Federal Crime of the Week – Making False Statements to a Federal Official

An FBI Agent in Oxford, Mississippi was indicted this week for making false official statements to a federal official, among other things.  The agent was the Supervisory Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Oxford Resident Agency, and the indictment charges that he failed to disclose that he had a financial interest in the Oxford FBI Building since 2004, and that he was not truthful on his Confidential Financial Disclosure Report that FBI Agents are required to fill out.  Finally, it is alleged that he knowingly and willfully made, and caused to be made, a materially false and fraudulent statement and representation to an agent of the Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, during an interview.  This is a big case, and if you happen to be reading this while doing research for your term paper on irony it’s the best example I’ve ever seen.

Under Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001, it is a crime to:

  1. knowingly and willfully;
  2. make any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation;
  3. in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the United States.

This was the charge that Martha Stewart served time for.  It is a crime to tell a lie to the federal government.  Even if your lie is oral and not under oath, and even if you have received no Miranda warnings of any kind.  You must know that your statement is false at the time you make it, but you do not have to know that lying to the government is a crime.  Any person convicted under this statute faces statutory penalties of a possible fine, and up to 5-8 years in prison. 

This law, and interpretations of it, can become extremely complex very quicky, especially in a white-collar crime context.  If you are approached by federal agents asking to speak with you, your best course of action is to politely decline to speak with them about anything substantive in the absence of counsel.  This is much harder than it sounds.  Here are some possible responses from the agent:

  • “Why do you think you need counsel?”
  • “Why won’t you speak with me to clear this up?”
  • “What do you have to hide?”
  • “Well, get ready for a subpoena, or an indictment.”

Your responses:

  • “May I have your card?  My attorney will be contacting you.”
  • “May I please speak with my attorney first.”
  • “I want a lawyer.”
  • “I would like to speak with a lawyer.”

In summary, it is a sad fact that the government applies a far higher moral standard to you than to itself.  Law enforcement officers can lie to you to get you to make a statement, but you cannot lie to them.  And know this: the federal government can send you to prison for telling a lie, even though they could never charge you with any other crime.

If you get into a tight spot with federal agents, have them wait a few minutes and give me a call.