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You probably remember the 2004 story of TV host Martha Stewart being sent to federal prison. But do you remember what federal crime she went to prison for? If you said insider trading, you would be wrong. Although Stewart was investigated by federal officials for selling her ImClone stock in 2001 after allegedly receiving a tip via a company insider, she was ultimately found guilty not for the stock trade itself but rather for obstructing justice and lying to federal agents about the sale. Stewart’s story is by no means an anomaly, and white collar suspects get tripped up all of the time in how they respond to federal investigations, with their efforts to maintain their innocence often becoming the criminal act that federal officials are able to successfully prosecute.

The Federal Law Against Lying to Agents

Pursuant to U.S. Code Title 18, Section 1001, it is a federal crime for a person to take any of the following actions with respect to an investigation or other matter under the jurisdiction of a federal agent:

  • falsify, conceal, or cover up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
  • make any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
  • make or use any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry

Those found guilty of violating Section 1001 by making a false statement to federal agents can face up to five years in federal prison. As with nearly all crimes, it does not matter whether the person committing the act be aware that doing so is a crime.

Furthermore, as appears to have been the case with Stewart, there is also no requirement that the underlying subject matter of the communication between a person and a federal agent relate to any crime that the person may or may not have committed. In essence, an innocent person speaking with a federal agent (and who may not even be the target of a federal investigation) can unknowingly commit a crime simply by speaking with that agent.

Exercise Your Constitutional Right to an Attorney at all Times

Under the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution, you have a right against self-incrimination. The Supreme Court has ruled that this means that any person talking to a government agent – whether a police officer, SEC investigator, FBI agent, and so on – has the right to be represented by an attorney during all such questioning, regardless of whether that person is the focus of an investigation. Once you assert your right to an attorney, all questioning must cease, and the assertion of this right cannot be held against you.

By working with an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can prepare yourself to provide information to federal agents and others (or refrain from doing so) in a way that protects your interests and avoids creating criminal liability.

Contact a New York White Collar Defense Attorney Today

The Henry Law Firm PLLC provides white collar criminal defense to individuals and businesses throughout New York. Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation regarding your matter.