What to do when the FBI knocks on your door
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a division of the United States Department of Justice that is primarily responsible for investigating a wide range of federal crimes. As the FBI investigates domestic and international terrorism, foreign counterintelligence, cybercrime, public corruption, civil rights, organized crime / drugs, white collar crime, and violent crime, the main one of these issues the FBI is focusing on, particularly in recent years, is health fraud.
The FBI often receives a referral from the Inspector General’s Office of Health and Human Services (HHS-OIG), which investigates fraud against government-funded programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. However, more recently, the FBI has worked as part of the Healthcare Fraud Prevention Partnership, in which the FBI works with private payers to identify fraud.
If you learn that you are under an FBI investigation, every move you make matters. The FBI is investigating crimes, not regulatory offenses. And while other agencies may work with the FBI, when the FBI is involved in an investigation, it means the possibility of criminal charges is very real. FBI investigations can result in significant fines, probation, and even time spent in federal prison.
Learning about an FBI investigation
When the FBI decides to open an investigation, it will often do much of the investigation behind the scenes. So by the time you hear about the investigation, there’s a good chance it has been going on for quite some time. FBI investigators keep investigations secret, so targets of their investigation do not uncover the investigation and hide or destroy evidence.
The target of an FBI investigation will learn in several ways that they are being investigated. In some cases, the FBI may send you a target letter, notifying you of the investigation. However, it is quite rare. More often than not, FBI agents will contact you directly, either by chance or with a search warrant. You may also receive a subpoena to appear before a grand jury. You may even hear about the FBI involvement through friends, customers, business partners, or employees contacted by the FBI.
Regardless of how you are made aware of the FBI involvement, it is imperative that you are prepared. When speaking with the FBI, it’s always best to assume that you are the target of the investigation. FBI agents don’t have to be completely honest with you. For example, even if you are the target of the survey, they may approach you casually and ask if you have time to ask a few quick questions. They do this to catch you off guard, in the hope that you are inadvertently providing them with incriminating information.
You don’t have to agree to speak with FBI agents. As law enforcement officers, FBI agents are bound by the Constitution of the United States and cannot compel someone to speak to them. Of course, FBI agents routinely tell those they want information from that it will look bad if they decline an interview request or insist that a lawyer be present. However, again, this is a tactic designed to trick you into making an incriminating or inaccurate statement that will later be used against you. Remember, the FBI most likely knows more than it does. The agents may have already removed your bank accounts and financial records, spoken to witnesses, and almost certainly formed an opinion on your participation.
When the FBI contacts you, the best alternative is to ask for a lawyer. As Dr. Nick Oberheiden, a federal defense attorney who frequently represents clients in FBI investigations, explained:
You have the right to have an attorney present whenever you speak with law enforcement officers, including FBI agents. However, don’t rely on FBI agents to tell you. In fact, officers will often downplay their suspicions about the target of their investigation to put the target at ease, in the hope of making a statement to them. The best alternative is to ask for a lawyer. This will give you and your lawyer the opportunity to review the topic of the investigation, as well as all relevant documents, allowing you to make an accurate statement that will be less likely to harm you in the future.
Of course, it’s normal to feel like asking a lawyer makes you look “guilty”. However, under the law, this is not the case. While asking for a lawyer can cause the FBI to thought you are involved in a wrongdoing, in reality they have probably already made up their minds, and asking for a lawyer will help protect your rights. In addition, a qualified federal defense lawyer can overrule any perception of wrongdoing caused by the request of a lawyer; while it is exceptionally difficult to repair the harm caused by providing the FBI with a prejudicial or inaccurate statement.
Take Steps to Protect Yourself During an FBI Investigation
If you find yourself at the center of an FBI investigation, you must question your every action. A simple inaccuracy based on a lack of understanding could have dramatic implications down the road. So, as soon as you learn that you are under FBI investigation, remember the following steps:
Do not discuss your case with anyone
Nothing can be gained by discussing your case with others, even those you trust. You don’t know who works with the FBI and who they can coerce to testify against you. The FBI may have information about a trusted friend or co-worker that they can use to essentially force them to take a stand against you. If you make a damaging or contradictory statement to another person and the FBI finds out, it can cast doubt on anything you say throughout the investigation.
In this sense, avoid posting or commenting on the matter on social media. Regardless of your privacy settings, the FBI may be able to get your social media history, even what you’ve deleted. If the FBI decides to press charges, they’ll use whatever evidence they can to make you look guilty. This includes posting photos of luxury items, lavish vacations, or large sums of money.
Do not modify, destroy or obscure evidence
You have to be smart about the way you conduct yourself when you are the subject of an FBI investigation. By the time you learn of the existence of an FBI investigation, there’s a good chance it has passed its initial stages, and the FBI probably knows enough about the evidence that should exist.
Destroying evidence is not only illegal, it is unlikely to help you. For example, the FBI may be able to reconstruct deleted or destroyed information or obtain it from another source. If the FBI finds out that you have destroyed evidence, not only will it make you guilty, but it can also lead to new criminal charges.
The same goes for discussions with witnesses. Don’t go to people who have information the FBI wants to dissuade from talking to agents. You can’t know how another person will react to the pressure of an FBI investigation, even if you trust them. If the FBI finds out that you were trying to interfere with an investigation, you may be investigating witness tampering charges.
Contact a lawyer as soon as possible
Few things are as serious as an FBI investigation. If your reputation and livelihood are at stake, so is your freedom. So, once you learn of an ongoing FBI investigation, don’t delay in contacting an experienced FBI investigative defense attorney for assistance. The FBI has vast resources and a highly trained team of investigators and lawyers who have most likely already concluded that you were involved. Rather than trying to undo these perceptions on your own, enlist the help of a lawyer who knows the process. There is too much at stake to risk making a single mistake.
Oberheiden PC © 2021 Review of national legislation, volume XI, number 105