Conspiracy is frequently charged in federal criminal cases. In the simplest terms possible, a conspiracy exists whenever two or more people agree to commit a criminal offense. Since most white collar crimes involve multiple actors, U.S. Attorney’s commonly utilize conspiracy charges when indicting white collar defendants. For example, the federal government has recently indicted individuals and firms in the United Arab Emirates, France, U.S., and Iran for violating and conspiring to violate the Iran embargo and various U.S. export laws and fraud laws. Because the federal conspiracy law does not merge with the underlying offense being conspired, these defendants can serve sentences for both the underlying offenses and the overarching conspiracy charge. This is unlike other inchoates crime like attempt or solicitation, which merge into the underlying offense if the offense is actually completed. However, for many of the defendants in this case the possibility of serving time for a separate conspiracy charge is probably not the worst consequence of being charged with conspiracy.
The defendants in this case are most disadvantaged by the conspiracy charge because the government can now bring together at a single trial all defendants who were allegedly part of the conspiracy, including minor participants and those with little direct evidence against them. In a case as complex and far reaching as this one, a co-conspirator who served as a shipping clerk with little knowledge as to the scope of the conspiracy he was involved in can be tried alongside the sophisticated corporate officer who designed the entire scheme.
Another key disadvantage to defendants implicated in a large conspiracy is the expanded scope of evidence that can be used against them. First, the nature of a conspiracy charge expands the scope of relevant evidence that can be used against the defendants. For example, evidence as to any co-conspirators’ acts in furtherance of the conspiracy may be admissible in the trial that includes all the defendants. Second, co-conspirator statements made during and in furtherance of a conspiracy are admissible under the “co-conspirators exception” to the hearsay rule.
Additionally, a defendant charged with a conspiracy such as this one faces significantly expanded liability. This is because co-conspirators are often vicariously liable for the substantive offenses committed by other co-conspirators. In this case, the shipping clerk who signed forms with the understanding that the parts sent to France would end up in Iran would not only be liable for his own actions, but will also be liable for the actions of every other participant in the conspiracy, including any unlicensed money transfers, other willful evasions of the sanctions, frauds, etc.
The conspiracy also allows the government to bring the case in any district where the conspiratorial agreement was entered into or where any co-conspirator committed any act in furtherance of the conspiracy. This means that the government can choose to bring the case where it is most advantageous to the prosecutors or where it is least convenient for the defendants. In a global case such as this one, the government’s ability to choose from a long list of eligible sites for venue can be powerful.
Lastly, conspiracy also extends the the statute of limitations because the time does not begin to run until all the goals of the conspiracy have been accomplished or abandoned. For example, the statute of limitations for violations of IEEPA or the Iranian Transactions Regulations is five years, but as long as any one co-conspirator commits a single overt act every five years the conspiracy is considered ongoing and every co-conspirator remains indefinitely liable.
The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in Federal Criminal Defense matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or email@example.com.