The law governing white-collar crimes is complex and not particularly well known by the average individual. For this reason, many well-intentioned people find themselves facing criminal charges when they had no idea they were breaking the law. Unfortunately, ignorance of the law is no defense to criminal charges. As such, everyone should become familiar with common economic crimes in Michigan to avoid criminal liability when running a business, working for a nonprofit organization, or borrowing property from friends.
If you come under investigation for a crime such as fraud or embezzlement, you should immediately contact an experienced economic crimes lawyer. A conviction for a white-collar offense entails more than just fines and incarceration – your reputation and career will likely never recover.
Most Economic Crimes Require the Prosecutor to Prove Fraudulent Intent
Fraud is a legal term that applies to when a person lies with the intent of taking advantage of another person or institution. While some fraud cases are heard in civil court, others might be prosecuted at the criminal level. In such situations, prosecutors need to gather evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed or misrepresented a material fact with the intent to deceive another person and profit from the scheme.
Some of the most common economic crimes include:
According to Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL) Section 750.174, you commit embezzlement if you use your position as an agent, employee, trustee, bailee, or servant to steal from a government agency, or business that has entrusted you with property or cash. In other words, it’s using your official position to commit fraud. When most people imagine embezzlement, they think of high-powered executives diverting funds or property from their company for their personal use. But embezzlement can happen at any level of an organization, and can even involve relatively small amounts of money.
For example, if you are working the cash register at a local convenience store, and you take money out of the till to buy yourself lunch, you may have technically committed embezzlement – even if you put the money back later. The penalties for embezzlement can be severe, ranging from a minimum of 93 days in jail and a fine of $500 (or three times the amount of theft – whichever is greater), all the way to a 20-year prison sentence and a fine of at least $50,000 (or three times the amount of theft – whichever is greater).
Defined at MCL Section 750.248 to Section 750.253, counterfeiting involves creating fake official documents with the intent to defraud another person, business, or government agency. This offense is closely related to forgery, which involves altering documents with fraudulent intent. There are several types of counterfeiting described under Michigan law, including the creation of counterfeit public documents, uttering a counterfeit document, forgery of bank bills, and possession of counterfeit notes – all of which are felonies punishable by years of prison and thousands of dollars in fines. These crimes may also be charged at the federal level, where the penalties are harsher, and the cost of litigation is even more significant.
Credit Card Fraud
Various forms of credit card fraud are described at MCL Section 750.157. This statute provides the penalties applying to the possession, use, or receipt of a stolen credit or debit card without its owner’s permission and with the intention of using the card to obtain something of value. The statute also prohibits forging or altering a credit card for this same purpose. Michigan law treats all types of credit card fraud as felonies, except in the cases of using a revoked or canceled credit card, or making withdrawals in excess of a contractual limit. In these cases, the offense is a misdemeanor if the amount of money at issue in the case is less than $1,000.
Money laundering is the act of using a phony business or a series of financial transactions to legitimize money obtained through illegal means. Often, the offense is charged alongside other crimes such as drug trafficking, racketeering, fraud, or whatever other crime was committed to make the illegal money. Money laundering is often charged at the federal level, but the offense also exists under Michigan law. According to MCL Section 750.411m, you may be charged with third-degree money laundering if there is evidence that you took up to $10,000 from drug dealing and either invested it in another criminal scheme, or you attempted to conceal its illegal origins. This felony is punishable by five years in prison, $50,000 in fines, or three times the amount of laundered money – whichever is greater.
In the early 20th century, federal prosecutors were unable to effectively target organized crime rings because they had to charge each person individually, instead of the whole organization. With the passage in 1970 of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, federal prosecutors could charge multiple people at once for their alleged involvement in a single criminal scheme that operated continuously over 10 years, during which two or more serious crimes (such as gambling, murder, arson, embezzlement, or prostitution) were committed. A racketeering statute also exists in Michigan at MCL Section 750.159f, so you may face charges at both the federal or state level for your alleged involvement in organized crime.
Bribery is the act of giving something of value another in exchange for them making an official act on your behalf. One specific example of this offense is bribing a public servant. If you buy the head of the local zoning board a new boat and ask them to accelerate the approval of your new building plans, you’ve committed bribery. But in practice, many situations are not so clear-cut. If you simply take the zoning official out to a nice dinner without mentioning your intent to build, they may still get the hint and approve your building plans. Although there may be no direct evidence of your intent to influence their decision, a prosecutor may nonetheless infer your intent from the act of you buying dinner, and the zoning official’s decision to approve your plans. For this reason, you should tread carefully whenever you offer or give anything of value to a person in an official government position. According to MCL Section 750.117, bribery is a felony punishable by prison time and hefty fines.
Insider trading consists of buying or selling publicly traded stock or securities based on non-public information about the company. If a friend of yours works for a big auto supplier, and tells you to sell your stock because the company is secretly considering bankruptcy, you will commit insider trading if you sell your stock based on this information. The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over insider trading cases, which are usually investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). A criminal prosecution resulting from an SEC investigation will be a lengthy and costly affair, entailing the possibility of prison time and exorbitant fines.
Wage theft is the act of not paying an employee for work they have performed, denying their sick days, or misclassifying their overtime as normal wage work. If you’re accused of these actions, the MI Department of License and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) will investigate you, after which you may have to pay a civil fine.
However, two new laws introduced this year to the Michigan Legislature, House Bills 4868 and 4869, would make willful wage theft a felony. In any event, wage theft is a crime at the federal level, and the offense may be investigated and prosecuted by the Wage and Hours Division (WHD) of the Department of Labor. The WHD has been known to investigate many Michigan industries, especially those that hire large amounts of foreign workers.
Contact a Lansing Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If you are being investigated or prosecuted for a white-collar or economic crime, you may feel like your back is against the wall. When you have nowhere or no one to turn to, Lansing economic crimes lawyer Tiffany DeBruin can help. With a proven track record of aggressive and effective representation at every stage of the criminal justice process, she is well-positioned to lead your defense.