Utah introduces first white collar criminal registry

In March of 2016, Utah became the first state in the country to introduce a White Collar Criminal Registry. While criminal registries are not new, for example sex offender registries have been around for over 20 years, this is the first time a state has established a public registry for white-collar offenders. This registry is now added to a growing list of registries that include arson, domestic violence, drug offenses and even an animal abuse registry in Tennessee.

Why does Utah need the registry?

One may ask, why does Utah need a white collar criminal registry? In 2010, the FBI named Utah one of the top five locations for white collar fraud. Utah citizens are swindled out of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. White collar crime and fraud in Utah is significant for its relative economic and population size.

Utah residents are particularly vulnerable to a specific crime, “affinity fraud.” Affinity fraud involves criminals ingratiating themselves into a religious or minority community by posing as a member of the group. Once accepted into the group, the swindler is able to utilize the natural trust that these communities hold for fellow members. The swindler then manipulates members of the community into fraudulent schemes – Ponzi schemes are a popular choice.

Purpose of the white crime registry

Utah justifies this new database on two grounds:

  1. It raises awareness of white collar crime and potential perpetrators.
  2. It deters crime.

Utah insists that most white collar criminals are repeat offenders. It is believed that a tool that identifies them will reduce their ability to reoffend. Moreover, people now have a tool to double check their potential investment partners. Greater public awareness of these criminals and their actions empowers the public.

Utah further argues that the registry deters crime through public shaming. Anyone can access these registries to review the personal information of those registered. It impacts their ability to find work and run future scams. In fact, the public shaming can last, for first time offenders, up to ten years. A second offense adds another ten years and a third offense lands criminals on the registry for the rest of their lives.

Those listed can get their names off the registry early if they fully comply with all court requirements and pay restitution to all victims.

Who appears on the registry?

The registry provides information on individuals convicted since 2006. It covers a wide variety of crimes from multi-million dollar Ponzi schemes, to tax fraud, credit card fraud and insurance scams. So far, about 100 names appear on the registry.

Privacy concerns

Privacy and civil rights advocates do challenge the validity of the registry. Public shaming as an official punishment went out of style centuries ago and it is inhumane to bring it back. They argue that publishing this information in easy to read formats endangers these individuals who have already served their sentences and paid their fines. This registry only serves to punish them more after paying their debt to society. Utah argues, as stated above, that until these criminals pay back all of the restitution owed to victims, these criminals have not yet fulfilled their debt to society.

The dangers of the white crime registry

The problem with such a registry, and many other registries, is that the person listed is labeled for all to see. It doesn’t list the details of the offense, whether it was a onetime mistake, whether there were mitigating circumstances, whether the person repaid the money or other extenuating factors. It doesn’t afford someone the opportunity to explain.

Moreover, such registries may prevent people from reintegrating into the workforce, label them for the future and ultimately lead to the potential for future criminal activities because they are prevented from obtaining legitimate employment and moving forward. These registries, rather than deter crime, can in fact encourage it by forcing the people on them back into criminal behavior. One of the best ways to mitigate repeat offenses is to give people the opportunity to reintegrate into society.

Stahl Criminal Defense Lawyers aggressively defend individuals charged with complex federal and state crimes. Founder Robert G. Stahl is recognized as one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the NY/NJ area for his skills, knowledge and success. To contact us to discuss your case, call908.301.9001 for our NJ office and 212.755.3300 for our NYC office, or email us atrstahl@stahlesq.com.