George F. Hildebrandt
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How New York's New White Collar Criminal Task Force May Affect You

In October 2012, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance along with Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice created a White Collar Crime Task Force looking to revise New York's current criminal scheme. The experts involved in the task force recommended procedural changes and amendments to the current fraud, cyber-crime, ID-theft, and money-laundering statutes. The results of the report were announced in September of 2013. Those changes were recently codified into proposed legislation after the high profile corruption arrests of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate President Dean Skelos. While these proposed changes are not yet law, they could have lasting effects on future criminal defendants.

What is Being Proposed?

The new bills being considered create the crime of self-dealing, where state officials or state representatives would be criminally responsible for awarding state benefits from which they personally benefit . For example, if a state official awarded a contract or grant to an entity that would give him a financial return, that would be penalized under the new law.

The proposed law also creates a new money laundering crime that penalizes cash transactions designed to avoid state and federal reporting requirements. If an individual intentionally holds onto cash, or only deposits a cash amount below the required reporting amount, to avoid the reporting requirements, that action would be illegal.  

With respect to bribery charges, the new legislation would allow state prosecutors to bring charges if they find a donation was made to a public official "with intent to influence." This legislation would remove the necessity of proving of economic harm to the state, instead opting to recognize the loss of loyalty as sufficient harm.

Perhaps the greatest change is Senate Bill 108, which allows prosecutors to aggregate taxes that were evaded across multiple years.

How Would That Change Things?

The major change offered by the proposed legislation is that these statutes would give state prosecutors much more power to charge white collar crimes, which are often prosecuted in federal court. Generally, these types of crime are reserved for federal prosecutors because they have the time and resources to effectively handle these cases. State prosecutors have long wanted greater power to charge corruption and related white collar cases, and this legislation is a step in that direction.  

With regard to bribery charges, the current statute requires the prosecutor to prove either that:

  • there was a mutual agreement between the bribe-giver and the official; or

  • the bribe-giver had a belief that the bribe "will in fact" influence the official.

The new mens rea requirement is "intent to influence" as opposed to an agreement or belief, which will give prosecutors greater latitude to bring bribery charges.

As to tax evasion, the current law provides that unpaid taxes due within one year may be charged and aggregated in a single count. The new legislation, however, would remove this one year limitation, allowing prosecutors to go beyond one year in aggregating payments.

The new money-laundering crime speaks to a loophole in current legislation that allows companies and individuals to avoid triggering government attention from deposits that are over a certain amount. Currently, instead of making large cash deposits, individuals are allowed to spread their money out into multiple smaller payments, which will not trigger the bank's reporting requirements. Under the proposed reform, transactions that are specifically choreographed to avoid reporting are criminalized.

The proposed expansion of white collar crimes may affect your case. If you have been accused of a crime it is imperative you have an experienced white collar crime attorney who can evaluate the facts of your case and ensure you are protected. Contact our office for a confidential meeting today.

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