How White-Collar Conspiracy Charges Work
White-collar cases are more likely to include conspiracy charges than any other case. It is difficult to defraud the US government while working by yourself. Most of the time, at least two players need to be involved to successfully pull off the endeavor. It’s also common for more than two people to be involved in a conspiracy. Not everyone involved will necessarily have the same amount of wrongdoing. Some conspiracies may involve just one “mastermind” who manipulates others into carrying out parts of the plan.
Conspiracy charges can also be leveled in state courts. However, the exact language surrounding them varies depending on the state.
If you or someone you know has been charged with federal conspiracy, it’s important to have an experienced federal defense lawyer. State lawyers are not familiar with the procedures used in federal court, and they don’t know how to interact with federal law enforcement officials.
This is a basic explanation of how federal conspiracies work.
With a general conspiracy charge, the government must prove that at least two people agreed to commit a certain crime. They must also prove that at least one of the involved parties furthered the plan to commit the crime. But because that language is so broad, it can be difficult to understand without examples.
An Example of White-Collar Conspiracy
This example involves two hypothetical people who work in the healthcare sector: Stephanie and Joe. The doctor’s office they’re employed at often treats patients who use Medicare. Medicare is a federally funded healthcare program that covers the costs of subscribers’ healthcare treatment. Because the program uses federal tax funding, defrauding it is a federal crime against the US government.
Stephanie makes a plan to submit fraudulent vouchers that say they’ve treated patients who never actually came to the clinic. This will allow her, and possibly other members of the clinic, to be reimbursed for work they did not do. She tells Joe about her plan and asks him to make her a list of patients that they can pretend to have treated. He complies.
Now, maybe Stephanie never submits any of the false vouchers. Maybe she accepts a better job offer or inherits a large sum of money from distant relatives. She loses interest in using crime to increase her bank account. No fraud has technically been committed by Stephanie or Joe.
But as far as the law is concerned, the actions have met the criteria for a federal conspiracy charge. Two people conspired to defraud the US government, in this case by obtaining fraudulent Medicare compensation. Joe made a list of individuals that they could use to create their false vouchers. Even though no false vouchers were ever created, much less submitted, this means that actions were taken to further the conspiracy. Both Stephanie and Joe could be convicted of a conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud.
This gives you a basic understanding about how conspiracy statutes are interpreted in federal court. There are some other things to know as well.
Non-Explicit Agreement Still Counts
There are some conspiracy cases in which federal prosecutors have been able to show direct evidence of conspiracy. People may have written their intentions down in text messages, emails, or letters. But there doesn’t need to be evidence of an explicit agreement in writing or audio recording. Prosecutors can also use circumstantial evidence to prove that two people had an agreement.
This can cause problems for people accused of conspiracy, especially when they didn’t actually commit the crime. Prosecutors may use circumstantial evidence to draw indirect conclusions. In some court cases, the jury has been allowed to rule based purely on whether the two involved parties knew each other. If they’re coworkers, of course they know each other.
Legal Overt Acts
In legal terms, the steps taken to further the conspiracy are called “overt acts.” It’s important to note that an overt act can be legal. No crime needs to be committed. All that needs to be done is something that moves the criminal plan closer to completion.
Joe’s choice to compile names of patients is not overtly illegal. But since it was done to further a fraud conspiracy, it can be part of the charge.