What Does Trust Mean In White-Collar Criminal Law?

When a prosecutor charges someone with a white-collar crime a central feature of the case is usually trust. You may wonder what this means and how it might affect your defense. Read on to explore the question from the perspective of a white-collar legal services firm.

An Expectation of Trust

The classic trust-driven criminal case is embezzlement. County employees, for example, often work in jobs where they can print checks. Normally, they have the power to pay other employees, settle county debts, pay contracts, issue refunds, and handle other government duties. Suppose an employee decided to issue and cash a check in their name without previous permission.

That act of taking the money from the county's account would be a form of embezzlement. Critically, this is embezzlement because the county government entrusted the employee with issuing checks.

Private Trust

A similar form of legal trust appears in many private businesses. Companies often offer investments, for example. If the company deliberately misrepresented its current financial picture to present a rosy picture, that's fraud.

How to Provide a Defense

Notably, the prosecution in such cases usually has to prove knowing intent. Consider an embezzlement allegation involving someone who took expense money from a business. If they intended to reimburse the company, they probably have a strong defense. A white-collar crime attorney would likely encourage them to give the business a reimbursement check as soon as possible.

Similarly, you must know you're committing a crime in most cases. Suppose a stranger approached you about purchasing a percentage of your business. You accept, and they pay. Several years later, the government charges that person with drug trafficking.

There is suddenly a question about whether your business was a money-laundering front. Like a sensible drug trafficker, the investor probably didn't tell you that the money was drug money.

A federal prosecutor might threaten you with money laundering charges, but that's unlikely to stick. Instead, you'll hire a white-collar crime attorney. Your lawyer will tell you to fully cooperate. You'll just provide the government with copies of contracts and checks to show you didn't know about the illicit origins of the investment.


Another defense is you weren't in a trust relationship. People who write about stocks, for example, will frequently include declarations they are not providing investment advice. The goal is to torpedo a potential claim they abused some form of trust by sharing their opinions. As long as they didn't falsify data or lie about their credentials, this defense has good odds of holding up.

If you've been involved in a white-color crime, contact a law firm, such as Cohen Law Offices, LLC, for legal guidance.