There has been a clear trend of fewer white collar crime cases being prosecuted in federal court over the last seven years under the Bush administration, according to an analysis done by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) which reviewed the records of thousands of federal criminal cases. TRAC also concludes that this trend will continue at least until 2009, when the new administration takes over.
Some of the statistics showing the decreasing number of white collar crimes pursued by federal prosecutors include: the prosecution of all federal white collar crimes is down 27% since 2000; there are about half the number of federal charges against organized crime suspects than there were in 2000; the prosecution of federal drug cases is down 20% from ten years ago; and the prosecution of federal weapons cases is down 21% since 2004. According to the study, only federal immigration crimes have seen an increase in federal prosecutions since 2000 (a 127% increase). Based on changes in staffing and budgeting of funds, the study concluded that this trend is likely to continue.
The TRAC study is consistent with an article written in August of last year on www.Seattlepi.com which discussed the number of white collar crimes which had not been prosecuted by the federal government. That article noted that approximately 2400 federal agents were transferred from various criminal divisions to handle counter-terrorism matters after 9/11. They have not since been replaced. After a six month investigation, Seattle PI concluded that the number of criminal cases investigated by the FBI declined by 34% from 2000 to 2005 and white collar crime cases referred from the FBI to federal prosecutors went from about 10,000 in 2000 to 3,500 in 2005.
So what happens to white collar cases when federal prosecutors do not have the time, resources or inclination to prosecute them? It depends on the case and the jurisdiction, but there are a few possibilities. For some cases, as the above statistics suggest, the answer is nothing. If the federal government does not prosecute the case, no one will. In some cases, state or local prosecutors can prosecute the case. However, local prosecutors may not necessarily have the resources and personnel to properly prosecute a complex white collar cases that often involve victims, defendants and/or other elements across the country. And, of course, in some cases white collar crimes can be prosecuted at the state or local level to a similar degree as on the federal level, although this is not common. When white collar crimes are prosecuted on the state or local level, sentences and parole considerations are often more lenient as the decision makers may be more accustomed to dealing with more violent or common crimes.