Some Practical Tips on Federal Inspector General (OIG) Investigations

In a prior post, we laid out some basics about investigations conducted by federal offices of inspectors general (OIG).  It focused on the purpose and authority of OIG’s as set forth in federal law.  Here, we’ll give you a few practical tips we’ve picked up over the years you won’t find in the U.S. Code.  We’ll tell you some important ways in which OIG investigations are different from other federal criminal investigations.

Firstly, an OIG investigation is much less likely to be supervised by an Assistant U.S. Attorney than other federal criminal investigations.  There are complex reasons for this but the takeaway for you and your attorney is that you will be communicating exclusively with an OIG agent who is probably not a lawyer.  In a sense this is a good thing – if the DOJ not yet involved you still have a chance to keep them out!  But in other ways it can be a negative.  Federal agents are enormously influential in the progress of any case, but the Assistant United States Attorney is the ultimate decider.  If the only guy you have to talk to is a federal agent, it limits your ability to negotiate the case.

Secondly, OIG agents have very unusual ways of conducting witness interviews.  With every other federal law enforcement agency we’ve dealt with, witness interviews are conducted in the same basic manner: the witness is questioned by one agent while a second takes notes.  The interview is not recorded but rather preserved in a report based on the notes which is not verbatim but merely a summary.  Not so with OIG.  For some reason, OIG agents will push to have you execute a signed statement.  This unusual practice has complex strategic advantages and disadvantages from a defense perspective, which are beyond the scope of this post.  The takeaway is that if you are considering an interview with OIG agents, the first thing to do is throw away everything you think you’ve learned from dealing with the FBI or other federal law enforcement.

Thirdly, and closely related to the first two points, OIG agents will not agree to proffer letters.  We did a post/video about proffer letters, which you are welcome to check out if you’re interested.  In sum, a proffer letter is a written agreement between you and the government which greatly limits (but does not eliminate) their ability to use your statements against you.  OIG agents do not use these agreements and in fact (not being federal prosecutors) have no authority to use them.  This means that anything you say (or write) to OIG agents can be used against you.

We hope you found these practical tips on some of the oddities of OIG investigations helpful.  There are certainly many more which may be the subject of future posts.  If you’d like to speak with us about your OIG investigation, please give us a call.



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