What is Criminal Conspiracy?
Criminal conspiracy is a far-reaching concept and is one of the most widely prosecuted federal criminal offenses. A criminal conspiracy is loosely defined as “anytime two or more individuals agree to commit an unlawful act and then take some step toward completion of that act.” Federal conspiracy charges are broad and can apply to any individual who conspires with another individual to perpetuate a crime against the United States. Federal conspiracies are charged under 18 U.S.C. 371. An individual can be charged with a conspiracy to violate any kind of federal law. Under the federal statute, convictions for conspiracy charges can result in a prison sentence of up to five years.
The concept often most confusing with conspiracy charges is that to be charged with conspiracy, you do not have to have committed the underlying offense to be guilty of conspiracy. Under the conspiracy laws in the United States, if you act in concert with another individual to perpetrate a crime, you can be held liable as well. For example, if your company suffered financial losses and your employer directs you to not disclose these losses on the company’s yearly SEC filings, you have acted in concert with your employer to commit fraud, even though you did not cause the financial loss.
Another important concept of conspiracy is that the underlying offense does not have to come to fruition in order for you to be convicted of conspiracy. As stated in the federal statute, there must be an agreement to engage in criminal activity and an overt step must be taken to further this engagement. The statute specifically does not say that the agreed upon criminal activity must take place. For example, if you and another individual agree to traffic narcotics into the United States and you are arrested by border patrol before any such narcotics make it into the United States, you can still be found guilty of conspiracy. Even though no illegal substances evert made it to the United States, the act of attempting to bring them into the country would be sufficient for conspiracy charges.
The “agreement” element is critical for conspiracy charges to hold any weight. The statue says an agreement must be made by two or more people to perpetuate a crime, but what exactly is an “agreement?” An agreement need not be formal nor in writing. Usually, this “agreement” element is implied from the circumstances. The agreement must also be made knowingly. Taking the narcotic trafficking example from above, if one individual simply thought he was driving into the United States and had no knowledge that illicit substances were being transported as well, his simple involvement of being in the car would not justify conspiracy charges against him as he had no knowledge that an underlying crime was being committed.
As stated above, criminal conspiracy charges can stem from any underlying federal offense (ex: conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud etc.).
Example of Conspiracy Cases Prosecuted by the Department of Justice
- A federal jury in New Orleans, Louisiana convicted a woman for her involvement in a scheme to defraud Medicare. According to evidence presented at trial, the woman conspired with an owner of durable medical equipment company to provide medically unnecessary equipment to eligible Medicare beneficiaries. The woman would recruit Medicare beneficiaries and supply their information to the owner of the medical equipment company. In return, the woman would receive kickbacks from the medical equipment company based on the reimbursement Medicare paid for the equipment supplied to her referred Medicare beneficiaries. The scheme caused Medicare to pay over $3 million because of the illegally referred patients. Ultimately, the woman was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks, two counts of health care fraud and five counts of receiving health care kickbacks.
- A federal grand jury indicted a real estate company and its accountant for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud based on their alleged roles in a scheme to defraud financial institutions in connection with certain foreclosed properties in Minnesota. According to the indictment, the real estate company and its accountant, initiated a plan to require repair contractors to issue kickbacks to the accountant. In return for the contractors paying kickbacks, the real estate company used its position to steer housing repair contracts to contractors who would pay the kickbacks.
- A man in Texas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery. According to the plea agreement, the man acted in concert with individuals from Mexico to bring drugs to the United States and bribed and also attempted to bribe United States border patrol agents to let the drugs pass through the border. As a result of his guilty plea under the conspiracy statute, the man was sentenced to four years in prison.
Speak with an Oberheiden P.C. Conspiracy Defense Lawyer
Are you facing conspiracy charges? Contact Oberheiden P.C. to arrange a free and confidential initial consultation. To schedule a time to speak with one of our federal conspiracy defense attorneys, call 888-680-1745 or contact us online today.