Edwin H. Sutherland was the first person to use the term white-collar criminal. In a speech made to the American Sociological Association on December 27, 1939, he mentioned the term White-collar criminal. However, Sutherland in 1949 defined white-collar crime as crimes that are committed by respectable persons or persons with high social status in the community in the course of their occupation (Schlegel, 1994). Sutherland was a supporter of the symbolic interactionism. Symbolic interactionism is a field of sociology that evaluates the development of personal identity through personal and group relationships. Sutherland used the Differential Association Theory to demonstrate how people adopt motivation and technical skills for criminal activities. He adopted the Interactionist Theory of Deviance and focused on how people train to become criminals. He held the opinion that criminal behavior is acquired through interpersonal interactions with other people (Schlegel, 1994).
There has been an unending debate on, which crimes should be categorized as white-collar crimes. However, there has been a general agreement that white-collar crimes include various nonviolent crimes, which are committed in commercial situations with the aim of benefiting financially. A significant number of white-collar crimes are hard to prosecute since the perpetrators of these crimes utilize sophisticated methods to conceal their activities (Schlegel, 1994). Additionally, the affluent members of the society commit these crimes; thus, it is hard to prosecute them since they can afford to hire better lawyers to argue their defense. The most popular white-crimes include computer and internet fraud, antitrust violations, phone and telemarketing fraud, healthcare fraud, bankruptcy fraud, money laundering, public corruption, and embezzlement among other crimes (Hasnas, 2005).
The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that white-collar crimes cost the United States over $300 million each year (Hasnas, 2005). The government prosecutes the individuals involved in white-collar crimes; however, it has the capacity to sanction the corporations engaged in the offences. The major penalties for the crime are fines, undertaking the cost of prosecution, community confinement, home detention, restitution, supervised release, forfeitures, and imprisonment. However, fewer sanctions are imposed on perpetrators who take responsibility for the crime and aid the authorities in investigating the crime. Additionally, the perpetrators of the crime have all the defenses available to the perpetrators of non-white-collar crimes. The defense of the entrapment acts as one of the popular refrains for the perpetrators of white-collar crimes. For example, in United States v. Williams, 705 F.2d 603 (2nd Cir. 1983), the defendant Senator Harrison Williams in his defense argued that the government had encouraged him to accepting a bribe (Schlegel, 1994). The defense was unsuccessful. The majority of people believe that this crime attracts lesser penalties compared to violent crimes. The perpetrators of the crime are remanded and imprisoned in the minimum-security prisons. These environments are less punitive and offer more freedom compared to the maximum-prisons.
The state and the federal regulations enumerate the activities that comprise white-collar crimes. The Commerce Clause of the United States constitution empowers the federal government to regulate white-collar crimes. Additionally, the federal white-collar crime legislation empowers various federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau Investigations, the Secret Service, the Securities Exchange Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Internal Revenue Service to regulate white-collar crimes (Hasnas, 2005). Additionally, various state controlled agencies are engaged in the regulation of white-collar crimes. These agencies operate under their state jurisdiction.
In conclusion, white-collar crimes are more harmful to the larger majority of the society compared to other crimes. Companies that suffer from any form of fraud must compensate for the crime by raising costs. This has an adverse effect on the consumers who suffer from increased prices. Additionally, it may lead to job cuts or reduction of salaries to the company’s employees. The effects may ripple off once employees or investors are unable to repay their loans. Employees and investors may not have the capacity to access loans due to the effects of the crime. Insider trading and stock frauds of the 1980s led to the loss of investor confidence of the stock market. If the white-collar crime funds are irrecoverable, the perpetrators of the crime may steal the livelihoods of people who depend on such savings for survival such as in the case of Enron scandal.