The odds are good that you can’t imagine yourself as being part of any “criminal conspiracy,” but that doesn’t mean that a prosecutor can’t charge you with one — especially in situations where money crimes or drug crimes are involved.

Here’s what you need to know about how criminal conspiracies work and what it means to be charged.

What makes you part of a criminal conspiracy?

Essentially, any time two (or more) people plan do to do something illegal and someone takes a step to put those plans into action, that’s a criminal conspiracy.

What happens if you drop out of the conspiracy?

Unfortunately, once you’re involved in a conspiracy, it’s hard to remove yourself again. For example, imagine that Abel, Ben and Cassie are friends outside of work. They’re angry with their employer — a major bank. They start talking about how easy it would be to get away with embezzling, especially if they work together.

If everything stops there, they aren’t yet part of a criminal conspiracy. However, imagine Abel approaches Ben and Cassie a week later and reminds them of their conversation. He now has an active plan for how the scheme could work. Ben and Cassie agree to the plan.

The next day, Ben provides Abel with account information that can be used as they siphon money away from their employer. Cassie, however, wakes up panicked and decides she wants to walk away.

Unfortunately for Cassie, once Ben took action on their plan, she was already part of a criminal conspiracy — even though she didn’t actually participate in the scheme. In fact, even if Abel and Ben eventually abandon their plan, they could all still be charged and convicted of criminal conspiracy — even though their employer never suffered a loss.

Why is this such a problem for defendants?

Mostly, it’s because prosecutors have the ability to go after “small fish” in a case. They can file serious charges against minor players in a drug or financial crimes case and then leverage those charges against the opportunity for a lesser sentence in turn for evidence against the major players. Small players also have an incentive, then, to make statements that aren’t true in order to get those deals — which catches other people up in charges unfairly.

If you’re facing federal criminal conspiracy charges, contact our office to discuss your case and options.

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