2020 is shaping up to be an unpredictable year in many ways – including for white-collar criminal prosecutions and defense. While experts had some assumptions about what enforcement would look like in the coming year, recent events are having unexpected effects. Below, we take a look at some of those predictions and some hints about how the white-collar landscape may change this year.
Trends coming into 2020
In late 2019, many news outlets were anticipating a steep slowdown in white-collar prosecutions. According to a report from Syracuse University, these crimes are being prosecuted at half the rate they were eight years ago. The report found that they were on track to reach their lowest level since 1986.
But that doesn’t mean prosecutors aren’t trying. According to the New York Times, federal prosecutors are aggressively pursuing more cases involving accounting fraud. The S.E.C. has investigated and settled claims with several major companies involving claims of inflating sales, stuffing channels, and misleading investors.
The House of Representatives also passed sweeping legislation to crack down on insider trading, which is awaiting action in the Senate. If passed, the Insider Trading Prohibition Act would expand definitions of what constitutes insider trading, possibly leading to an uptick in related charges.
The elephant in the room
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional uncertainty about the future of white-collar proceedings. While investigations and prosecutions are predictably slowing down in the short-term, prosecutors may shift their focus to other offenses directly related to the pandemic, such as price gouging and fraud relating to relief under the CARES Act.
This means that businesses taking advantage of federal aid under the CARES Act should be vigilant about record-keeping and how funds are used. Anyone who has concerns about the possibility of being investigated in connection to fraud or another white-collar offense should be sure to speak with a knowledgeable defense attorney as promptly as possible.