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Lying to federal investigators: A quick ticket to prison

Let's be really clear about this: You cannot lie to a federal agent. If you do, you will most likely be caught, tried and convicted of making false statements, which is a crime under Title 18, United States Code Section 1001.

It doesn't matter if you don't realize that lying to investigators is a crime. It doesn't matter if the investigators lie to you first. You absolutely cannot do it and hope to avoid serious trouble.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don't quite understand what it means to make a false statement to investigators. So, what sort of things can get you into trouble? Consider these:

  • Making an untruthful statement in a panic (including simply saying, "No," to a question) when first confronted about investigators -- even if you quickly turn around and admit the truth
  • Lying about something inconsequential -- even if it doesn't gain you anything, and there's no evidence you intended to profit from it
  • Telling a lie that never misleads investigators in any way because they already know the truth and are just testing your veracity
  • Telling investigators that you "don't remember" something or otherwise feigning a lack of knowledge about something that investigators can prove you knew
  • Making factual mistakes -- whether out of nervousness or genuine forgetfulness -- when federal agents decide they want to use those mistakes as evidence against you

As of late, there's been a great deal of focus in the news on instances of lying to investigators. For example, Michael T. Flynn, a former national security advisor to the president, was recently admonished for lying to agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He faces jail time as a result. You don't have to be in a high-profile position, however, to get into trouble with investigators. You can get there just from being in the wrong place, at the wrong time -- and having information that federal agents want.

How can you best avoid a criminal conviction for lying to a federal agent? Usually, the best thing to do is to listen quietly when you are approached by investigators and then decline to answer any questions until after you have spoken to an attorney. Remember: you aren't really in a good position to understand the risks you face. An attorney with experience handling federal cases and white collar crimes can guide you.

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