Federal investigators showed up unexpectedly at your home, office or country club one day. They said they just wanted to ask you a few questions. Maybe they even appeared to be more interested in what you knew about someone else than in anything you might have done wrong.
Then, the questions got a little more pointed. You got nervous, so you may not have been exactly candid. You may have lied because you were starting to panic, and you just wanted them to leave. Could you be in trouble?
Lying to a representative of the federal government can be a crime
Fast forward, and now you’re facing a host of charges related to your business dealings. You’ve also been charged with lying to federal agents. You didn’t even know that was a crime. After all, you weren’t under oath.
It doesn’t matter. Lying to any representative of the federal government can be a crime, and the consequences can be serious. Just ask Martha Stewart. Many people think she served time in federal prison for insider trading. However, she was actually convicted of lying to federal investigators about her trading activity.
The same federal statute (18 U.S.C. § 1001) that put the popular lifestyle guru behind bars was also used against former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former head of Enron Bernie Madoff and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich – to name just a few high-profile people. Sometimes, covering up a crime can also get you charged with this crime
Not everyone who lies to the FBI or other federal authorities about criminal activity will end up facing charges. It depends on how much the lie or concealment matters to the case. The law states that anyone who makes a “materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement” verbally or in writing is guilty of this crime. So is anyone who “falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact.” Materiality is the key here.
The penalties if convicted of this crime can be harsh. You could face up to five years in federal prison – more if it’s related to a terrorism investigation. The best way to avoid this charge (and potentially others) is to firmly but politely assert your right to counsel and never to speak to a federal investigator or agent without legal guidance.