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What is White-Collar Crime in Houston, Texas?

White Collar Crimes

White-collar crimes in Houston, Texas, are non-violent actions that include deceit or dishonesty to obtain financial advantage. The term "white-collar crime" does not relate to a specific type of crime. Instead, it is a catch-all word for different criminal offenses of varying severity in a corporate setting. As a result, white-collar crimes include computer crimes and other violations that occur in businesses or through transactions.

White-collar crimes, in contrast to street crimes, are distinguished by the absence of violence. Street crimes are often defined by acts of violence against a life (such as murder), crimes against public order (vandalism), and crimes against public health (drug trafficking). On the other hand, white-collar crimes are non-violent and mostly occur in a professional setting.

Most white-collar crimes can be prosecuted at the state and federal levels, depending on the jurisdiction and seriousness of the offense.

Common white-collar crimes in Houston, Texas include:

  • Fraud

Fraud accusations sometimes include making intentional misrepresentations to defraud someone of money or property. Fraud can involve small amounts of money, such as using someone else's credit card to pay for groceries, or significant sums of money, such as a multi-million dollar healthcare fraud scam. The fraud crimes that can be prosecuted in Texas are listed in Chapter 32 of the  Texas Penal Code.

  • Bank fraud

This white-collar crime involves using potentially illegal techniques to obtain assets, money, or other property owned, possessed, or controlled by a financial organization. It may also include an attempt to get money from depositors by impersonating a bank or other financial institution official.

  • Bribery

According to section 36.02 of the Texas Penal Code, bribery constitutes providing or offering something of value to someone only to induce that person to do something for personal gain or advantage. Bribery is often prosecuted when it involves a public servant, political party official, judge, or administrative officer.

  • Embezzlement

This white-collar crime involves the theft of assets (money or property) by an individual who has a position of authority or responsibility. One of the most common embezzlement crimes in Houston, Texas, is accounting embezzlement. It occurs when individuals entrusted with the company's records falsify the books to conceal an unapproved withdrawal or theft of funds. The severity of the penalties for embezzlement increases in proportion to the value involved.

  • Forgery

Forgery involves the fabrication, alteration, or use of any falsified written material with the purpose to pass it off as a replica of an original that does not exist and causes harm to another person or entity. Written materials may include documents, coins, badges, credit cards, and seals.

  • Identity Theft

Identity Theft involves using another person's identifying information without their permission to obtain services, money, goods, or other valuable items.

  • Insurance Fraud

Texas Penal Code 35.02 defines insurance fraud as the intentional provision of false or misleading material facts in an application for insurance coverage. It is usually perpetrated with the intent of defrauding or deceiving an insurance provider or other entity.

  • Mail Fraud

Mail fraud is a federal violation. Therefore, the federal government prosecutes this crime rather than Texas authorities. Mail fraud charges are brought against anyone who commits fraud via the postal service or a private carrier. The prosecution must show that a fraudulent plan was in place and the mail or private carrier used during the scheme's implementation. Examples of private carriers include U.P.S. and Fed-Ex. A common type of mail fraud is the sale of non-existent properties to out-of-state residents via the postal service.

  • Money Laundering

Money Laundering is defined in Chapter 34 of the Texas Penal Code as the process criminals disguise their original control and ownership of proceeds of illegal conduct by making the proceeds appear to have come from a legitimate source. It entails moving funds from illicit or unlawful sources to hide them in the accounts of foreign banks or legitimate businesses. According to the F.B.I., money laundering is transforming 'dirty' money into 'clean' money.

  • Ponzi Schemes

Ponzi schemes involve investment managers that deceive investors by using funds from subsequent investors to repay earlier investors rather than investing the funds as promised. In Houston, these people face harsh punishment because of the financial ramifications of their acts on unsuspecting investors.

  • Federal Mortgage Fraud

This crime involves the housing and banking system. It occurs when an individual or a group deliberately omits, obscures, or lies about critical facts about a mortgage transaction or application. Fraud can be conducted by either the lender or borrower and occurs throughout the application or approval process. For instance, it is a fraud if a lender approved a mortgage on a property whose value has increased fraudulently.

Other white-collar crimes include:

  • Counterfeiting
  • Credit card fraud
  • Cybercrime
  • Healthcare fraud
  • Tax fraud
  • Organized crime
  • Racketeering
  • Writing a bad check
  • Securities fraud.

What are White-Collar Crime Punishments in Houston, Texas?

The severity of the punishment varies based on the kind and magnitude of the violation. Due to the non-violent nature of white-collar crimes, it is commonly believed that they are not treated as severely as other types of crimes. However, they are often subject to the same penalties as other violent offenses.

White-collar crimes in Houston are classified as felonies or misdemeanors based on the amount of money stolen. For instance, if the amount of money stolen or embezzled exceeds $1,500, the offense is classified as a felony white-collar crime.

In Houston, the following are some examples of felony white-collar criminal charges and sentences:

  • Theft crimes of $1,500 to $20,000 are state jail felonies.  According to Texas law, the penalties range from 180 days to 2 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
  • Theft crimes of $20,000 to $100,000 are third-degree felonies punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of  $10,000.
  • Theft crimes involving $100,000 to $200,000 are classified as second-degree felonies. The associated penalties range from 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 in some cases.
  • First-degree felonies are crimes that involve stealing more than $200,000. A maximum fine of  $10,000 and a prison sentence ranging from 5 to 99 years are potential penalties for such offenses.

Misdemeanor white-collar offenses involve smaller amounts of money. As such, they are punished more leniently than felonies. These crimes involve stealing less than $1,500. A conviction in Texas for a misdemeanor white-collar offense is punishable by a fine of $500 to $4,000, imprisonment of up to 1 year, or both.

Meanwhile, depending on the circumstances surrounding a case, an individual's penalties may go above and beyond the standard statutory. This is likely if the offender has a criminal history, caused harm to many people, defrauded an older person, and stole a significant quantity of money.  

High fines and restitution are two other significant consequences of white-collar crime. Defendants may also be subject to extra-statutory penalties in specific circumstances. Medicaid and Medicare exclusions, for example, can be enforced in addition to other sentences in cases of health care fraud. Loss of eligibility for S.E.C. registration is routinely imposed for some white-collar offenses.

What does a White-Collar Crime Lawyer do in Houston, Texas?

Whether an individual is facing significant white-collar or cybercrime accusations in federal or state court, the repercussions of a conviction can have long-term consequences. Defendants who want to escape incarceration, hefty fines, and a permanent mark on their records will need an aggressive and innovative white-collar crime attorney.

With the proper application of expertise and different strategies, a white-collar crime lawyer may be the difference between a lengthy time of incarceration and avoiding criminal charges entirely.

Numerous defenses can be used in the event of an accusation of a white-collar crime, including:

  • Entrapment

This happens when a government official provides an individual with a chance to conduct a criminal offense that would not otherwise have been committed if the opportunity had not been presented. In circumstances where entrapment can be demonstrated, a qualified criminal defense counsel would claim that the accused did not incline to perform the conduct, or in other words, no predisposition, but for the government's enticement.

  • Insanity

The defense of insanity is invoked to avoid being held responsible for the conduct of a crime. This defense does not deny that the accused performed the illegal conduct; instead, it asserts that the defendant was unaware of the type or degree of the act's wrongfulness at the time of its commission.

  • Duress

This defense asserts that the defendant was forced or coerced into committing the offense. Using this defense requires the accused to establish the danger of significant physical damage or death, and that situation was immediate and inescapable.

What is the FCPA in Houston, Texas?

American firms and corporations are subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act's (FCPA) standards and provisions since 1977. The FCPA is divided into two sections: anti-bribery provisions and accounting/recordkeeping provisions. 

The anti-bribery provisions make it a crime for any US individual or business entity to offer or promise money or other valuable items to a foreign government official with the intent of persuading them to violate a duty to gain an unfair advantage or get and keep business. An entity could be a person or corporation. They could include officers, directors, employees, company agents, or stockholders representing their companies. In contrast, a foreign official may represent a foreign political party or a candidate for a foreign political position. Also, valuable items may include cash, medical supplies, vehicles, or even various types of computer technology.

The FCPA's accounting provisions address the requirements for a company's books and records and an internal control system. To comply with this requirement, publicly listed companies must retain books, documents, and other accounts that accurately describe transactions involving the company's assets. The act also prohibits knowingly fabricating books and records and failing to create an internal control mechanism.

As part of this requirement, the company must maintain internal controls in its accounting systems. These controls provide reasonable assurances that:

  • Transactions are only carried out with management's authorization, 
  • Transactions are recorded correctly
  • Access to capital is limited to those who have been granted permission, and 
  • The company conducts accurate asset evaluations regularly.

Houston-based entities that conduct overseas commercial operations must adhere to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Non-compliance with these requirements will attract the attention of the Department of Justice(DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C).

The S.E.C. and the D.O.J. share responsibility for investigating and enforcing the FCPA. All criminal FCPA accusations are handled by the D.O.J., while the S.E.C. handles civil FCPA proceedings. The agencies may conduct simultaneous investigations and communicate information while pursuing different penalties. A business competitor who has lost business due to the illegal payment in question may also potentially bring private action for FCPA violations. The plaintiff may be entitled to damages in this case.

FCPA Penalties

Individuals and businesses can face civil and criminal penalties, restitution orders, suspensions, and even imprisonment for FCPA violations.

Criminal Penalties

Companies that violate the anti-bribery laws may face criminal penalties of up to $2 million. Individuals can be fined up to $250,000 and imprisoned for up to five years. Companies can be fined up to $25 million for violating the accounting provisions, while individuals can be fined up to $5 million and imprisoned for up to 20 years.

Civil Penalties

The FCPA specifies that firms might face a civil penalty of up to $16,000 per violation of the anti-bribery provisions. Individuals may potentially face a civil penalty of $16,000 per violation.

For the accounting provisions, organizations and individuals can face penalties ranging from $75,000 to $725,000 for a company and $7,500 to $150,000 for a person, not to exceed the larger of the gross amount of their pecuniary benefit from the violation or a specific monetary limitation based on the gravity of the breach.

How to Find a White-Collar Crime Lawyer in Houston, Texas

When choosing a Houston white-collar crime lawyer, it is essential to note that white-collar cases require a lot of knowledge and skill. As a result, anybody involved in a white-collar criminal case must conduct a thorough search for an attorney who has a working understanding of the specific government policies that apply to various types of white-collar crimes.

Only a few criminal defense attorneys have the experience required to defend those accused of white-collar crimes successfully. Consequently, it is essential to carefully compile a list of white-collar crime attorneys in the region before selecting. An interested person can compile this list by examining the database of the state and local bar associations, asking their acquaintances for recommendations, conducting online searches, and looking out for advertisements. 

Lists of attorneys licensed to practice in the area can be found in the databases of the state and local bar associations. Individuals who want to review these listings can visit the websites and conduct simple searches. Additionally, acquaintances who have faced similar claims can also recommend reliable attorneys.

It is critical to narrow the long list of possible attorneys using their expertise, reputation, availability, and cost. In criminal trials, defense attorneys who cannot afford to employ their counsel will be represented by public defenders. A comprehensive inquiry into any disciplinary actions taken against an attorney is also required. When a person searches for an attorney using the find your lawyer tool, they are often supplied with information concerning any disciplinary proceedings taken against the professional. After analyzing all of the information and conducting interviews with the attorneys, the interested party may determine which white-collar criminal defense attorney they feel is the most aligned with their objectives.