If you have received a visit at home or work from an inquisitive FBI agent then you may have just found yourself ensnared in a federal criminal investigation. While the investigation may not lead to your indictment, it certainly could. And how you and your attorney handle this investigation phase will go a long way in determining the rest of your life and the future of your family: whether you will be forced to fight federal criminal charges over the coming years or if you will be able to avoid this life-altering event and remain on the periphery of this investigation. Your choice of lawyer in this scenario is, therefore, of crucial importance: because any misstep could be fatal – and even the best federal criminal attorneys in New York could have different advice on how to handle the investigation.
First Things First: Hire an Attorney Before Speaking to the Agent
Do not try to talk your way out of the situation when you the federal agent shows up unexpectedly to question you. Anything you say to the agent can be used against you in a prosecution – and it is fair to presume the agent is there to gather information about you. Just as importantly, lying to a federal agent can lead to your indictment for making false statements to a federal agent, punishable by up to eight years in prison. 18 U.S.C. § 1001. In addition, even if you provide truthful and helpful information to the agent, you may be giving away valuable information that could be used later down the road by your attorney to extract a more favorable deal with the federal prosecutor who may be investigating you. Giving away the milk for free ensures that the government will never have the need to buy the proverbial cow.
Be polite, take the agent’s card – but clearly let him know you will have your attorney get in touch with him.
Subject, Target or Witness?
The first thing your attorney will need to determine is your status in the investigation: either you are a subject, target or witness. A target is who the government is seeking to indict. Oftentimes, an agent will hope to surprise a target with a visit – hoping that the unprepared target makes an incriminating statement which can facilitate the target’s indictment and ultimately a conviction.
A witness in an investigation is simply someone who the government believes has information about a crime and can assist the government in making its case to the grand jury. Presumably, a witness has no criminal exposure from the investigation.
Last is the subject: somewhere in between a witness and a target. A subject of a federal criminal investigation is believed by the prosecutor to have engaged in conduct that may or may not be criminal in nature – but the prosecutor is not prepared or able yet to prove that the subject has committed a crime, thus the need for additional investigation.
In the End, Your Status is Irrelevant – But Your Lawyer Is Not
Regardless of how the federal prosecutor classifies you – whether it be orally or in writing to your lawyer – the status can change in an instant: a subject of a criminal investigation can become a target instantaneously. Therefore, without a guaranteed promise of immunity, no matter what the prosecutor claims his interest is, you can still be arrested and charged with serious federal crimes down the road. Your attorney will then be sure to tread carefully in any dealings with the prosecutor and agent unless and until he reaches the ultimate goal: a written promise that you will not be indicted or a grant of immunity from the government from the criminal allegations under investigation.
Because of the many potential pitfalls on the way to a grant of immunity, it is crucial that you hire an experienced, federal criminal defense attorney – not just someone who advertises on the internet. The more dealings your lawyer has had with federal prosecutors, the more likely he will be able to apply the gentle and subtle touch oftentimes required to bargain for a positive result for you – one which ends with no criminal charges being brought. At the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman, we have represented targets, subjects and witnesses in federal criminal investigations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and all across the United States – and even globally, in investigations as far flung as Israel, France and Brazil. Many of our clients are well-known but have been kept out of the press due to a favorable resolution prior to indictment. Call us at (212) 581-1001 to discuss your federal criminal investigation today.