S E C T I O N
Understanding White-Collar Crime
Definitions, Extent, and Consequences
S ecti on Hi g h l i g h ts
•• •• •• •• •• •• White-Collar Crime: An Evolving Concept Modern Conceptualizations of White-Collar Crime Extent of White-Collar Crime Consequences of White-Collar Crime Public Attitudes About White-Collar Crime Characteristics of White-Collar Offenders
s noted in the introduction, Edwin Sutherland created the concept of white-collar crime more than 70 years ago to draw attention to the fact that crimes are committed by individuals in all social classes. As will be seen in this section, one of the largest difficulties in understanding white-collar crime has centered on an ongoing debate about how to define white-collar crime. After discussing various ways that white-collar crime can be defined, attention will be given to the extent of white-collar crime, the consequences of this illicit behavior, public attitudes about white-collar crime, and patterns describing the characteristics of white-collar offenders.
Understanding White-Collar Crime
As a backdrop to this discussion, consider the following recent white-collar crimes described in the media: •• A jury convicted [then-Baltimore mayor Sheila] Dixon . . . of embezzling about $500 worth of gift cards donated to the city for needy families. Dixon then pleaded guilty last month to lying about thousands of dollars in gifts from her former boyfriend, a prominent developer. (Nuckols, 2010) •• The money manager and technology investor convicted of stealing some $22 million from clients and using his gains to support charitable causes in Colorado and elsewhere was sentenced in New York Friday to nine years in federal prison. (Harden, 2010) •• The secretary of a St. Peters business has been indicted in connection with the embezzlement of $573,388 from her employer. (“Secretary Charged With Embezzling,” 2010) •• A former Redondo Beach police officer accused of taking more than $75,000 from a law enforcement officers’ association pleaded guilty . . . to one count of grand theft by embezzlement, authorities said. (Lopez, 2010) •• An employee at Goldman Sachs from May 2007 to June 2009 was arrested in July of 2009 and charged with illegally transferring and downloading hundreds of thousands of lines of source code for Goldman’s high-frequency trading system on his last day at the firm. (Heires, 2010) In reviewing these cases, five questions come to mind. First, are each of these cases white-collar crimes? Second, how often do these kinds of crimes occur? Third, what are the consequences of these crimes? Fourth, how serious do you think these crimes are? Finally, who are the offenders in these cases? While the questions are simple in nature, as will be shown in this section, the answers to these questions are not necessarily quite so simple.
White-Collar Crime: An Evolving Concept
While Edwin Sutherland is the pioneer of the study of white-collar crime, the development of the field, and the introduction of the concept of white-collar crime, did not occur in a vacuum. Indeed, prior academic work and societal changes influenced Sutherland’s scholarship, and his scholarship, in turn, has had an enormous influence on criminology and criminal justice. Tracing the source of the concept of white-collar crime and describing its subsequent variations helps to demonstrate the importance of conceptualizing various forms of white-collar misconduct. Sutherland was not the first social scientist to write about crimes by those in the upper class. In his 1934 Criminology text, Sutherland used the term “white-collar criminaloid,” in reference to the “criminaloid concept” initially used by E. A. Ross (1907) in Sin and Society. Focusing on businessmen who engaged in harmful acts under the mask of respectability, Ross further wrote that the criminaloid is “society’s most dangerous foe, more redoubtable by far than the plain...
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1. How is occupational crime different from occupational deviance? 2. What policy implications arise from the way that white-collar crime is defined? 3. Is workplace violence a form of white-collar crime? Explain.
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