Basic Law of Federal Criminal Conspiracy
A criminal conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to violate the law. But an agreement alone is not enough to be guilty under federal conspiracy law; the prosecution must also prove that the defendant had a specific intent to enter into the conspiracy and, under most statutes, must prove an overt act to further the conspiracy.
Many statutes in the United States Code criminalize conspiracy:
- 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy to commit any offense against the United States or to defraud the United States)
- 21 U.S.C. § 841 (conspiracy to violate the Controlled Substances Act)
- 18 U.S.C. § 1349 (conspiracy to commit fraud)
- 15 U.S.C. § 1 (conspiracy to restrain trade)
- 18 U.S.C. § 24 (conspiracy to commit a federal health care offense)
- 18 U.S.C. § 241 (conspiracy to deprive a person of their civil rights)
- 18 U.S.C. § 286 (conspiracy to submit fraudulent claims to the United States)
- 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (conspiracy to violate RICO)
- 18 U.S.C. § 2384 (seditious conspiracy)
The various federal conspiracy laws have subtle but important differences, and the assistant of a skilled federal conspiracy lawyer is indispensable to ensuring that your right’s are protected.
The Government’s Bottom-Up Approach To Conspiracy Prosecutions
When the federal government launches a criminal conspiracy investigation, it will typically target the suspected minor players first. Why? Because federal prosecutors believe (accurately, in many cases) that the minor players in the conspiracy will be less likely to put up an aggressive defense and more likely to accept a plea bargain in exchange for cooperation than the “higher ups” would be. They are also thought to be more susceptible to manipulation by investigators who falsely lead them to believe that federal prosecutors are not really interested in them, but only what they know about others — a frequent tactic used by federal agents to trick people into incriminating themselves. Only after the government has pressured the minor players into cooperating with the investigation will it move against the more significant participants. Whether the federal criminal investigation involves financial fraud, drug trafficking, public corruption or some other federal crime or white collar conspiracy charge, federal prosecutors often follow this same playbook.
The government’s job is made easier because the legal definition of a “conspirator” is very broad under federal law. To convict you of conspiracy, the government does not need to prove that you played a significant role in the criminal activity or knew all the details of it. In fact, your role may be quite small, even minimal, and you may still be prosecuted for participation in a federal criminal conspiracy. A hypothetical example of a federal white collar conspiracy case will illustrate the point: If, say, a corporate secretary becomes aware that her employer is involved in fraud and does not quit her job, she may be guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud under federal law. This is true even if the secretary has only a vague notion of what the boss’s fraud involves and limits her duties to administrative tasks not directly connected to the fraud, but which nonetheless aid the fraudulent scheme in some way.
Minor players who cooperate early in an investigation usually do receive more lenient treatment. However, it is uncommon to avoid prosecution entirely by this means. Taking a plea bargain with cooperation very often means a permanent conviction, prison time (albeit less time than for convicted conspirators who did not cooperate) and, in some cases, being pressured to admit to things you did not do. Therefore, whatever your role (or lack thereof) in the alleged criminal conspiracy, you should consult an experienced federal conspiracy attorney immediately before speaking to the government about the facts of the case or any kind of deal.
Effectively Defending Conspiracy Cases
Conspiracy charges are commonly brought in federal cases because they provide certain advantages to the government. For example, co-conspirators can be held responsible for the acts of other individuals committed in the course of the conspiracy, even if they did not commit the acts themselves. Also, hearsay statements of people other than the defendant that are not normally admissible can be admitted against a defendant at trial if those other statements are made by an alleged co-conspirator.
There are several potential defenses to federal conspiracy charges, so it will be critical to work with an experienced federal conspiracy attorney to evaluate the facts of your case closely if you are facing such charges. For example, an individual charged with federal conspiracy is generally responsible for the acts of his co-conspirators, but only those acts that are reasonably foreseeable to that person. If a person is threatened or otherwise forced to participate in a criminal conspiracy and does not do so voluntarily, he is not guilty of conspiracy. Additionally, if federal prosecutors prove a conspiracy that is different from the one charged, the defendant can be entitled to acquittal. A person’s voluntary decision to stop participating in a conspiracy may also provide a defense, as may the statute of limitations for the offense.
Your attorney must therefore be well-versed in the federal sentencing guidelines and sentencing laws that apply to conspiracy charges.
Experienced Federal Criminal Conspiracy Attorneys
The attorneys at Burnham & Gorokhov, PLLC are experienced in defending numerous different types of federal conspiracy cases, including:
- Mortgage fraud conspiracies (Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division)
- Bank fraud conspiracy (Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division)
- Conspiracy to commit access device fraud and wire fraud (Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division)
- Conspiracy to distribute controlled prescription drugs (Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division)
- Conspiracy to commit wire fraud (District of Maryland, Greenbelt Division)
- Conspiracy to commit violent crimes in aid of racketeering (RICO) (Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division)
- Conspiracy to commit racketeering (District of Maryland, Baltimore Division)
- Conspiracy to distribute controlled substances (District of Maryland, Baltimore Division)
- Conspiracy to possess firearm in aid of a crime of violence (District of Maryland, Baltimore Division)
- Conspiracy to violate the Hobbs act (District of Maryland, Greenbelt Division and Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division)
- Conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (District of Columbia Federal Court)
- Conspiracy to commit health care fraud (Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division)
Please call our office in Washington, D.C., at 202-386-6920 to schedule a free phone consultation with one of our federal conspiracy lawyers. You can complete our online form if you prefer.