Brad Post, Host, Create the Movement: Welcome to Your Best Defense Podcast. We are sitting with Oklahoma City white-collar crime lawyer Jacqui Ford. Jacqui, how are you today?
Jacqui Ford, Oklahoma City Criminal Defense Attorney: I’m doing great Brad. Thank you.
B: Good. We’re going to be talking an overview of white-collar crimes. What do most people think about when they think about white-collar crimes?
J: When I first think about white-collar crimes, the things that come to my mind are bogus checks, or shoplifting. Petty types of crimes. And before I was a lawyer, that is kind of what I associated white-collar crimes with. Money crimes. I think that everybody can agree that generally comes to mind. Some sort of wrongdoings with money.
In Oklahoma, we have a huge variety of white-collar crimes, and certainly bogus checks are one of them, and larceny, which simply means taking of property of another person, And there’s a huge variety of different levels of even larceny charges in Oklahoma. From petty larceny, all the way up to grand larceny and 1000 different varieties thereof.
White-collar crimes also include embezzlement charges. If you’re accused of taking monies that you had some fiduciary duty of protecting, or being in charge of. All kinds of different fraud. You know? Forgery, obtaining money by false pretenses, signing documents with someone else’s name.
In today’s environment, in 2016, some of the biggest white-collar crimes we see now are true identity thefts. Different than identity theft 20 years ago. You know? And now we see it a lot more often. So, anything having to do with personal information, and obtaining, oftentimes, money, services, or goods with someone’s personal information.
So, when we think about white-collar crimes we tend to think of them being “victimless” – in the sense that there is not physical harm happening to someone. But, most definitely, there there’s almost always a victim of some kind. Whether it be shareholders of the corporation you have a duty to, the person whose identity has been stolen, the checking account that has been used.
A lot of times in federal practice, and we’ll talk more about federal court later, what we see is taking of monies that may belong to the government. We see a lot of Medicare fraud. You know? You’re providing services, and you’re billing the government. Maybe you’re billing them for services that aren’t being rendered. And we see that both at the state and the federal level. So, anything that has to do with finances and personal-identifying things should trigger to someone that we’re talking about a white-collar crime.
The confusing nature of white-collar crime is a lot of people think, “It’s just money. It’s no big deal.”
You know? Especially if it’s just an overall small sum of money. You know?
We see white-collar crimes in tax cases. Certainly, not a crime to try to avoid paying taxes, but doing it in a fraudulent manner against the government gives rise to some major problems. So, a lot of times, the victim in the sense that we think of victims, that might be “victimless”, but usually there’s someone there. Someone has been wronged. Otherwise, taking the money isn’t a crime. Right?
One of the fun things about white-collar crime, oftentimes, is it’s not the kind of person that you or I might think of that would engage in criminal activity. The clichéd image of what a criminal looks like. You know? Oftentimes, our white-collar crimes generally don’t come from poverty-stricken neighborhoods, and the poor and the uneducated. A lot more often, actually, what we see in white-collar crimes is your neighbor next door. A middle-class or upper-middle-class individuals, oftentimes they’re employed. They’ve got good jobs. They’re just a regular old “Joe”. And so, it’s not a crime that you can kind of look at, and say, “Oh! I bet that person’s a white-collar criminal.” It’s the people that you wouldn’t contemplate really being engaged in that kind of activity. And, because we don’t think of those people criminals in nature, oftentimes I think people failed to recognize the consequences of white-collar crimes. Because, it’s not what we think of when we think of criminal, we think that the punishment is probably much less. That is a mistake.
J: White-collar crimes are vigorously punished in the state of Oklahoma. And there are divisions within our prosecuting agencies at the district-attorney level, at the state attorney general’s office they have divisions that are fully dedicated to prosecuting white-collar crimes, and those prosecutors take this job of theirs very very seriously. And to them, it’s rather offensive for you say something like, “It’s just money. What’s the big deal?” Our legislatures made it very clear that white-collar crimes will be prosecuted, and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Meaning that is not “no big deal”. There is, oftentimes, jail time that is included, almost always if there’s a proven amount of money that’s been taken. Restitution is going to be a part of any disposition of the case.
So, the kind of idea that it’s not that big of a deal, I understand why people may misinterpret that, but is important to know the court system takes it very seriously. And the prosecutors take it very seriously. And this idea that it’s just money, “no harm, no foul”, flies in the face of the white-collar practice. If you, in fact, are guilty of one of these things, there has been a trust that’s been violated – a fiduciary duty of some kind. Whether it be that you are supposed to be taking care of grandma, and you’re writing grandma’s check to pay her bills, and every now and then you’re slipping yourself a nice check, or using her checks to pay your bills. You know? Is grandma suffering? Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn’t make the crime any less offensive. I think there are a lot of folks that would think that that is maybe even more offensive than just stealing from Walmart.
B: Right, right.
J: And the prosecutors are well-trained in that. When you find yourself in front of a judge or jury, the judgment that’s going to be assessed against you is not come from a place that “it’s no big deal”. It comes from the fact that a trust relationship has been violated and someone feels betrayed. And this is a big big selling point to juries and it’s a big incentive for prosecutors to move forward to make an example out of folks. A lot of times what I hear is if we just give them a slap on the wrist, and let them pay the money back, there’s no deterrent factor. So, and their goal, and their job, is to deter future white-collar crimes, then they’re going to punish, and oftentimes that includes jail time.
B: Now, a lot of times with white-collar crimes, you see that there’s some underlying issue. It’s not just they stole money because they needed it, it’s usually…
J: Right. So with white-collar crimes, much like with every crime, we have two classifications of clients. Right? We have the clients who are clearly falsely accused, and have done absolutely nothing wrong. And we’ll talk about them separately, in a minute, if that’s okay?
If we’re dealing with someone who is being accused, or is being investigated, and in fact they did do something wrong, the best thing they need to, the first you need to do if you think that you’ve 1) committed a crime, or more importantly, 2) you’re being investigated for a crime – you need to contact someone who’s experienced. You need to contact an experienced Oklahoma white-collar crimes lawyer. There are a lot of things that we can do.
One of the first things that we do, is kind identify what the underlying issue is. Now, there is a big difference between going into Walmart and stealing bread to feed your family, or getting necessities to move on through life. Although, that is actually a crime, and it is still prosecuted, that’s a different thing than what we’re really talking about here today. What I find most often with my clients, who are charged either rightfully, or some semblance of rightfully, my clients who are factually guilty of taking money, oftentimes, what I find is it’s not based upon need. Usually, there’s an underlying issue. Whether that be a drug or alcohol addiction problem, where people would tap into a different source of funds to be able to feed that need. Where if they’ve tapped-out all their other resources. Or, oftentimes, what we find they have the money in the bank, but they can’t let their spouse see it coming out, and things like that. So they’re taking money from other places to fuel that addiction.
One of the other major things we see, especially here in Oklahoma, is people who are engaged in criminal activity like this probably have a gambling problem.
J: That’s one of the first questions I ask in intakes. Do we have an underlying drug and alcohol issue that needs to be addressed? And I don’t always ask about gambling except in white-collar cases. Every single white-collar intake, and throughout my relationships with my clients, we talk about the gambling issue. You know? It’s important because the government’s going to know. If they are investigating you for a white-collar crime one the first things they’re going to do, if we’re dealing with large sums of money, is go hit all the local casinos and find out if you have a player’s card. And those player’s cards, as fun as they are to receive the bonuses, and get put into the drawings, and get all the freebies that come along with it, they do something else. They track every penny you spend, and every penny that you gain as long as you’re using that card. The government likes to be able to produce those as an “Ah-ha! Look! They must have a gambling problem.” Just because you gamble, and you have embezzlement charge, doesn’t mean you have a gambling problem. A lot of times we see there might be a correlation. It’s not causation, but there’s a correlation.
J: Some of the other things I oftentimes see is something in these people’s lives has turned upside down. Their personal life tends to be in some sort of disarray. There’s a divorce. An affair. There’s a deep-seated child custody fight, and people are doing anything they can to be able to do fund themselves in fighting whatever that fight might be.
Oftentimes, it has nothing to do with need, it has to do with keeping up appearances. You know? You have two people who have worked together in their lifetime, and they’ve got dual incomes being put into the family coffers, and those incomes are split up, and you have a lifestyle that you’re used to. And, a lot of times what we see is somebody trying to maintain that lifestyle where they don’t have the ability to do it with their own money.
B: Right. Can we talk about the wrongfully accused?
J: Well sure. For the people who are not factually guilty, or wrongfully accused of these crimes what we find is that oftentimes they’re the scapegoat. Right? And so, part of our job would be to uncover the truth behind what’s going on. If the money has gone missing, and it wasn’t you who took it, then they’re pointing the finger at you for some reason. And it’s either they believe you took it, or they believe you failed in your duty of monitoring in some way. That you knew, or reasonably should have known, that the money was being misappropriated.
Oftentimes, what we’re seeing in those cases is the continued cover-up of a deeper seated corruption, on some level. Whether it be in a corporate board room, or some government agency, or something. It is not uncommon to be falsely accused of white-collar crimes. Oftentimes, people think, “It walks like a duck. It talks like a duck. It must be a duck.” And we defend people all the time who are charged with white-collar crimes here in Oklahoma, that are not factually guilty. But our job then becomes to prove their innocence, as opposed to the government proving their guilt. And so, what we see is they just drop tens of thousands of document on us. You know? Here’s all the gambling receipts. Here’s all the checks. And we can’t account for all checks. And there was this much money at the beginning of the year, and now all the money is gone. It looks like somebody’s embezzling. So, they charge embezzlement, and then part of our job is to come in the back door and try to prove up the lack of embezzlement. That becomes problematic because if you are involved in this, and you are being scapegoated, there’s a strong likelihood that the “powers that be” are destroying the evidence that’s going to exonerate you. And they’re all getting their facts and stories straight, so that they can CYA, cover their own butt, while letting you take the fall for everyone. Oftentimes, what we see is, it’s just negligent oversight. You know?
J: We’re dealing with different boards of directors, and corporations, and agencies that have people who are in charge. And if the whole oversight committee fails, somebody’s going to have to take the fall. And that person is going to be someone in some leadership position. You know? Maybe it’s the president. You know? Whoever it might be is going to be placed the finger on it. And that’s scary because it’s hard to defend a negative. It’s hard to prove something didn’t happen.
But that’s what we’re here for. We’ve got great investigators that do that too. We employ some of the best in the state to come and represent our clients in this way, and go out and dig deep for us. It’s not impossible. It feels impossible. It feels hopeless. But it’s not. You know? We just have to get in there and get our feet dirty. And the only way you can actively defend them appropriately is getting an experienced Oklahoma white-crimes lawyer. And that’s what we do here.
B: Can we talk a little about state versus federal? You mentioned it earlier.
J: Well, sure. There are state charges that sound in white-collar crime. You know? The prosecuting agencies generally receive funding, federal funding, to prosecute certain kinds of crimes. After 9/11 a lot of these agencies are funded through a Homeland Security kind of thing, where they get to have a nice greater power. But also with the funding that they receive their hands get tied a little bit too on what they can do.
On a state level, what you’re going to see most of, is either the petty larcenies, the bogus checks, you know, on the lower scale, larceny from a house and things like that. And we’ll talk some more about those in the future. But you can see it all the way up to a massive scale – Medicare fraud, Medicare-Medicaid fraud, workers’ comp. fraud, submitting a fraudulent insurance claim. The state attorney general’s office has an entire division dedicated to, nothing other than, Medicare-Medicaid fraud. And they investigate, and go through documents of all the major agencies that receive and participate in the Medicare-Medicaid process. And they go through and audit those accounts, and make sure that what the government is paying for is actual services that are being provided.
So, lots of money is funneled into the prosecuting agencies to be able to prosecute these cases. It’s important for people to understand that because it’s not just a “money crime” that’s no big deal. In Oklahoma, paying back the money in full isn’t even a defense. There’s a statute that clearly indicates you have to pay all the money, in full, to the agency prior to charges being filed, before a court can even considered that as mitigation. That’s rather unfortunate, right? And the idea, I think, from the legislature is we’re not going to give beneficial rights to the rich who steal.
J: Just because you can pay back, doesn’t take away the crime. However, a lot of what we do on a pre-filing basis is, if you come to my office and you’re being investigated for embezzlement or fraud or larceny, and there’s some factual truth to it, one of the first things we’re going to do is start collecting the money to pay them back. I don’t care if the statute says it’s not a defense or not. It goes a long way with the court, and with my ability to negotiate with the prosecuting agency some leniency for you if we can get that money paid back.
I find clients that they aren’t even technically guilty who pay the money back, to be able to limit their exposure, if you will. And they’ll pay money back through a settlement negotiation process when they’re not even guilty of something just to avoid the risk of going to trial. So there’s a lot that we can do. The sooner you get us in, the better off you’re going be.
B: What are some things you guys do that you can help with, as an experienced Oklahoma white-collar crimes lawyer?
J: One of the first things we do, my first encouragement to everybody, whether it’s a white-collar crime that you’re being accused of or anything else, is the sooner you know you’re in trouble, the sooner you need to get ahold of a criminal defense lawyer. Because we’re going to be able to explain to you. Some of the things that I’ve done in the past is, I’ve sat down with a client and their employer, and helped dissolve that relationship if necessary, or mend that relationship on some occasions. Replaced funds that have been taken. A lot of times it starts out as something small. You know? You’re behind on the bills, and you’re waiting for your ex-husband to pay child support and he hasn’t done this, and one of the kids gets sick, and sure enough your car blows up, and everything just spirals out of control. So, you’ve got an account over here that you’re in charge of, that nobody else ever really pays attention to. So you take a little bit of money out of it, fulling intending at the time you to do it, to replace that money The interest is not to wipe out somebody else’s bank account. Almost never, are white-collar crimes coming from a place of evil or malice. It’s almost always one bad decision that leads to the next bad decision, and the whole thing spirals out control like a snowball.
So, one of the things we can do to help, sit down with whoever’s accusing us and see if we can help make it right. To make them whole again. Sometimes that’s paying restitution. Sometimes it’s sorting out how we find ourselves here. And there’s a lot to be said for understanding how we find ourselves here. I oftentimes tell my clients the “why” doesn’t matter. And a lot of times it doesn’t. But for some people, why we find ourselves here is the difference between them coming after you aggressively and coming after you with leniency and mercy in their heart. You know?
So, we can sit down with your employer, negotiate your departure from the place, or your probationary period. We can sit down your family. One of things a lot of people don’t understand is the far-reaching consequences of these kinds of crimes. The accusations. The allocutions. The pleas. When we’re dealing with otherwise good folks who haven’t been living a life of crime, they probably haven’t burned every bridge in town. Their family doesn’t understand it either. And if you’re sitting in my office and you’ve got a $50,000 debt we owe to someone, and I’m saying we’ve got to pay this money back, that money is going to have to come from somewhere. And if I’m paying it back to the government or anybody else, it’s coming from a legitimate source. Where’s that going to come from? Your husband’s retirement account? I’ve seen client have to wipe out their children’s college fund. These are new betrayals on top of the betrayal of the crime. This is now taking from your loved ones to be able to save your own tail. That’s incredibly emotional. It’s scary. I’ve seen these cases lead to divorce. Unfortunately, we can help facilitate those matters, as well.
It’s important to not feel like you’re alone. And to be able to explain the situation, not only how we find ourselves here, but the future consequences to those around us so they understand it. You know? I understand why somebody doesn’t want to write you a check for $50,000 when you’re accused of embezzling a $100,000. Maybe they don’t want to give that money to you. They can come to me. They sit down with me. I explain to them that it goes into our attorney trust account, and we refund those funds, they can have a full documented accounting of it. And it gives reassurances to the people whose trusts have been violated. And that helps you to rebuild those relationships. None of those things are going to happen in one meeting. You know?
Some of the other things that we do is we’ll sit down with law enforcement. If it’s a case that we decide it’s in your best interest to cooperate and replace those funds. Sometimes, only with the advice of a lawyer, can you ever sit down with law-enforcement and give an interview. It’s not out of the real, of possibilities that we’ll sit down and do that for you as well.
Our ultimate goal in white-collar crimes, as with any crimes, is to help you walk of our services a happier healthier version of the person that walked into our services. And like I said, these are otherwise good people. They’re family people. They have jobs. They’re members of the community. They have a reputation. And unlike, you know, our meth addict who’s been doing this for seven years, has burned every bridge and doesn’t have the reputation, his family might have some frustrations and his consequences are great reaching too, its completely different.
Sometimes we need to get people into counseling. You know? I’m not a licensed counselor. I take that part of my role as a counselor and an attorney very seriously, but a lot of my job is to identify what I’m ill-equipped to do, and get you in the right hands of someone. If it’s a gambling problem, we need to get you in Gamblers Anonymous. There’s meetings. They’re psychiatrists that deal specifically with these issues. If it’s my whole family falling apart, and my husband’s left me, and I have this sordid affair, and my kids aren’t speaking to me, that’s well beyond any problems that I personally can deal with with you. I put you in the hands of a good licensed counselor that can help work on some of these issues. If it’s drugs and alcohol, we get you into the drug and alcohol treatment. If it’s just that you’re a knucklehead and you need to beaten a couple of times, I’m not opposed to taking on that.
B: Right. This is an overview of white-collar crimes. We’re going to have a few more podcasts on larceny, fraud, embezzlement. Is there anything we missed on the overview part of this podcast?
J: I don’t think so. I think that at the end of the day, it’s important for people to know that if you made a bad decision, if you are in fact, factually guilty of taking something that didn’t belong to you, that it’s not the end of the world. There is hope. The worst thing that you can do is to ignore it, or to walk around your head held low, and go hire a cheap lawyer make it go away. What you need do is hold your head high, and let us help you journey through these scary waters of the criminal justice system, and come out on the other side, like I said, hopefully a better version of yourself.
B: You’ve been listening to Oklahoma white-collar crimes lawyer Jacqui Ford in Your Best Defense podcast. Join us for the next edition.
J: Thank you Brad!