Making false statements to the federal government or any government official is a crime. That’s the black-and-white law under Title 18 of the U.S. Code § 1001. While knowing what the law says is important, it’s also important to understand how it’s used by federal prosecutors, and how it’s an often favored prosecutorial tool used to gain convictions or leverage in an investigation.
Examples of how the federal government uses 18 USC § 1001 can be found in many places, especially amid the President Trump / Mueller investigation. In fact, it’s what former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former President Trump Campaign Advisor George Papadopoulos have in common with Martha Stewart. Both Flynn and Papadopoulos pled guilty to misleading FBI Special Agents in the Russian collusion investigation, and Stewart was convicted under Section 1001 for lying to the SEC and FBI about insider trading.
These three defendants come from radically different walks of life, and their cases involved varying circumstances and investigations into different types of crimes. However, they were all snagged into convictions by federal prosecutors’ penchant for using 18 USC § 1001.
What the Law Says
Title 18 USC § 1001, often simply referred to as false and misleading statements, makes it a felony to knowingly and willfully:
- Falsify or conceal a material fact in any entry or document; or
- Make oral statements to government officials which are materially false and misleading,
- To an official of the federal government in an investigation or official proceeding.
How it’s Used in Federal Cases
Section 1001 is incredibly broad in scope, providing prosecutors with the ability and the leverage to pursue criminal charges for nearly any material statement or document provided to any federal government official, including law enforcement from any federal agency and even members of Congress.
Charges for making false and misleading statements can arise in many different ways, but they generally result from some type of investigation. Whether it is a witness or the actual suspect in an investigation conducted by any federal agencies – from the FBI and the SEC to the IRS, DEA, or the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – agents and regulators conducting those investigations typically already have a lot of information about witnesses or suspects they don’t openly share.
When this happens, it’s not uncommon for investigators to steer or gently finesse or encourage witnesses or suspects into making statements they know can be labeled as false or misleading under Section 1001, or dissect and extract nearly any material statement or entry for the purpose of calling them false and misleading. This not only exposes individuals who make those statements or entries to federal criminal charges, it often helps investigators gain their cooperation under the threat of potential criminal charges and penalties.
Penalties for False and Misleading Statements or Entries
A single violation under 18 USC § 1001 is a felony-level offense that carries fines up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison. What defendants are actually sentenced to, however, can vary depending on the circumstances and factors such as:
- The nature of the false and misleading statement / entry
- The context in which they were made
- The surrounding investigation and nature of criminal conduct
- Criminal history
- And more
While there are cases where defendants convicted under 1001 are given “smaller” sentences (i.e. several months in prison) or ordered only to serve federal probation, there are others which result in significant terms of imprisonment. That’s especially true when there are multiple counts or additional charges, such as perjury, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and others.
There are times, such as in the case of Papadopoulos, where a conviction for making false and misleading statements becomes the more preferable option than more serious charges, and is used in return for cooperation with investigators. Even in those matters, defendants may still potentially face some prison time, probation, and the prospects of living with a felony conviction that can harm one’s reputation and their future opportunities.
Why Working with Proven Legal Representation is Important
Charges like 18 USC § 1001 are an example of why it is so invaluably important to work with experienced legal representation when dealing with a federal criminal investigation, official proceedings involving questioning (under oath or not), and any formal charges. The law can and is often used to benefit the government, and it is used against witnesses and suspects in a range of cases – from white collar crimes and fraud investigations to federal drug crime conspiracies. Protecting your rights and interests, knowing what to expect and how to approach a situation, and exploring all your available options and defense strategies demands the insight of lawyers with a proven record in the federal criminal justice system.
Friedman Nemecek & Long, L.L.C., L.L.C. is a Cleveland-based criminal defense firm with extensive experience representing federal criminal defendants, as well as individuals who are under investigation or have been asked into questioning without any formal arrest or indictment. If you have questions about your rights and how we can help you navigate the journey to come, call (888) 694-4645 or contact us online as soon as possible. We’re standing by to evaluate your case.