Some of the world’s most malignant criminals never pulled a trigger or detonated an explosive, but they have ruined countless lives. By the most conservative estimates, white-collar crime costs the U.S. $300 billion per year—more than four times the annual budget of the Department of Education. However, in 2017, the prosecution of white-collar crime was at a 20-year low. So why do crimes such as insider trading, embezzlement, predatory lending, Ponzi schemes, and threat financing often go unpunished?
Armed with elite legal teams and well-heeled lobbyists, many white-collar criminals seem untouchable or “too big to jail.” But are they really? The Follow the Money series explores various types of financial crimes and interviews experts in the field on how to bring these robber barons to justice.
White-collar crime is, on the surface level, nonviolent, which sometimes lends it a false patina of benignity. But these are not victimless crimes. In college admissions fraud, students gaining fraudulent admission to universities take places away from those who would earn it honorably, depriving them of high-quality education and the lifetime earnings that go with it.
Embezzlement isn't a perfect crime, but it can easily go unnoticed for long stretches, so to tackle embezzlement and bring its perpetrators to justice, forensic professionals need a skillset that blends expertise in IT, accounting, and investigations.
According to the US Department of Justice, one in every ten bankruptcy filings includes some element of fraud. While it directly affects businesses and financial institutions who act as creditors, it also has negative indirect effects on the consumer, as creditors increase their fees on credit cards and loans to compensate for losses to bankruptcy fraud.
The criminal justice system has systemic flaws that disproportionately punish the poor and reward the rich. A bevy of factors play into this disparity, but mainly manifest themselves in discrepancies in bail, discrepancies in sentencing, and discrepancies in incarceration.
In a hypothetical Dante’s Inferno scenario where all of the world’s white collar criminals were arranged in a descending order of wickedness, healthcare fraudsters would sit somewhere between hell’s eighth and ninth concentric rings.
There’s no algorithm for justice, and thus there’s still a strong need for investigators to perform their due diligence and apply many of the same tactics used to bring down Al Capone: comparing records, subpoenaing documents, interviewing possible witnesses, and following the money.
The mortgage crisis of 2008, when investigated by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, was found to have been precipitated by an industry full of predatory and fraudulent practices. The commission referred dozens of cases to prosecutors. Although fines were paid, no one was indicted, no one was put on trial, and no one was jailed.
Identity theft doesn’t have a typical crime scene: there is no blood, and there are no fingerprints, but there are still forensic traces if an investigator knows where to look.
Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.