White-Collar Crime: an overview
The phrase "white-collar crime" was coined in 1939 during a speech given by Edwin Sutherland to the American Sociological Society. Sutherland defined the term as "crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation." Although there has been some debate as to what qualifies as a white-collar crime, the term today generally encompasses a variety of nonviolent crimes usually committed in commercial situations for financial gain. Many white-collar crimes are especially difficult to prosecute because the perpetrators use sophisticated means to conceal their activities through a series of complex transactions. The most common white-collar offenses include: antitrust violations, computer and internet fraud, credit card fraud, phone and telemarketing fraud, bankruptcy fraud, healthcare fraud, environmental law violations, insurance fraud, mail fraud, government fraud, tax evasion, financial fraud, securities fraud, insider trading, bribery, kickbacks, counterfeiting, public corruption, money laundering, embezzlement, economic espionage and trade secret theft. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, white-collar crime is estimated to cost the United States more than $300 billion annually. Although typically the government charges individuals for white-collar crimes, the government has the power to sanction corporations as well for these offenses. The penalties for white-collar offenses include fines, home detention, community confinement, paying the cost of prosecution, forfeitures, restitution, supervised release, and imprisonment. However, sanctions can be lessened if the defendant takes responsibility for the crime and assists the authorities in their investigation. Any defenses available to non-white-collar defendants in criminal court are also available to those accused of white-collar crimes. A common refrain of individuals or organizations facing white-collar criminal charges is the defense of entrapment. For instance, in United States v. Williams, 705 F.2d 603 (2nd Cir. 1983), one of the cases arising from "Operation Abscam," Senator Harrison Williams attempted unsuccessfully to argue that the government induced him into accepting a bribe.
Both state and federal legislation enumerate the activities that constitute white-collar criminal offenses. The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government the authority to regulate white-collar crime, and a number of federal agencies (see sidebar), including the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Secret Service, U.S. Customs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, participate in the enforcement of federal white-collar crime legislation. In addition, most states employ their own agencies to enforce white-collar crime laws at the state level.
Definition from Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary
A variety of nonviolent financial crimes, generally committed by businesspeople or public officials,involving commercial fraud, consumer fraud, swindles, insider trading on the stock market, embezzlement, bribery, or other dishonest schemes.
Definition provided by Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary.
August 19, 2010, 5:26 pm