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Anyone who reads the newspapers or listens to our public officials knows two things about white-collar crime: First, white-collar criminals are just like street criminals. They may wear nicer suits and commit their crimes in boardrooms instead of alleyways, but their motivation is the same: greed. And second, white-collar offenders are highly rational. The way to deter their conduct is to ensure that the risks and consequences of being caught outweigh the rewards. As former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in 2012, white-collar criminals “are highly skilled at cost-benefit analysis” and “weigh the risk of getting caught against the potential reward, and they decide it’s worth the risk.” Stewart, James. “In a New Era of Insider Trading, It’s Risk vs. Reward Squared.” New York Times, Dec. 7, 2012.

Our criminal justice system continues to evolve around those received truths. In response to every financial crisis—from the S&L scandal of the late 1980s, to Enron and accounting fraud cases of the early 2000s, to the financial crisis of 2008-09—Congress has enacted ever stricter laws to combat and punish white-collar criminals, and federal and state law enforcement agencies have poured ever more resources into investigating and prosecuting white-collar crime. And investigative techniques once reserved for organized crime and drug cartels, such as wiretaps, undercover agents, and informants, have in recent years been used to great effect against white-collar criminals.

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