White-Collar Prosecutions Half Level of 8 Years Ago

White-collar prosecutions continue to fall - down 8.5 percent over last year. They are only half the level of just eight years ago, and projected to become the lowest number since records began back in FY 1986. See Table 1.

Table 1: Criminal White-Collar Crime Prosecutions
Number Year-to-date 4,973
Percent Change from previous year -8.5
Percent Change from 8 years ago -46.6
Percent Change from 20 years ago -42.8

The latest available data from the Justice Department show that during the first eleven months of FY 2019 the government reported there were 4,973 white- collar crime prosecutions - a mere 3.3 percent of the 170,487 new prosecutions so far this year. This is despite the country's financial meltdown and opioid crisis, and the wide range of corporate, securities, health care, procurement, telemarketing, computer, consumer and other serious frauds that are believed to be perpetrated each year.

The long term trend in white-collar prosecutions for these matters going back to FY 1999 is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of white-collar prosecutions of this type recorded each fiscal year. Projected figures for the current fiscal year are shown. Each presidential administration is distinguished by the color of the bars.

Figure 1: Criminal White Collar Crime Prosecutions over the last 20 years
(Click for larger image)

The comparisons of the number of defendants charged with white-collar offenses are based on case-by-case information obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University after successful litigation against the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act.

Figure 3: Prosecutions by
Investigative Agency

Lead Investigative Agencies

The lead investigative agency for white-collar prosecutions this year was the Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI's investigations led to a third (32.2%) of these prosecutions.

The Internal Revenue Service and the Secret Service were tied for second place. Each served as the lead investigative agency in 10.7 percent of these prosecutions. The U.S. Postal Service was next accounting for the investigations for 8.1 percent of white-collar prosecutions, followed by the Social Security Administration with 6.1 percent. See Figure 2.

All remaining lead investigative agencies accounted for less than five percent each. These included Health and Human Services, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and other branches within Homeland Security.

Top Ranked Lead Charges

Table 2 shows the top lead charges recorded in the prosecutions of white-collar crime matters filed in the U.S. District Court during the first eleven months of FY 2019.

Table 2: Top charges filed
Lead Charge Count Rank 1 yr ago 5 yrs ago 10 yrs ago 20 yrs ago
18 USC 1343 - Fraud by wire, radio, or television 791 1 1 1 4 6
18 USC 1344 - Bank Fraud 456 2 3 3 1 1
18 USC 1349 - Mail Fraud - Attempt and Conspiracy 428 3 2 2 10 -
18 USC 1029 - Fraud and related activity - access devices 333 4 4 6 7 5
18 USC 1028A - Aggravated Identity Theft 277 5 6 9 2 56
18 USC 371 - Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud US 268 6 8 5 5 4
18 USC 641 - Public money, property or records 259 7 7 4 8 11
18 USC 1347 - Health Care Fraud 205 8 5 10 9 13
18 USC 1341 - Mail Fraud - Frauds and swindles 196 9 9 7 3 2
18 USC 1028 - Fraud and related activity - id documents 156 10 10 8 6 27
26 USC 7206 - Fraud and False statements 156 10 11 11 12 8
  • "Fraud by wire, radio, or television" (Title 18 U.S.C Section 1343) was the most frequent recorded lead charge. Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1343 was also ranked first a year ago as well as five years ago. It was ranked fourth ten years ago and sixth twenty years ago.

  • Ranked second in frequency was the lead charge "Bank Fraud" under Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1344. Bank fraud was ranked third a year ago and five years ago. It had held the top spot of the most frequent charge ten and twenty years ago.

  • Ranked third was "Mail Fraud - Attempt and Conspiracy" under Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1349. Mail fraud was ranked second both a year ago and five years ago, while it was tenth ten years ago.

Among the top ten lead charges, the one showing the sharpest decline in prosecutions from last year was health care fraud which had 33 percent fewer prosecutions. This offense also had the largest drop of 59 percent from five years ago.

Top Ranked Judicial Districts

The District of Rhode Island was the most active through August 2019. Relative to its population size, it had 3.3 times the national average of white-collar prosecutions this year. It also experienced the greatest growth rate compared to other districts. This year its prosecutions per capita more than doubled from both one year ago and five years ago.

Often the Southern District of New York (Manhattan) has been the most active district in pursuing white-collar offenders. However, this year New York South had fewer prosecutions and fell to second place. Its prosecutions levels were 2.8 times the national average. Federal prosecutors at the Southern District of Florida (Miami) were only slightly behind Manhattan prosecutors with 2.7 times the national average. Other districts in the top ten are shown in Table 3.

Beyond Rhode Island, other recent entries to the top 10 list were the Middle District of Louisiana (Baton Rouge), the Western District of Tennessee (Memphis) and the Northern District of Oklahoma (Tulsa). Each had between 1.7 and 2.0 times the national average of white-collar prosecutions so far this year. The judicial district with the largest drop-38.8 percent-was the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Table 3: Top 10 districts (per one million people)
Judicial District Percapita Count Rank 1yr ago 5yrs ago 10yrs ago 20yrs ago
R. I. 55 53 1 12 34 14 68
N. Y., S 46 225 2 1 4 5 2
Fla, S 46 311 3 2 5 2 10
La, M 35 27 4 21 42 11 8
Tenn, W 34 49 5 23 19 9 9
D. C. 33 21 6 5 8 8 1
Ark, E 33 49 7 8 54 27 28
La, E 32 49 8 9 13 4 23
Mo, E 30 81 9 3 9 6 13
Okla, N 29 28 10 45 63 35 4

TRAC offers free monthly reports on program categories such as white collar crime, immigration, drugs, weapons and terrorism and on selected government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, ATF and DHS. For the latest information on prosecutions and convictions, go to http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/bulletins/. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports for a specific agency, judicial district, program category, lead charge or judge via the TRAC Data Interpreter.