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Why some executives risk it all in white-collar crimes

Why do some executives work for years to get to the pinnacle of their chosen professions and then blow it all with one foolish criminal act that ruins their careers, their reputation and their lives?

Is it just greed and blind ambition that leads to things like fraud and embezzlement?

At least one expert doesn't think so. Instead, based on interviews with almost 50 convicted white-collar criminals from various industries, the researcher was led to a different conclusion: A lot of the criminal action is driven by the pressure to meet the expectations of others. Morality, suggested at least one convicted white-collar criminal, can't compete with the cultural pressure in the corporate world to make the right numbers happen on the budget sheets.

In fact, some of the people who get caught doing the wrong thing were convinced that they were doing their crimes for all the right reasons -- like trying to keep the company afloat and sustain the jobs of everyone underneath them.

Many white-collar criminals aren't even able to really explain how they got to the place where they were willing to act criminally -- their actions were often impulsive, and subsequent actions derived from a need to cover up their original crime or maintain the illusions of success that they'd created -- leading to a desperate cycle. For example, an executive who made a call to his daughter to tell her to dump her stock realized that he was doing something wrong -- since insider trading is always illegal -- but he wasn't thinking about the potential consequences of his actions. Instead, he was thinking about his daughter's needs and responding in a very human manner.

That's far from how prosecutors generally present the corporate criminal. Prosecutors usually portray the executive who crosses the line and gets caught as morally bankrupt, calculating in his or her misdeeds and willing to sacrifice anybody and everybody for money or ambition.

A defense attorney who specializes in white collar crimes can often help a jury or judge understand the mitigating factors that surround someone's actions when they violate the rules -- especially if the action is something that wasn't part of a long-term pattern of behavior. That understanding or sympathy can often translate into a reduced sentence. If you find yourself in over your head and under investigation, talk to an attorney today.

Source:, "The Psychology of White-Collar Criminals," Eugene Soltes, accessed Aug. 01, 2017

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