Were you at work when federal agents showed up wanting to talk? Did you come home to find a business card from a federal law enforcement agent asking you to call them? Having just sat down to have dinner with your family, did federal agents knock on your door wanting to ask you a few questions? Once the shock wears off, it is very normal to feel anxious and frustrated. All my clients come to me feeling that way at first.
You’ve come to the right place. We want to help educate you on what to expect and understand where you are in the process. On this page we try to give you as much information as possible so that you can sift through it all and make educated and informed decisions about your case. Learning you’re under federal investigation is terrifying and we’re here to help. Get started by filling out our contact form or by calling our office (305) 707-7345 to schedule your 4-Point Case Evaluation and Defense Strategy Session.
First, let’s discuss the most common ways to learn that you have come under federal investigation:
- Direct Contact – Perhaps the most common way to learn that you are under investigation is to learn of it when a federal agent tries to talk to you. There are times when a federal agent may show up at your job in the hopes of speaking with you. Sometimes they will go to your home, and if you are not there, they will leave a card asking you to call.
- You’ve Got Mail – You may receive a letter from an Assistant United States Attorney letting you know that you are in their crosshair. This letter informing you that you are a target of a federal investigation is called a “target letter.”
- Subpoena – Another common way to learn that you are under federal investigation is by receiving a Grand Jury subpoena seeking documents or testimony.
- Warrant – Perhaps the least pleasant way to learn that you are under investigation is to have federal agents come to your house armed with a search warrant. It is common for them to show up early in the morning in order to execute the search warrant.
- Grapevine – Lastly, you may commonly learn that you are under federal investigation from friends, business associates or prior business relationships. It is perfectly normal to want to inquire further, ask your friends questions and learn as much as possible. CAUTION: This information may make its way back to federal agents investigating you.
These are a few of the ways you can learn that you are under federal investigation. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s turn to how you can be proactive and protect yourself. First, let’s discuss what you shouldn’t do. A lot of times what you don’t do can help you more than actually doing something.
What NOT to do
It is probably best to not discuss the investigation with anyone besides your lawyer. While you should speak with an attorney about your investigation, you should not speak with: law enforcement, witnesses or anyone that could be called as a witness. Conversations with your lawyer are privileged and protected. Your conversations with anyone else could come back to bite you.
Let’s start with speaking with the government. Under most circumstances it is best to have your lawyer speak with the government (i.e. agents and prosecutors) on your behalf. As you are probably aware, anything you say to law enforcement can and will be used against you. Therefore, if you are contacted by federal law enforcement agencies (or any law enforcement for that matter) exercise your right to counsel and remain silent. It’s your right and it’s there for your protection—use it.
Now, if you choose to speak with the government for whatever reason, don’t lie. Lying to federal investigators is a crime that can be—and often is—prosecuted. If you are reading this and have already spoken with federal agents about your investigation, please take notes of everything that was said to them so that you may review it with your lawyer.
Next, do not talk to other people about the investigation. This is difficult to do. I get it, you’re under a lot of stress, you’re feeling frustrated and extremely anxious as a result of the fact that you have come under federal investigation. Fight the urge to discuss the case with anyone other than your attorney.
First, if you speak with someone that may be a witness and decide that it would be a good idea to remind them about what they should say or how things went down a little differently than the way they initially remember them, you could be charged with obstruction of justice. The facts are the facts and the witness’ memory is the witness’ memory. There is nothing you can do here except hurt yourself by tampering with witnesses and possibly obstructing justice.
In addition to being prosecuted for an additional crime and/or facing enhanced penalties for obstruction of justice, witnesses that you speak with can either be subpoenaed or contacted by federal agents. Again, what you said to them can be relayed to a grand jury or a federal agent and will do nothing but hurt you.
Lastly, do not destroy documents or conveniently “misplace” evidence. This, too, is a crime. Do not delete or alter documents, especially electronic documents. You’re unlikely to outsmart the government by deleting key values, modifying files or doctoring spreadsheets that are valuable to the government. This is another example of obstruction of justice.
What to do
Not to sound cliché but the first thing you should do is seriously consider hiring a lawyer. Ideally you want to find a lawyer that has experience handling federal investigations. If you’d like more information on how to do that, check out my article on hiring a federal criminal defense attorney. This is not the time to give someone a chance to help you out for free, or simply make a phone call to see what’s going on or use that really nice lawyer who did your will a few years ago.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to you when you hire an attorney and are yet to be charged, is information. Once you have hired an attorney, the two of you can work together to learn what’s going on and where you stand in the investigative process. If you were already contacted by the government then you are on their radar. Your lawyer should reach out to the agent or prosecutor in order to get more information about your investigation.
The benefit of this is twofold; not only can your lawyer gain information about what’s going on with the government’s investigation but now that you’re being represented by a lawyer the agent and/or prosecutor should talk to your lawyer instead of you thus protecting you and ensuring that nothing incriminating is said. Your lawyer is there to protect you. Let them do your talking for you.
If you learned that you are under investigation through word of mouth, this is a bit more delicate. It may be that you are not a target of an investigation. You may be just a witness, or a subject at the moment and the government simply has not yet made contact with you. However, more troubling is the idea that you may not even be on the government’s radar and how reaching out to them can affect you. If this is the case, your lawyer can help you think through your options and whether you should contact the agent and/or prosecutor at all. The decision is very fact-sensitive and case-specific. An experienced lawyer can help talk through that decision.
Your lawyer’s job during a federal investigation is to gather information and provide counsel in order to avoid (or minimize) surprises as well as protect your interests as they work toward obtaining the best possible result for you. Therefore, you should work with your lawyer to give them all the relevant information relating to your investigation. Assist them in collecting any documents that could be relevant to the investigation and may help to tell your story. These documents include, but are not limited to: bank records, emails and other records you may have kept. Be honest and upfront about what you know and what happened.
If you are here today because you feel frustrated about being under federal investigation and it is disrupting your life, we should talk.