Lying to a federal agent (need answer fast)

I’m curious about this charge; IIRC this is what they got Martha Stewart for when they couldn’t pin insider trading on her, kind of like tax evasion and Capone. If that’s a fair characterization, do the feds usually hold this in reserve as a catchall? Is there a generic name for this practices (i.e., Stewart:lying, Capone:taxes)? How big of a catchall is it–could they have nabbed Stewart for telling a fib for a common white lie, like her age? If she makes a statement through her attorney (“Ms. Stewart denies talking with XXXX on the phone that day”) is it likewise a lie, or does having a lawyer give her cover?

(Just curious, BTW. As for “need answer fast”: made ya look! :stuck_out_tongue: )

Well, I know that very few non-criminals go to prison just for the crime of Tax evasion. You’d have to be the leader of some sort of Tax Protestor movement or something.

But, they will prosecute normal not-otherwise-criminals for tax evasion, just that if you plead out,agree to file and pay, they will almost always take “hard time” off the table. Of course there will be some “time served”, probation and a suspended sentence. Not to mention a killer tax bill.

The criminal law in question is 18 U.S.C. 1001, and the government does regularly prosecute people for violating it.

For your “need it fast” :slight_smile: answer, here’s an article on How to Avoid Going to Jail under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 for Lying to Federal Agents. In short, never, ever lie to a federal agent, and telling them that you don’t know anything when you do is a lie that they can go after you on. If confronted, either answer truthfully or politely decline to answer.

Holy crud, that article makes me nervous to blow my nose in a post office.

the worst part in my mind is that you don’t need to know that it is a lie. If you say you had lunch on Tuesday six months ago, the Feds produce a credit card slip showing it was Weds, and claim that that information delayed their investigation of a crime even if you are not part of that investigation, you are in big trouble. Regrettably, it is not safe to talk to a federal agent (and as I understand it, that ranges from the friendly park ranger to the FBI counter-terrorism squad). I don’t know how those folks can do their job any more.

On a more personal note, does anyone know if the contract investigators the Gov’t uses so much these days are considered Federal agents for the purpose of this law? They aren’t federal employees, but they carry badges and file reports just like the real thing.

The relevant question isn’t whether they are “federal agents” or not. The scope of the statute is limited to " any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States." The purpose of the law is to cover all statements made to the government about government affairs. The medium, whether a contract employee or a piece of paper you mail in, doesn’t so much matter. Indeed, it applies even if the statement was not made to the agency itself, if inevitably agency had been deceived.

As you might imagine, the law has been challenged on multiple occasions for vagueness and ambiguity, but has been upheld each time.

I realize that now.
I was surprised to see that if someone else files paperwork generated by me I am criminally liable if that paperwork is ever shown to be false. Since I work for a company that does federal contracts I am liable if anything I ever generate turns out to be false or misleading.

An amazing situation. And I thought losing your laptop at the border was extreme.


My Bro was a IRS Agent and dudes lied to him on a daily basis, and there was never even a thought about arresting them for said lies. That being said, “presenting false or altered documents” was the backbone of a few Civil Fraud cases he did.

If you do have to lie, don’t put it on paper! :stuck_out_tongue: YMMV, IANAL.

Martha Steward wasn’t convicted of anything she said on paper. It was oral testimony to the agents.

That said, DrDeth brings up a good point. If you make some statement to the Gov’t that can subsequently be shown to be false, you are at risk. It now comes down to you convincing the court that you didn’t knowingly and willfully lie. So instead of the prosecutor having to show you are guilty you have to show you are innocent. Much harder. Now the point. Many cases of famous and not so famous people go to court on a variety of crimes and this statute is never used. Why not? This law gives the prosecutors the power to put almost anyone in jail. I can understand that they don’t want to put everyone in jail-the public backlash might undermine their jobs-but there are many people who no one would miss that don’t get charged under this law. Apparently I am missing something. I wish Bricker would stop by, he has demonstrated a conservative and reasoned knowledge of legal matters. This law is so powerful, why isn’t it used all the time?

IANAL but I’m pretty sure this is not correct. It is always the prosecution’s burden to prove that a crime has been committed. They must present a case that you knowingly and willfully presented falsehoods. The burden is not on you to show that it was unknowing or unwillful, until they have presented a case that it was knowing and willful.

In other words, while you’re saying the following would happen:

Prosecution: The defendant said X, and X was false.
Judge: Well, defendant, looks like you’re guilty, unless you can prove it wasn’t willful or knowing.
Defendant: I swear I had no idea, your honor.
Judge: Not good enough. GUILTY!

When what I am saying would actually happen is:

Prosecution: The defendant said X, and X was false.
Judge: So?
Prosecution: So the defendant is guilty of (the crime we’re discussing in this thread.)
Judge: Not only have you not presented a case to that effect, you haven’t even tried. To try to present such a case, you would have to argue that the defendant knowingly and willingly did so. Case dismissed.


I hope you are correct!