The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a division of the United States Department of Justice that is primarily responsible for investigating a broad range of federal crimes. While the FBI investigates domestic and international terrorism, foreign counterintelligence, cybercrime, public corruption, civil rights, organized crime/drugs, white-collar crime, and violent crimes, the chief among these issues the FBI focuses on, especially in recent years, is healthcare fraud.
The FBI often receives a referral from the Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), which investigates fraud against government-funded programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. However, more recently, the FBI has been working through the Healthcare Fraud Prevention Partnership, in which the FBI works with private payors to identify fraud.
If you learn that you are under investigation by the FBI, every move you make is important. The FBI investigates crime, not regulatory infractions. And while other agencies may work in conjunction with the FBI, when the FBI is involved in an investigation, it means the possibility of criminal charges is very real. FBI investigations can carry significant fines, probation, and even time in federal prison.
Learning of an FBI Investigation
When the FBI decides to open an investigation, it will often perform much of the investigation behind the scenes. Thus, by the time you hear about the investigation, chances are that it has already been underway for quite some time. FBI investigators keep investigations secret, so the targets of their investigation do not find out about the investigation and hide or destroy evidence.
There are a few ways that the target of an FBI investigation will learn that they are being looked into. In some cases, the FBI may send you a target letter, informing you of the investigation. However, this is somewhat rare. More often, FBI agents will contact you directly, either casually, or with a search warrant. You may also receive a grand jury subpoena. You may even hear about FBI involvement through friends, customers, business partners, or employees who the FBI has contacted.
However you are notified of the FBI’s involvement, it is imperative that you are prepared. When talking with the FBI, it is always best to assume that you are the target of the investigation. FBI agents do not need to be completely truthful with you. For example, even if you are the target of the investigation, they can approach you casually, asking if you have time for a few quick questions. They do this to catch you off-guard, in hopes that you will inadvertently provide them with incriminating information.
You do not need to agree to speak with FBI agents. As law enforcement officers, FBI agents are bound by the United States Constitution, and cannot compel someone to speak with them. Of course, FBI agents routinely tell those whom they want information from that it will look bad if they decline an interview request or insist on having a lawyer present. However, again, this is a tactic designed to get you to make an incriminating or inaccurate statement that will later be used against you. Remember, the FBI very likely knows more than they lead on. Agents may have already pulled your bank accounts and financial records, spoken to witnesses, and almost certainly formed their opinion of your involvement.
When the FBI contacts you, the best alternative is to ask for a lawyer. As Dr. Nick Oberheiden, a federal defense lawyer who frequently represents clients in FBI investigations explained:
You have the right to have an attorney present anytime you are speaking with law enforcement officers, including FBI agents. However, do not rely on FBI agents to tell you this. In fact, agents will often downplay their suspicions about the target of their investigation to put the target at ease, hoping they will give them a statement. The better alternative is to demand a lawyer. This will give you and your attorney the opportunity to review the subject of the investigation, as well as any relevant documents, allowing you to make an accurate statement that will be less likely to harm you in the future.
Of course, it is normal to feel like asking for a lawyer makes you seem “guilty.” However, under the law, this is not the case. While asking for a lawyer may cause the FBI to think you are involved in wrongdoing, in reality, they probably have already made up their mind, and asking for an attorney will serve to protect your rights. Further, a skilled federal defense attorney can undo any perception of wrongdoing caused by asking for a lawyer; whereas, it is exceptionally difficult to reverse the harm caused by providing the FBI with a harmful or inaccurate statement.
Taking Steps to Protect Yourself During an FBI Investigation
If you find yourself at the center of an FBI investigation, you should second-guess your every action. A simple misstatement based on a lack of understanding could have drastic implications down the road. Thus, as soon as you learn that you are under investigation by the FBI, remember the following steps:
Do Not Discuss Your Case with Anyone
Nothing can be gained by talking about your case with others, even those whom you trust. You do not know who is working with the FBI, and who they can compel to testify against you. The FBI may have information about a trusted friend or business colleague that it can use to essentially force them to take the stand against you. If you make a harmful or contradictory statement to another person, and the FBI finds out, this can cast doubt on anything else you say throughout the investigation.
Along these lines, refrain from posting or commenting about the case on social media. Regardless of your privacy settings, the FBI may be able to obtain your social media history— even things that you deleted. If the FBI decides to bring charges, it will use any evidence it can to make you look guilty. This includes posting pictures of luxury items, lavish vacations, or large amounts of cash.
Do Not Alter, Destroy, or Hide Evidence
You need to be smart about how you conduct yourself when you are under investigation by the FBI. By the time you learn of an FBI investigation, chances are that it is past its initial stages, and the FBI probably knows quite a bit about what evidence should exist.
Destroying evidence is not only illegal, but it is unlikely to help you. For example, the FBI may be able to reconstruct the deleted or destroyed information or obtain it from another source. If the FBI finds out you destroyed evidence, not only will this make you look guilty, but it can also give rise to new criminal charges.
The same goes for talking with witnesses. Do not reach out to people who have information the FBI wants to dissuade them from talking to agents. You cannot know how another person will respond to the pressure of an FBI investigation, even if you trust them. If the FBI finds out you were trying to interfere with an investigation, you may be looking at witness tampering charges.
Contact a Lawyer as Soon as Possible
Few things are as serious as an FBI investigation. While your reputation and livelihood are at stake, so too is your freedom. Thus, once you learn about a pending FBI investigation, do not delay in reaching out to an experienced FBI investigation defense attorney for assistance. The FBI has vast resources and a highly skilled team of investigators and attorneys who have very likely already concluded that you were involved. Rather than trying to undo these perceptions on your own, enlist the help of an attorney who knows the process. There is too much on the line to risk making a single mistake.