Nation needs to decrease white-collar crimes
By Gene Kemmeter
Several incidents of white-collar crimes have come to the forefront in the last several weeks, drawing quite different reactions among people.
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, was sentenced to three years in prison after he pleaded guilty to crimes involving lying to Congress and banks, tax violations and financial crimes for hush-money payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump before he was elected president.
Paul Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman, was sentenced to a total of 7-1/2 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to two criminal conspiracy counts involving hiding millions of dollars of income from the U.S. government in offshore accounts and lying to banks to secure millions of dollars in loans. A judge sentenced him to 73 months in prison, with 30 of those months to be served concurrently with a previous sentence, less than the maximum sentence guidelines.
A jury also found him guilty of eight criminal counts involving tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to file a foreign bank account report. The judge who presided at that trial sentenced him to 47 months in prison, far less than the roughly 20 years he had faced under federal sentencing guidelines.
Then last week, federal authorities revealed an investigation dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” had uncovered a multimillion-dollar scheme to circumvent college admission standards. The charges allege nearly three dozen wealthy parents paid a consultant to fabricate academic and athletic credentials through fake test scores and fake photographs and to make bribes to admission officials and coaches at prestigious universities.
The general public seems most offended by the parents’ scheme, with its criminal intent to benefit their children. The convictions and prison sentences in the political realm are pooh-poohed as the results of a “witch hunt.”
The attitude toward white-collar crime in the United States is really one of indifference, yet the FBI says the annual cost of white-collar crimes is more the $500 billion annually, a staggering amount that far exceeds the estimated $15 billion annual cost of personal property crimes.
Why do people ignore the impacts of crimes such as fraud, bribery, embezzlement, Ponzi schemes, insider trading, cybercrime, intellectual property infringement, racketeering, money laundering, identity theft, tax fraud and forgery? Is it because complicated financial schemes are difficult to understand, and the perpetrators and victims are often unclear.
Despite the impact of white-collar crime, the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies are prosecuting fewer cases in recent years. Justice Department statistics from April 2018 showed white-collar prosecutions were down 33.5 percent in the last five years and 40.8 percent in the last 20 years.
White-collar crimes require lengthy investigations, and the manpower in law enforcement agencies has been diverted to other areas while the number of crimes have increased. The types of crimes usually require the help of a whistle-blower or an insider to provide information about the crimes and the money trail in a scheme involving multiple individuals.
Of course, white collar crime is more lucrative and possibly light on consequences, with a code of silence among its perpetrators. Bank fraud and money laundering can produce a reward of millions of dollars, while a bank robbery may only net thousands of dollars and provide an easier public trail for law enforcement to follow.
The government needs to crack down on white-collar crime, but is there a will to do so in Congress? The Department of Justice needs to attract and retain top-notch prosecutors without the flippant criticism from politicians. White-collar crime costs taxpayers millions of dollars per day, and the apparent exemption from punishment for its practitioners should not be tolerated.