White Collar Crime Prosecutions: Why do some cases simply wither away?

The Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice issued a massive report earlier this week concerning how the various federal prosecutors around the country are doing (or not doing) their jobs. While there’s a lot of truth to the old saying about “lies, damn lies and statistics”, the numbers in this report give some clues about why certain federal white collar criminal investigations simply wither away over time.

The Department of Justice is the mother ship for all of the various lawyers who work for the federal government. When it comes to prosecuting federal criminal cases, the 94 U.S. Attorneys offices around the country have front-line responsibility. The U.S. Attorney him or herself is a person appointed by the President to head up one of these 94 offices. However, the day-to-day operations usually are handled by prosecutors who have generally made a career of or have spent a long time as an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA). The statistics in this new report show that there can be great variations between the 94 offices when it comes to how AUSA’s handle white collar federal criminal cases.

Some of the statistics in this report are set out in Appendix XIV. This Appendix details how federal prosecutors have handled white collar criminal investigations over the past 5 years. The Appendix goes through each of the 94 U.S. Attorneys offices, and details how many such cases were referred to the prosecutors, provides numbers on how many were actually prosecuted, gives figures on how many were refused for prosecution, and sets out how many are still just hanging around with no decision.

Again, remember that statistics can often mislead. Nevertheless, this report shows that in some U.S. Attorneys’ offices, the majority of white collar cases lead to formal criminal charges. In others, a relatively small percentage ever result in a criminal case. In many districts, the majority of white collar cases languish for many years before anyone makes a decision.

We represent many people who are investigated for federal white collar offenses such as mail or wire fraud, public corruption, money laundering and the like. The toll of such an investigation can weigh heavily on our clients and their families. These statistics show clearly that for some of our clients, they may have to wait many years before the case is either refused for prosecution or simply dies on the vine.