The Problem with Utah’s White Collar Crime Registry

There is a growing trend among contemporary state legislatures to address criminal concerns with the creation of an offender registry. Today, a wide range of crimes, from arson to animal abuse, can land an offender on a registry. In an attempt to counteract the increasing prevalence of fraud in the United States, some states have even enacted a registry for financial crimes.

The Utah White Collar Crime Offender Registry is similar to the sex-offender registry and provides the public with a searchable database of felons who have been convicted of white-collar crime in the past 10 years. The database provides extremely limited instrumental value but has a tremendous impact on the life of the offender. Once listed, registrants will find themselves statutorily blacklisted from their typical vocation, and largely ostracized from the professional community writ large. While criminal registries are flawed mechanisms with no evident value, they continue to proliferate across the United States.

White-Collar Crime Defined

Coined in 1939, the term white-collar crime encompasses a broad range of financial crimes that can be committed by business and government professionals.

White-collar crime includes, but is not limited to:

  • public corruption
  • money laundering
  • corporate fraud
  • securities fraud
  • commodities fraud
  • mortgage fraud
  • financial institution fraud
  • bank fraud
  • embezzlement
  • fraud against the government
  • election law violations
  • mass marketing violations
  • health care fraud

The motivation of white-collar crime is uniformly financial. These crimes are executed to obtain or avoid losing money, property, or some financial advantage. These kinds of crimes do not depend on the use or threat of physical violence; instead, the crimes are realized through deceitful measures. And while white-collar crime is not violent, these crimes are not victimless. Scams destroy businesses and devastate families.

Due to the financial impact on society, as well as the increasing prevalence and sophistication of modern white-collar crime in the United States, law enforcement agencies and legislatures have responded with heavy-handed countermeasures.

The Utah White Collar Crime Registry

In February 2016, Utah became the first state to enact a criminal registry for white-collar offenders. The registry includes photos of those convicted of serious white-collar felonies within the past 10 years. The database is designed to be user-friendly, and easily accessible to the public. Additionally, those listed on the registry must report any change in address within 30 days and can be charged with failure to register if they do not comply.

The registry emerged in Utah due to the unique idiosyncrasies of the state. Namely: Utah has a large population of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that sense of shared identity has facilitated what has been termed “affinity fraud.” Affinity fraud is when a trickster utilizes a shared sense of identity among a community in order to disarm apprehensions and facilitate financial fraud. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes estimated that losses from affinity fraud in Utah add up to hundreds of millions annually. In 2010, fraud in Utah accounted for more than $1billion in financial losses. And in 2015, an insurance agent belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was charged with organizing a Ponzi scheme that defrauded 700 people out of $72million. That year, the FBI listed Salt Lake City among the top five “Ponzi hotspots” in the nation.

Utah legislature generated the registry in hopes of curbing this trend of rampant fraud in the state. However, the registry is a reactionary measure that does not address the underlying issue. While the Utah legislature is perhaps correct in that something must be done to curb this widespread trend of fraud, the registry will not alleviate the preexisting vulnerabilities that facilitated the fraudulent activity in the first place. The registry is a mechanism of shame that will ostracize the offender while leaving the underlying culture of naïve trust unmodified. But truly, only time will tell whether the registry is an effective tool at curbing financial crime.

Impact of Criminal Registry

The Utah White-Collar Crime Offender Registry blacklists registrants from working in any financial institutions and assigns a general stigma of distrust. Those listed on the registry must follow certain reporting requirements, and disclose their criminal background to employers. Unsurprisingly, these institutional methods of enhancing social shame have been shown to have seriously negative impacts on the registrant’s reintegration with society. Studies on the effects of broad notification policies on the recidivism of convicted sex offenders showed that the registry exponentially enhances the likelihood of recidivism, and drastically impedes reintegrating an offender into normative society. Data from a sample of 6,064 male offenders convicted of at least one sex crime between 1990 and 2004 showed that (8%) of offenders had new sex crime charges and 299 (5%) offenders had new sex crime convictions. These results cast doubt on the effectiveness of broad registry policies in preventing repeat sexual assault. The data shows that a third of the charges that precipitated from the registry were unsubstantiated, and the registry failed to prevent harm in the remaining instances.

The impact and efficacy of criminal registries have been studied ad nauseam over the past 25 years. The evidence conclusively suggests that criminal registries to not prevent recidivism, and may actually increase the likelihood of reoffending. However, researchers interested in public policy have noted that laws may have a symbolic as well as an instrumental function. And while criminal registries demonstrably fail to achieve their desired instrumental end-state, states continue to reinforce preexisting registry schemes and even generate new modes of criminal registry in order to reinforce the symbolic function of the criminal registry.

Getting Off the Registry

Call Wasatch Defense Lawyers at 801.980.9965. Being on the Criminal Registry is a terrible burden, and there are ways to get a registrant off the list. An offender’s name can be vacated from the registry by 1) passage of time, 2) court order, or 3) by petition.

Do not allow your life to be ruined by an arbitrary ineffective mechanism! At Wasatch Defense Lawyers, we have an experienced team that knows how to navigate the intricacies of post-conviction relief and achieve the best possible outcome.

Craig R. Chlarson

Everyone deserves aggressive, experienced legal representation.  Your solution begins with Wasatch Defense Lawyers.
Craig R. Chlarson

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