WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AUTHORITIES BEGIN INVESTIGATING A FEDERAL FRAUD OR WHITE-COLLAR CRIME?

As with any crime, there are a few ways that a government can start a fraud or white-collar investigation. Very often the government has a cooperator or an informant, or someone who is involved in a pending criminal case and is providing some incriminating information. Other times, fraud victims report crimes to authorities. Once investigators have this initial information, or once they have some other reason to believe that there is probable cause that a crime was committed, an investigation will commence. Courts usually find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed (for an arrest) or when evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched (for a search). Under exigent circumstances, probable cause can also justify a warrantless search or seizure. Persons arrested without a warrant are required to be brought before a competent authority shortly after the arrest for a prompt judicial determination of the probable cause.

Do the Authorities Need Some Sort of Warrant to Conduct an Investigation?

The government does not need a warrant to start an investigation. Law enforcement agents are allowed to follow and watch anyone they wish on a public street. However, the government almost always needs a warrant to search private residences or to listen to private communications.

There are different types of warrants, including arrest warrants, search warrants, and wiretap warrants:

  • Arrest Warrants – All warrants are issued by a judge upon request of a prosecutor, who must provide some basis to the court before a warrant is issued. An arrest warrant is usually required in order to arrest someone inside their residence, to arrest someone for a crime that was committed not in the presence of a police officer or witnesses, or to arrest someone when the police officer making the arrest has no reason to believe that a crime has been committed. A search warrant is required to search someone’s residence or private property, even with an arrest warrant.
  • Search Warrants – In general, before a police officer can search a person or a private home, the officer needs to possess a valid search warrant. Like arrest warrants, search warrants must be issued by a judge or magistrate based upon a finding that probable cause exists to believe that evidence of a crime, proceeds of a crime, or contraband will be found. Search warrants must be specific as to what location is to be searched and what items are being searched for. However, there are important exceptions to this general rule that do not require an officer to have a search warrant:
    • If a police officer feels they are in danger while questioning someone, they may conduct a “pat down” search on the exterior of the person’s clothing to determine if that person has a weapon. Anything the officer discovers as a result may be used against the individual in a court of law.
    • If someone is lawfully arrested, an officer may conduct a full search of the person and the immediate area around them as part of the arrest.
    • If an officer lawfully arrested someone inside a private residence without an arrest warrant, the officer may only search the immediate area around where the person has been arrested.
  • Wiretap Warrants – Wiretapping laws apply to any wire, oral, or electronic communication that is intercepted. Wiretap warrants also require a judge’s approval, which will be based on probable cause and can be used for any crime that is “dangerous to life, limb, or property” and punishable by more than one year’s imprisonment. However, on a federal level, wire or oral intercepts are limited to investigations of certain specific crimes enumerated in 18 U.S.C. § 2516.

My Company’s Management Want Me to Talk to Them First in a White-Collar Crime Investigation. If I May Have Helpful Information, Should I Alert Authorities that I Am Being Pressured by My Employer?

Fraud investigations are usually secret, so it is rare that anyone will know about an investigation before arrests are made. However, if there were to be a situation where a company may know or suspect that one of its employees is cooperating with the government in a criminal investigation, the company usually, for legal reasons, will not pressure or ask the employee to disclose any information related to that investigation. If somebody were to find themselves in this very rare situation and the company is pressuring them to provide such information, they definitely should go to their attorney and to law enforcement because it is something that the police need to know.

What Should I Do If I Have Incriminating Evidence on My Employer?

The first thing you should do is hire a criminal defense attorney who has specific experience in dealing with these issues and tell him everything that you know. There are laws called whistleblower statutes that allow private citizens to initiate civil lawsuits against private companies or government agencies for engaging in fraudulent or corrupt activities. If the government later takes over the case, the individual who initiated the lawsuit may share in any monetary recovery obtained by the government.

For more information on Federal Fraud and White-Collar Crimes, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (718) 989-2908 today.

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