity, source and destination of those funds or (2) conducting or intending to conduct financial transactions with the proceeds of such activity. Financial transactions typically associated with money laundering include large purchases and sales, loans, investments, monetary gifts, wire transfers, bank deposits and currency exchanges.
Generally, money laundering occurs in three phases:
- Placement — moving illegal funds from the original source into a legitimate one, such as financial institutions, shops, casinos, offshore accounts, local, domestic or international businesses
- Layering — concealing the money trail by converting the funds into monetary instruments such as money orders, or purchasing assets such as real estate and businesses
- Integration — moving previously laundered money back into the economy, whether by depositing funds into the banking system or through property transactions, fraudulent loans, or front companies
In addition to being a federal offense, money laundering is a felony under the Texas Penal Code. The degree of the felony is based on the amount of money involved. A felony of the first degree, for example, is punishable by 5 to 99 years or life in prison, and a fine up to $10,000. If you have been charged with money laundering, Benjamin Law Firm will choose the best line of defense.
Mortgage fraud involves a wide variety schemes in which individuals and businesses use false information on mortgage documents to defraud a lending institution, such as:
- Providing inaccurate financial information, or forged identification, on a mortgage loan application
- Providing a bank or mortgage lender with altered or forged pay stubs, W-2s, tax returns, financial statements, and other supporting documents
- Artificially inflating a real estate appraisal to make greater profits in the resale of a property
- Using a “straw buyer” to qualify for a loan, and then selling the property, often in connection with “flipping”
- Taking out a mortgage loan, renting out the property, and not repaying the proceeds of the loan until the property goes into foreclosure, referred to as equity skimming
Mortgage fraud is a white collar crime that can be charged at either the state or federal level, and the penalties vary based on the monetary value involved. In Texas, charges that involve $1,500 or less are considered misdemeanors, punishable by fines, probation, and a short jail sentence. Mortgage fraud cases typically involve much greater amounts of money, however. If the value of the loan is $300,000 or more, mortgage fraud is charged as a first-degree felony charge, punishable by up to 99 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
There are many forms of telemarketing fraud, all of which involve violating the trust of unsuspecting victims over the phone. Common telephone scams involve callers who pose as:
- Bank or credit card employees
- Charities calling for donations
- Contest representative telling victims they have won a contest or the lottery
After targets of these schemes are deceived into believing the call is from a legitimate telemarketer, bank, or government institution, the fraudster then attempts to elicit personal information or obtain money from the victim.
Because the federal government has jurisdiction over national telecommunications networks, telemarketing fraud can be charged as a federal felony offense and often leads to additional charges for mail fraud and/or wire fraud.
Mail Fraud/Wire Fraud
Mail fraud and wire fraud are both state and federal offenses. While mail fraud requires the use of the U.S. postal service to commit fraud, wire fraud involves any fraudulent activity conducted over wire-based communications (e.g. telephone, fax, television, text message, and internet).
A variety of fraudulent activities in Texas, such as forgery, criminal simulation, credit card fraud and money laundering, can involve the use of mail or wire communication. The penalties for mail and wire fraud under state law are significant, ranging from 5 years in prison and fines up to $250,000 in less severe cases, to as much as 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines in aggravated cases.
How Do RICO Statutes Apply to White Collar Crimes?
If you have been charged with a federal white collar crime, the government will avail itself of every weapon in its arsenal to gain a conviction, including bringing charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
RICO, which was initially designed to combat organized crime, prohibits racketeering activity as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. In particular, it is unlawful for an employee or an associate of an enterprise to conduct or participate in a pattern of racketeering activity. Court rulings have vastly expanded RICO’s scope beyond organized crime, however, and a RICO enterprise can involve any partnership, corporation, individual, association, legal entity, union, or group of individuals associated in fact.
In technology-driven white collar crimes, prosecutors may also bring charges under the Patriot Act, a counter-terrorism measure that is often used in computer, internet and cyber crimes, as well as money laundering cases. Finally, white collar crimes are also vigorously prosecuted under applicable Texas fraud statutes. In any event, a conviction for a state or federal white collar crime will result in harsh penalties including a lengthy imprisonment, fines, asset forfeiture, and restitution.
Potential Defenses Against White Collar Crimes
Despite the fact that state and federal prosecutors have vast financial resources and high-powered attorneys at their disposal in fraud cases, Benjamin Law Firm has the knowledge, skills, and experience to level the playing field. We will take the time to explain all of your rights, and mount an aggressive defense strategy.
By collaborating with a team of private investigators and other experts, we have been able to handle e-discovery or electronically stored information (“ESI”) in large quantity. We are well-equipped to handle the vast amounts of evidence (e.g. documents, data, and bank records) typically associated with fraud cases. We do this using state-of-the-art legal technology, CaseMap©, dt Search©, and other software, Brock Benjamin is familiar and has challenged the government on its production methods and other failures in defense of clients. This is vital as a defense must be able to obtain and more importantly be able to use and interpret the materials provided.
Our legal team will seek to uncover errors in the prosecution’s case, work to determine whether law enforcement violated any of your civil rights, such as by conducting improper surveillance tactics or failing to obtain valid search warrants from the court, and file the necessary motions to suppress any evidence that was improperly seized.
In the final analysis, the strongest line of defense in a white collar crime case is to show lack of intent. This is because government prosecutors must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to commit fraud. Another valid defense is to show that you did not know, or were not not capable of knowing, you had engaged in a white collar crime. Finally, it may be possible to prove that you were coerced into committing fraud (a viable defense in forgery cases). Regardless of the fraud charges you are facing, it takes an aggressive criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and preserve your freedom.
The Experienced Choice in El Paso White Collar Crimes Defense
Benjamin Law Firm defends clients against a wide range of state and federal white collar crimes. Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Brock Benjamin’s prior experience as a prosecutor allows him to see a case from both sides. Backed by a powerful combination of legal knowledge and courtroom experience, our legal team knows how to successfully defend fraud charges in state and federal court.
Although we are committed to winning an acquittal, we will carefully weigh the strength of the evidence against you, and seek a reduction of the charges and a more lenient sentence when necessary. Being charged with a white collar crime in Texas is a serious matter. The sooner you call Benjamin Law Firm, the sooner we can defend you. Please contact our office today to set up a consultation.