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Historical expansion of wiretapping: white collar crimes

Concerned with combating organized crime, Congress passed the rather wordy "Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act" in 1968. Its purpose: to provide for newer and more sophisticated investigatory weapons targeted toward organized criminal gangs and, chiefly, their narcotics-related activities.

The use of wiretaps was instrumental in federal investigations in the decades following the passage of that legislation, with judges approving their use in many instances. By 2010, nearly 3,200 wiretap warrants were issued across the country.

Commentators on the use of this investigatory tool note that a divide has been crossed and a growing trend realized, namely, that federal prosecutors are now requesting wiretaps with growing regularity in white collar crime investigations.

What is being noted, and what has been cited as being troubling concerning the expansive use of this powerful eavesdropping tool in federal crimes cases such as mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, is that wiretap warrants are not supposed to be easily obtained. As a recent media article in Forbes notes, they are "intended to be a last resort, rather than a first choice." The Omnibus Crime Act tasks judges to fully evaluate whether government investigators have first exhausted other investigatory tools and avenues. Alternative procedures are to be shown as unavailing or too dangerous to pursue before a wiretap is approved.

That threshold results in some critics pointing out that, unlike many acts associated with organized crime, many alleged white collar criminal activities patently lack a "too dangerous" element that necessitates the granting of secret surveillance via wiretap on a suspect.

It is clear from the recent government crackdown in securities fraud insider cases that prosecutors are increasingly seeking the use of wiretaps to aid in their investigations of non-violent crimes. Persons in Texas and elsewhere across the country who are being targeted in white collar investigations might want to reasonably note that and to candidly discuss their case or legal matter with an experienced white collar defense attorney.

Source: Forbes, "Once reserved for drug crimes, wiretapping takes center stage in white collar prosecutions," Jordan Maglich, May 21, 2013

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