This week's first call from a potential client posed the question: Why do federal investigations take so long? Long is right! I am involved in a fraud case in federal court (potentially) that began nearly 5 years ago, and like that rabbit it just keeps going and going and going and - well you get it. Federal prosecutors are like great gift givers at Christmas. By the time you get their "package" it is so tightly "wrapped" (resulting from a long, thorough investigation) that you seldom have a chance to get to the goods in one piece. Those long, thorough investigations result in very thorough indictments, and complex trials in federal court.
Federal investigators have unlimited investigative resources when investigating federal crimes. They use wiretaps, surveillance, monitoring of computer and banking records, and they love informants. As a result, federal investigations frequently take months and years and seldom involve mistakes or sloppy work, unless those informants have gotten sloppy.
And let's not forget the darling of every federal prosecutor - conspiracy. In almost every federal criminal case you will find a conspiracy charge, to give the feds even greater investigative leverage. A charge of conspiracy changes the rules. That out of court statement made by your brother is suddenly admissible at trial because of the co-conspirator exception to the hearsay rule. Other defendants making plea bargains may claim you are guilty of crimes you did not commit or are only partially responsible for, based on hearsay and their motive to avoid a stiff sentence.
So what to do if facing a federal investigation? Here are my top three tips:
First - hunker down and be willing to endure. You can seldom change the course or scope of a federal investigation, whether you are suspected of some type of fraud or an obscure federal criminal tax violation. So settle in and hope to wait them out. It happens! Sometimes they find a bigger fish to follow and lose interest in your problems.
Second - get the best legal help you can afford. ONLY hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has spent time trying criminal cases in federal court. Ask him or her specifics about federal criminal trials and do not settle for someone who has never WON a federal criminal trial. You do not need a novice or a generalist - your life and liberty are on the line.
Federal criminal trials are different from state or local criminal prosecutions. They are more complex, they take longer to get to trial and you start at an investigative disadvantage because of the length of time the United States has taken to investigate before filing that criminal case.
Finally - do not talk about the case with others. There is no "frightened potential criminal defendant - old college room mate" privilege. There is that attorney - client privilege that allows us to hear the whole story in complete confidence so that we can give you reasoned advice. Real advice on what to do next.
And do not talk to the investigators. I suppose that is technically my fourth tip. But I mean it!
So hang in there and get ready for that long ride if the feds are after you. Start with these ideas, but if you need to talk to someone right now - pick up the phone and call your favorite lawyer.