White Collar Criminal Law Explained
Randall D. Eliason is a Professorial Lecturer in Law at The George Washington University Law School. He received his JD cum laude from Harvard Law School and spent 12 years as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. He authors a blog on white collar crime and federal criminal law called Sidebars, and his writings have been published in scholarly journals, legal periodicals, and national newspapers. He is a two-time recipient of the Distinguished Adjunct Faculty Teaching Award at The George Washington University Law School.
01: Defining White collar Crime
There’s no section in the US criminal code captioned “white collar crimes.” So what, exactly, is a white collar crime? What sets white collar apart from other areas of criminal law? Why do these crimes—and the criminals who commit them—captivate the public? In this lecture, establish a solid legal framework for the lessons ahead.
02: Anatomy of a Federal White Collar Case
In this lesson, study the federal prosecution of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, as a window into how a federal white collar case works its way through the criminal justice system. Topics include the structure of the federal courts and Department of Justice and the critical role of federal prosecutors.
03: The Power of the Federal Grand Jury
The federal grand jury has tremendous power in the US justice system—yet for many of us, the grand jury process remains shrouded in mystery. In the first of two lessons on what a federal grand jury is and how it operates, Professor Eliason pulls back the curtain and reveals the inner workings of this important institution.
04: Grand Jury Procedure and Search Warrants
Continue your look at federal grand juries by considering one of their most distinctive features: secrecy. Along the way, consider why a good federal prosecutor should disclose exculpatory information to a grand jury; what information qualifies as protected grand jury material; and the importance (and practical limitations) of another investigative tool, search warrants.
05: Mail and Wire Fraud and the Nature of Fraud
Two of the most popular statutes that federal prosecutors of white collar crime have at their disposal are mail and wire fraud. After considering the relatively straightforward elements of mail and wire fraud, turn to the heart of both crimes: the scheme or artifice to defraud.
06: The Limits of Mail and Wire Fraud
One area that defines the outer boundaries of mail and wire fraud involves the definition of “property.” After examining Supreme Court cases that sought to answer the question of what qualifies as property, focus on the “in furtherance” requirement and its role in the landmark 1989 case of Schmuck v. United States.
07: Honest Services Fraud and Its Evolution
In an honest services fraud case, there’s no need to show that victims suffered a monetary loss; instead, a prosecutor has to show they were deprived of their intangible right to honest services. As you explore the evolution of this criminal theory, learn why its most common use is to prosecute political corruption.
08: Conspiracy: A Partnership in Crime
Conspiracy is one of the most common types of federal crimes charged. Professor Eliason reveals the benefits of a conspiracy charge for the prosecution, the reasons why we prosecute conspiracy, the elements of a conspiracy charge, and the two prongs of the primary federal conspiracy statute: 18 U.S.C. section 371.
09: Common Issues in Conspiracy Cases
In this lesson, consider the elements of a criminal conspiracy in greater detail. Central to the discussion are common issues that arise in conspiracy cases, including proving the agreement, proving the scope of the conspiracy, the “overt act” requirement, and the possibility of withdrawing from a conspiracy.
10: Public Corruption: Bribery and Gratuities
Bribery is the quintessential public corruption offense: a public official who accepts something of personal value to be influenced in the performance of some official act. After discussing bribery and the related offense of gratuities, Professor Eliason also covers two major Supreme Court decisions that dramatically limited the scope of these statutes.
11: Extortion by Public Officials
The Hobbs Act defines extortion as the “obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.” What elements of extortion must prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt? And why is the phrase “under color of official right” so controversial?
12: The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
One of our most important laws for fighting corruption overseas was born in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. In this lesson, unpack the importance of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the basis of prosecutions (sometimes of non-US companies) that have resulted in some of the largest financial settlements in US history.
13: Securities Fraud and Insider Trading
To many people, insider trading is the textbook example of a white collar crime. Go inside the somewhat controversial legal theories involved in these prosecutions, which seek to maintain investor confidence in the securities market and establish (and maintain) a somewhat level playing field for investors.
14: Perjury and the Law of Cover-Up Crimes
In the first of several lessons on “cover-up crimes” (crimes committed to conceal other misconduct), examine the topic of perjury, or lying under oath. Unpack the two principal federal perjury statutes; learn the elements required to prove a charge of perjury; and consider the role ambiguity plays in perjury cases.
15: False Statements and Concealment
When you lie to the federal government, it’s not just wrong—it could land you in prison. Learn why charges of giving false statements are extremely common in white collar cases; analyze the breadth and simplicity of the federal false statements statute; and explore how this charge can help the government prove criminal intent or guilty knowledge.
16: Obstruction of Justice
Obstruction of justice covers a wide variety of misconduct, including tampering with witnesses, threatening jurors, and destroying evidence. After examining the primary obstruction of justice statutes, probe leading Supreme Court cases dealing with this white collar crime, including United States v. Aguilar and Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States.
17: Money Laundering Basics
Prosecuting money laundering continues to be a major priority for the Department of Justice. In the first of two lectures on this crime, examine the elements of domestic money laundering, then explore them in the context of two early cases: United States v. Jackson and United States v. Campbell.
18: Laundering Money across the US Border
Turn now to the international money laundering statute, 18 U.S.C. section 1956(a)(2), which requires that the funds in question be transported across the US border. One area of international money laundering you’ll investigate is cash purchases of US real estate by corrupt foreign officials—a primary laundering vehicle.
19: Conspiracy on Steroids: The RICO Statute
When Congress passed the RICO statute—short for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act—it primarily had organized crime in mind. First, see the benefits and drawbacks of the statute through the eyes of a white collar prosecutor. Then, better understand the specific elements of a RICO charge.
20: Hacking and Other Computer Crimes
In our increasingly digital age, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is a powerful tool for federal prosecutors to combat cyberattacks against individuals, organizations, and even the entire country. Review the seven different sections of the CFAA, each of which applies to a different type of computer crime and comes with different requirements.
21: Corporate Criminal Liability
Today, many legal experts question the rationale for corporate criminal liability, and some even suggest it should be abolished altogether. How did a Supreme Court case over 100 years old set the standards that still govern corporate criminal liability today? And why is there a growing reluctance to indict and prosecute companies for criminal activity?
22: Plea Bargains and Immunity Deals
Over 95% of all criminal prosecutions, including white collar prosecutions, are resolved short of trial by way of a plea bargain. In this lesson, focus on three tools critical to the white collar prosecutor seeking to build a case involving serious criminal misconduct: plea agreements, cooperation agreements, and immunity deals.
23: Defending the White Collar Case
Professor Eliason sits down with Michael N. Levy for a look at white collar crime from the perspective of a defense lawyer—another critical legal player in any white collar case. It’s a chance for you to eavesdrop on an insightful, extemporaneous Q&A session that will add to your understanding of the nuances of white collar crimes.
24: Sentencing White Collar Criminals
Once guilt is established by a plea or a trial, the last part of the criminal process remains: sentencing. Start by examining the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which help the court fashion an appropriate sentence; then, look at United States v. Booker, the Supreme Court case that turned these guidelines from mandatory to merely advisory.