A white-collar crime is a serious offense, and being charged with one could change the rest of your life, even if you believe you are innocent. Many people are confused about what the term “white-collar crime” means, so they don’t know whether law enforcement might interpret their actions as a white-collar crime.
White-collar crimes are committed when a person in an authority position uses that position to take advantage of others for personal gain. A person in an “authority position”:
- Has access to the private records of others;
- Has knowledge about a particular company or business; and/or
- Is entrusted with making decisions for the benefit of the business, its employees and/or its clients.
In white-collar crimes, the authorized person is deceitful about taking the property of others, and the victim (a person, an organization or both) often doesn’t know about the crime until many months or years after the crime commences.
The state of Colorado prosecutes several forms of white-collar crimes, including embezzlement, forgery, fraud and extortion. All of these crimes include some kind of theft.
Embezzlement occurs when the person who manages money for organizations steals it by secretly siphoning it into a personal account. A familiar example is the Little League board treasurer who uses the league’s funds for personal expenses. Colorado Statutes § 18-4-401, § 18-8-407
People who lie or cheat to gain another person’s property are committing fraud. For example, an employee may invent a fake company and bill his employer for services by that “company.” The employee is the “company” and provides no service, just collects the fee. There are many kinds of fraud:
- Credit card fraud happens when one person uses another person’s credit information without permission and for personal gain. Colorado Statutes § 18-5-901 et seq.
- Tax fraud occurs when a person intentionally fails to report his earned income on his income tax return for the purpose of avoiding paying taxes on that money. Colorado Statutes § 39-22-101 et seq.
People who put their name on documents belonging to others to gain access to their property are committing forgery. Colorado Statutes § 18-5-102 et seq. There are many ways to commit forgery, including these examples:
Signing another person’s name on a title document or check.
- Creating a false document to mislead someone.
- Changing the terms of a document after it’s been properly signed and executed.
Unlike other forms of white-collar crime, this type contains an element of physical threat. A person is extorting someone when she threaten their health or their life to gain their property. Falsely claiming to have the authority to obtain assets of another (such as pretending to be an IRS agent) is also a form of extortion.
Defenses to White-Collar Crimes
Just as there are several types of white-collar crimes, there are also many valid defenses to the charge of committing a white-collar crime. Fundamentally, no crime is committed when there was no intent to steal. If the accused person accidentally or inadvertently received the property of another, then he hasn’t committed a crime if he intends to give it back once he learn of its true ownership. Other successful defenses could be:
- That the accused had rightful possession of the property.
- That he never received the property in the first place.
Finally, white-collar crimes are different from other crimes such as robbery or burglary because the evidence of the crime — if there is any — is often buried deep in financial or other confidential records. It takes substantial investigation and often a lot of time to put together and successfully prosecute a white-collar crime. Consequently, there are often many opportunities within the investigatory period to refute the allegations contained in the charges of committing a white-collar crime.
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