Many people don’t necessarily think of white collar crimes as serious because they don’t involve violence. But white collar crimes are serious, and in the state of Illinois they can carry serious penalties.
What constitutes a white collar crime in our state? Essentially, these types of crimes involve money – someone getting rich off of someone else’s money – and white collar criminals are often glorified and become notorious for their escapades, despite having to spend years in prison and pay expensive fines. Even though these criminals might seem to be heroes, don’t let that fool you. A crime is a crime. And a conviction can ruin your life.
If you have been charged and are having trouble understanding the nature of your white collar offense, it can help to take a look at some famous white collar cases that may reflect your charge. Let’s look at three notorious white collar criminals and see how they relate to crimes under Illinois law today.
1. Charles Ponzi. Even though you may not have heard of Charles Ponzi, you most likely have heard of the “Ponzi scheme.” During the 1920s, Ponzi obtained a number of investments to buy cheap postage coupons, then continued to get more investments and investors. The original investors were paid back by money from the second round of investors instead of being paid back on returns, and the Ponzi scheme was invented! Did I forget to mention Ponzi kept $20 million for himself? He was eventually caught, spent years in jail, and died penniless.
Under Illinois law, Ponzi schemes are commonly referred to as “pyramid schemes” and they are illegal. It’s a Class A misdemeanor – punishable by one year in prison and a $1,000 fine – for anyone to knowingly sell, offer to sell, or attempt to sell the right to participate in a pyramid sales scheme. On top of that, you can also be subject to a $50,000 fine for being in violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.
2. Bernie Madoff. Bernie Madoff was obviously inspired by Charles Ponzi, because he used a Ponzi scheme to acquire almost $800 million! Madoff started to get money from investors, promising them considerable future returns, in the 1970s. However, instead of actually investing their money, Madoff deposited the money into his own bank account. In the early 2000s, Madoff couldn’t pay back his investors, the money was starting to dwindle, and authorities started an investigation. He was found guilty of 11 charges and will be spending 150 years in prison.
As we’ve already discussed, Ponzi schemes are illegal, but Madoff’s use of the Ponzi scheme shows that when someone wrongfully acquires an excessive amount of money, that person will end up spending an excessive amount of time in jail. Being involved in a Ponzi scheme may be a misdemeanor, but creating a Ponzi scheme is a different story.
3. Enron. Enron is notorious for their white collar crimes. It was the seventh largest company in the United States at one point, but definitely reached that distinction illegally. Enron fabricated profits, used deceptive accounting practices, and hid millions of dollars of debt from investors and the overall market.
In 2001, their lies were revealed when they were billions of dollars in debt. Enron executives stole millions of dollars while their stock fell to less than 70 cents a share, which bankrupted their shareholders and investors. Many high level employees served prison time, but Enron’s founder died before he could serve his 45-year prison term.
Enron committed financial fraud – including accounting fraud, wire fraud, securities fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, insider trading, and conspiracy – all of which are illegal under Illinois law. Companies have to be transparent with their investors and do everything by the book.
A conviction for any of these crimes will result in fines, jail time, and irreparable damage to your reputation. But a charge is not a conviction, and working with a knowledgeable Chicago white collar crimes lawyer gives you the best possible chance at a positive outcome.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.