When someone is being investigated for a white-collar crime, there is almost always substantial evidence that exists against them. It’s this mound of evidence that provokes a deeper investigation in the first place. Because white collar crimes are financially motivated, criminal investigators are going to look closely at the finances and assets of the accused, often going forward with the perception of guilt. It’s not uncommon for assets to be seized, or forfeited, in a white-collar investigation, but what does this really mean?
What Is Asset Forfeiture
In a nutshell, asset forfeiture is the freezing of assets by officials, so that they cannot be accessed or used in any capacity by the accused. Asset forfeiture usually occurs during the investigation process, especially when a financially motivated crime is involved, as the assets may have been acquired through illegal means.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), as well as other law enforcement agencies, can leverage asset forfeiture as a means of limiting the ability of the person under investigation to commit further unlawful acts, hide their criminal activity, or potentially flee the area. Asset forfeiture can essentially cripple a person who is under investigation for a white-collar crime, at least financially speaking – regardless of whether it can be proven their assets were obtained illegally.
Asset forfeiture is a tool that law enforcement agencies are quick to use. One could argue that there are legitimate reasons to employ asset forfeiture in a white-collar crime case. For instance, if there is strong evidence that certain assets were obtained through illegal means, or if it is believed that allowing the accused to access their assets could potentially lead to more illegal activity.
There is another side to the issue, however. The fact is that when a person is under investigation, they are just that – under investigation. This doesn’t imply guilt, so freezing a person’s bank account or other assets when guilt hasn’t been established can be unfair. This is especially true if the person under investigation was the primary income source for a family, or if an innocent spouse also loses assets that are equally theirs.
Why Assets Are Seized
Asset forfeiture is not used in every type of crime, so it becomes important to ask why assets are seized in certain cases. When a crime appears to be financially motivated, the potential for forfeiture escalates. This includes crimes where the vulnerable were preyed upon for financial gain, crimes involving illegal drug activities, acts committed by criminal organizations, and anyone who is under investigation for terrorist acts.
According to the FBI website (1), there are a number of reasons why they’ll initiate asset forfeiture in a white-collar crime investigation.
- Assets forfeiture is sometimes used as a form of punishment against criminals
- Asset forfeiture can disrupt the activity of criminal organizations
- Freezing assets can help prevent ongoing criminal activity
- Assets may be forfeited so they can be returned to the victims of financial crimes
- To help protect communities from criminal activity
Will Your Assets Be Seized?
If you’re under investigation for a white-collar crime, you are probably anxious about whether or not your assets will be seized. There is no straightforward yes or no answer to this question, but you should be aware that it is a possibility, especially if there appears to be sufficient evidence against you.
Law enforcement can freeze your assets, including your bank accounts until the investigation is over and you’re found to be innocent of the charges. This can cause a serious disruption of day-to-day life, especially in cases where the accused has family or they rely on certain assets – such as vehicles – for transportation to and from work.