Sunday, June 13, 2010

How Corporate Email Can Put You in a Federal Prison

As you know, I am a former federal prosecutor for over twenty years, (and currently, a Georgia criminal defense lawyer). This blog is generally about fraud and white collar crime. I also throw in a few "war stories" from the courtroom from time to time! This blog is not about how to avoid criminal liability! (And, of course, if you are currently the target of a federal grand jury investigation, you should consult with your own attorney about your own situation!) However, the current investigation by examiners of millions of emails at Lehman Brothers--who are attempting to determine who knew what and when, and who drove the large securities firm into bankruptcy--should provide some important lessons on how to avoid letting your email send you to federal prison!
For example, if you work for a corporation, it is critical that you never get careless or take email for granted. In other words, always remember that email lasts forever! It can be forwarded, printed out, and even retrieved after you press "delete." And it can come back to haunt you, months later, during a federal criminal investigation. In other words, always be circumspect: never say stupid things in email, such as joking about liability, or admitting fault, (especially when you really aren't at fault), unless you are willing to accept the consequences. Also, if you have warned your bosses about your concern about the legality of the company's course of action, you might want to document it in an email, and then print it out and save a copy.
In short, as the current Lehman Brothers investigation illustrates, email can be your best friend, or your worst enemy!

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