When you think of criminals, you probably think of people who have committed violent or potentially life-threatening crimes, such as murder, driving while intoxicated or armed robbery. But people can also be convicted of non-violent financial crimes (often known as “white collar crimes”) such as money laundering, insider trading, cybercrimes and identity theft.
Felony & Misdemeanor White Collar Crimes
Like their violent counterparts, white collar crimes are broken down into two categories:
- Misdemeanor crimes: A misdemeanor is a less serious crime that carries a lighter penalty, such as a fine, probation or incarceration of less than a year.
- Felony crimes: Felonies are the more serious category of crimes, with punishments of at least a year in prison plus fines if appropriate.
Learn more about the differences between misdemeanor and felony charges.
People who are charged with white collar crimes may be prosecuted in state court or federal court. The punishments for those who are found guilty will vary depending on the nature of the crime and the jurisdiction. For example:
- Investment advisor and Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernard Madoff, who was convicted of 11 federal felonies for financial fraud, was sentenced to 150 years in prison.
- Enron CEO Kenneth Lay was convicted on 10 counts for securities fraud crimes and faced 20 to 30 years in prison, although he died before sentencing.
- If you are found guilty of a computer crime in California, you face a fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment for a maximum of three years.
- Tyco International CEO Dennis Kozlowski is serving an 8.3 to 25 year sentence for taking $81 million in unauthorized bonuses plus other related crimes.
- Jeffrey Lee Parson, who pled guilty to creating and releasing the B variant Blaster worm computer virus, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and 100 hours of community service.
- Chalana McFarland, who was found guilty of mortgage fraud, identity theft, wire fraud and a host of other crimes, was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison and ordered to pay nearly $12 million in restitution to her victims.
It may seem ironic, but a murderer can serve less time in jail than some people convicted of white collar crimes. For example, second-degree murder in California brings a sentence of 15 years to life, while first-degree murder brings a sentence of 25 years to life.