Aside from a few very high-profile cases (like the “college admission scandal” that has caught numerous celebrities and well-placed parents up in its wake), you may be hearing far less about white collar crime than you once did — but that probably isn’t because it isn’t happening. It may just be that they’re not being prosecuted quite as often.
The prosecution of white collar crimes was a huge priority for the Department of Justice back in the high-flying 1980s and during the heady days of the dot-com explosion in the 1990s. There were around 10,000 prosecutions for white collar criminal activity every year.
Now, however, there have been less than 6,000 such cases three years running. Even more telling, white collar crimes represent only 3% of the more than 170,000 cases being handled by federal prosecutors these days. In fact, based on the current figures for the fiscal year 2019, white collar prosecutions are expected to be the lowest they’ve ever been since tracking started.
The decline of prosecutions started in the Obama era but has reached new lows under the current presidential administration because there is a much more directed focus on immigration crimes. In fact, immigration cases that are prosecuted as identity theft crimes actually keep the number of white collar cases artificially inflated.
So, what’s the real reason behind the drop off in prosecution? It isn’t that the government cares less about white collar criminal activity. Instead, it may simply be that the public’s attention and interest have shifted — and that helps direct where the government’s resources go.
None of that is to say that white collar crimes are now “safe” from prosecution. You can generally expect that if you do draw the attention of federal authorities that you’re definitely in trouble. They wouldn’t allocate their limited resources in your direction if they weren’t prepared to prosecute you. If you’re under investigation for a white collar crime, find out what you can do to protect yourself and preserve your rights.