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May 27, 2022

Do White Collar Criminals Go to Prison?

Everybody’s heard about the Bernie Madoff story by now. Madoff ran the largest Ponzi scheme in history, worth around $64.8 billion, and stole huge amounts of money from people and organizations alike. When he was caught, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison. One of his sons committed suicide in the aftermath, and his sister and brother in law died of a murder-suicide.

Even though he didn’t physically hurt anybody, Madoff still caused endless problems for people, including himself. What he did was by no means a victimless crime, and he served some of the time for it.

White Collar Criminals and Prison

Madoff was guilty of a white collar crime, which is a nonviolent crime that’s committed for some sort of financial gain.

Like Madoff, you could go to prison if you commit a white collar crime.

Examples of white collar crimes include:

  • Embezzlement
  • Insurance fraud
  • Welfare fraud
  • Credit card fraud
  • Mortgage fraud
  • Forgery
  • Bribery
  • Counterfeiting
  • Misappropriating public funds
  • Bankruptcy fraud
  • Financial institution fraud
  • Antitrust violations
  • Economic espionage and trade secret theft
  • Money laundering

Most white collar crimes are federal, so the federal government will oversee the punishment for an individual who is convicted of one of these crimes.

Consequences for White Collar Crimes in California

White collar crimes can result in time in jail or prison in California. You may also have to pay big fines and pay restitution to your victims. It all depends on the crime you committed, how much money was involved, and other factors. Here are some examples.

For instance, money laundering involves concealing the origins of illegally gained money. Perhaps drug dealers open a restaurant business to put the money through it and make it “clean,” for example. To qualify as money laundering, you must have completed a transaction – or a series of transactions – through a financial institution, and the amount of money must be more than $5,000 in a seven day period or more than $25,000 over the course of 30 days.

Money laundering is a wobbler, so it could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. If you’re convicted of a misdemeanor, you could be sent to jail for up to one year and have to pay court fines. If you’re convicted of a felony, you could have to go to prison for up to three years and pay up to $250,000 in fines, or twice the amount of money laundered, whichever is more.

Another white collar crime is commercial bribery, which involves an employee taking a bribe from someone in exchange for some type of benefit for the other party. For example, a person may bribe an employee with $50,000 if they are competing with the employee’s company. They are bribing the employee so they can steal the secrets from the company and beat them in the market.

Commercial bribery can either be a misdemeanor or a felony in the state of California. It’s punishable by up to one year in county jail if the bribe was for less than $1,000. If the bribe was for more than $1,000, then it’s a felony, and punishable by imprisonment in state prison for a maximum of three years.

Embezzlement means you steal or misappropriate funds from your employer, and it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. If the amount stolen is worth less than $950, then it’s a misdemeanor, and you could go to jail for up to six months. If you’re charged with a felony, where the amount totals more than $950, you could go to jail for up to three years.

In California, insurance fraud is either a misdemeanor or a felony. If it’s charged as a misdemeanor, you could go to jail for up to one year and pay up to $10,000 in fines. If it’s charged as a felony, you could serve two, three, or five years in jail and pay a $50,000 fine or double the amount of the fraud. Insurance fraud applies to any kind of insurance – car, renter’s, health, etc. – and involves following through with a fraudulent insurance claim. You may also have to pay back restitution for an insurance fraud claim.

Another type of white collar crime is forgery, which involves rewriting or falsifying a will, a contract, a property deed, or any other legal documents, depositing someone else’s checks, or tampering with a signature. For example, if you wrote someone else’s signature on the closing documents for a mortgage or took someone’s checkbook and wrote a check to yourself, that would count as forgery. If the amount taken in the forgery was for less than $950, it’s a misdemeanor and punishable by up to one year in jail and fines. If it’s for more than $950, it’s a felony and punishable by 16 months in state prison or 2-3 years in a county jail, along with fines and restitution.

These are just a few examples. When you get charged with a white collar crime, you’ll learn what kind of penalties you’re facing. Then, you can figure out what your defense will be.

Defenses for White Collar Crimes

There are many defenses for white collar crimes in California. You and your Oakland criminal defense attorney will work together to come up with the appropriate defense for your case.

Above all else, the prosecutor has a duty to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. If they lack the evidence to do that, then you could more easily defend yourself… especially if you have evidence proving your innocence. For example, perhaps they say you were in one place at a certain time, but you have photos and witnesses to prove you were in another place when the crime occurred. A skilled Oakland criminal defense attorney will be able to find holes in the prosecutor’s case against you.

The prosecutor has to also prove that a crime occurred and you intended to commit the crime. They may not be able to prove your intent. For example, you may not have known that you were receiving money in exchange for secrets, or you were part of a group of people who were committing a crime, but you were not.

Entrapment could be a play. This involves a member of law enforcement persuading you to commit a crime you never would have committed otherwise. For example, an undercover police officer might have offered you a bribe to launder some money for them.

You could have been a victim of an illegal search and seizure. The law enforcement officers who “caught” you may not have had a warrant when they searched through your belongings. They also might not have read you your Miranda rights, which they always have to do. Police misconduct is definitely a valid defense.

Coercion is another good defense. A person might have threatened to hurt you or your family if you didn’t help them with a white collar crime. In this case, it’s understandable that you would have gone along with it, and you didn’t intend to do it.

You and your Oakland criminal defense attorney will talk about what happened with your white collar crime and then figure out the defense strategy to take.

Plea Bargain vs. Going to Trial

Most criminal cases, whether they are white collar or not, end in a plea bargain. This involves pleading guilty or no contest to one or all of your charges in exchange for reduced or dropped charges. Judges prefer plea bargains because it frees up some of the space in the already overworked criminal justice system.

However, just because most cases end in plea bargains, it doesn’t mean your Oakland criminal defense attorney will choose to go that route. They may fight for you all the way by deciding to take your case to court. They might do this if they think you have a strong case and get all your charges dropped.

Should You Use the Public Defender?

In the United States, you are given a free lawyer, called a public defender, if you cannot afford to hire private representation. While you may be thinking, “This is a great solution,” it’s actually not.

Public defenders have extensive legal training, just like private representation. However, they are given dozen – maybe over 100 – cases at a time, since the criminal justice system is so overwhelmed. They will not have the time or energy to devote to your case. They won’t be there to answer questions all the time or talk with you when you’re worried about your case. Unfortunately, they just don’t have the bandwidth. You may end up getting a raw deal because you didn’t invest in the right attorney.

On the other hand, an Oakland criminal defense attorney will be there for you whenever you need them. As soon as you get arrested, you can call them to get your case started. Additionally, they will be available to answer your questions and address your concerns at any time.

What to Look for in an Oakland Criminal Defense Attorney

When you’re searching for an Oakland criminal defense attorney, look out for relevant experience. Has the potential attorney worked on a number of white collar crime cases in the past? What were the results? Did the cases end in mostly plea bargains, or did the attorney fight until the very end? You want someone who won’t just default to plea bargains, which is what many public offenders do. You want someone who will take a look at your case specifically and come up with the right way to move forward.

Your Oakland criminal defense attorney should be available to you when you need them. They should get back to you right away and have the support staff who will follow up swiftly when you contact them. You don’t want someone who will leave you waiting, especially if there’s an emergency.

Additionally, your Oakland criminal defense attorney needs to work with you on your payment. If you can’t afford everything at once, most attorneys will be flexible and offer payment plans.

Though you’re making an investment, it’s one that is critical to your future. If you get sent to jail or prison, you could lose years of your life behind bars. Your family and friends may turn their backs on you. You also may have trouble paying for your college education, since funding won’t be available to you, and landlords may be hesitant to rent to you given your past. You may also have trouble finding employment.

There’s too much on the line to risk using the public defender or a subpar attorney. Instead, do your research and locate an Oakland criminal defense attorney who is going to fight for you no matter what.

Finding an Oakland Criminal Defense Attorney

To find an Oakland criminal defense attorney, look for one who has several years of experience dealing with white collar crime cases and has excellent case results to back it up. Elliot Silver of Silver Law Firm could be an ideal fit for you if you’ve been charged with any type of white collar crime.

In one case, attorney Elliot Silver represented a client accused of embezzlement of over $100,000. If convicted, his client could have gone away to prison for up to eight years. Prior to the trial, an offer was proposed for just three years. However, Elliot thought his client should have pushed for a trial. Right before the trial, a new offer was made for nine months. Attorney Silver further negotiated to have the sentence finalized at only six months.

Elliot is prepared to assist you as well to try and secure a favorable outcome for your case. If you’ve been charged with a white collar crime or any other criminal charges and are seeking private representation, reach out to Oakland criminal defense attorney Elliot Silver today at (510) 995-0000 or by emailing him at He looks forward to hearing from you and helping you during this time.

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