Serious questions surround sentencing in white collar cases

Is it right to use one criminal case to send a message to other people who might commit similar crimes? That is an issue that is increasingly being asked about prosecutions for white collar crimes such as money laundering, mortgage fraud, insurance fraud and bank fraud.

Many people have an inaccurate perception that people convicted of white collar crimes receive little more than a slap on the wrist. This perception grows increasingly false every day, as we see reports of many lengthy sentences for white collar crimes in an effort to send a message to other people in the business community. Peter Henning, a law professor and writer for the New York Times, recently wrote a powerful article that directly questions the practice of send-a-message sentences in white collar crimes cases.

Henning notes the recent case of Lee B. Farkas, a former mortgage executive. Farkas was accused of diverting assets and committing mortgage fraud. After he was convicted of 14 federal counts, federal prosecutors requested the maximum sentence on all counts for a total of 385 years.

Although a 385-year sentence could send a message, would a 385-year sentence be just? The judge in Mr. Farkas’ case did not feel a 385-year sentence was appropriate under the circumstances. However, the judge sentenced Farkas to 30 years in prison. For Farkas, who is 58, this will likely mean he will need to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Lengthy sentences for white collar convictions have become more common since a change in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines in 2001 greatly increased the penalties a white collar defendant faces.

Because the potential penalties for white collar crimes can be quite severe, it is important for people accused of these crimes to work with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. Experienced federal criminal defense attorneys understand the complexities of federal trials and sentencing. In many cases, an attorney can successfully get a defendant’s sentence reduced under the guidelines when the circumstances surrounding the case justify a shorter sentence.

Source: New York Times, “Tough Justice Persists in White-Collar Crime Cases,” Peter J. Henning, 6/30/2011