Criminal Defense Questions and Answers

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Q: When we talk about white collar crime, are there aspects about which the average business owner should be aware but maybe isn’t?

A: Sure, white collar crime encompasses pretty much any type of fraud. Mail fraud where you conduct fraud through the postal service, credit card fraud, financial identity theft, tax fraud. White collar crime isn’t limited to Wall Street. You can have small business owners who are operating without the necessary license. Somebody who submits documentation and forges someone else’s name onto it so that they can get whatever it is that they are looking for. They may need a license.

Maybe somebody has a criminal conviction in their past, and that criminal conviction precludes them from getting whatever necessary license it is, so they may put their wife’s name up — the wife who has a clean record. They use their wife’s name to run the business.

One thing that’s common in the New York market and in federal construction projects, the projects want to have what are called minority business enterprises. Sometimes a non minority business, the owner may put up his wife, because a woman can be considered the minority of the minority business enterprise. Or they may find a member of an ethnic minority who knows nothing about the business, has no actual assets to run the business, but the business puts them up as the owner or president to enable them to qualify for these minority business programs.

That’s a different type of fraud. White collar crime can be committed by a sole practitioner, a home business owner, or a large multi state corporation. It’s really not limited to one end of the spectrum.

Q: When someone suddenly finds themselves in trouble, they may panic and make mistakes. What advice would you give to someone in this situation?

A: One thing I find, and keeps getting affirmed to me, is that before anyone speaks to the police or to a DA’s office, they should absolutely consult with an attorney. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve started cases where I’ve learned the person has already spoken with investigators or a detective, and they’ve given statements that are not helpful to them in their case. If I had been their attorney, I’d have advised them and protected them in that stage of the proceedings. If anyone is arrested or charged, or suspects that they are being investigated, they should absolutely consult with an attorney, an experienced criminal attorney who can best protect them.

Perhaps they have some information that they should and want to share with authorities, and an attorney can protect them when they do that. They can go in and unwittingly think they’re simply helping out, but they’ve talked their way into getting charged.

A person should have an attorney there, a confident, competent criminal defense attorney, who understands what’s going on and can speak with them ahead of time and advise them.

Former New York state prosecutor Thomas J. Melanson represents clients in the Hudson Valley from his office in Kingston, New York. This interview was from March 2013.

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