If you’re being investigated by federal authorities, your initial encounters with them may seem fairly cordial – particularly if they involve a “white collar” crime. You may be interviewed by people in business clothing rather than uniforms. They may even seem more interested in finding out about someone else’s activities than yours.
It can be easy to believe you can handle these conversations without an attorney. You may even think there’s no harm in lying if it protects you, your boss, a colleague or someone else you know.
That would be a big mistake – and one that could land you in federal prison. Well-known people in the business, pop culture and political spheres, from Martha Stewart to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, have been convicted of crimes related to lying to federal authorities.
The importance of materiality
Certainly, not every lie is going to get you charged with a crime. It all depends on whether it’s considered “material” (or important) to the case. If a lie sends investigators in the wrong direction or makes the investigation take longer, it will likely be considered material.
Federal law states that anyone who “falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device…makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation….” (whether verbal or written) can face as long as five years in prison. If a case involves terrorism (foreign or domestic), the consequences can be greater.
Any charge you face for making false statements would be in addition to any charges you might be prosecuted for related to the underlying crime. That can add up to a significant amount of time behind bars.
Whatever the situation, if you find yourself being questioned by agents or investigators from any federal agency, it’s crucial that you exert your right to seek legal counsel. You can’t worry about whether or not this makes you “look” guilty. It’s simply the smart thing to do.