Bankruptcy Fraud is a Federal Crime
Bankruptcy fraud is a federal felony that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000. Some examples of bankruptcy fraud include concealing assets, intentionally filing false or incomplete forms, and providing false information while under oath. Often bankruptcy fraud is accompanied by other serious offenses like identity theft, mortgage fraud, tax fraud, or money laundering.
Bankruptcy fraud can become very complex and may involve the IRS or FBI. The penalty may involve many years of incarceration when coupled with other criminal charges. Other cases are relatively simple like a recent case in Pennsylvania:
A husband and wife were each sentenced to fifteen days in prison by U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Andrew Smyser in the Middle District of Pennsylvania after finding contempt of court for untruthful conduct in their joint bankruptcy case.
According to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Tammy Beecher and Wyatt Beecher filed a chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in May 2007. The filing stated that the Tammy Beecher had no income and that neither debtor operated a business within the previous six years. In fact, the Beechers owned a family business, "Fun 4 Kids Entertainment." Only after the Beecher’s were presented with a coupon for $5 off any party, and reminded by the chapter 7 trustee they signed the bankruptcy petition under penalty of perjury, did the Beecher’s admit that they owned and operated the business.
Bankruptcy fraud can be reported by ex-spouses, banks, and even your neighbors. The Executive Office of the United States Trustees (EOUST) recently launched an internet site that will allow the public to report suspected instances of bankruptcy fraud to the EOUST at http://www.usdoj.gov/ust/eo/fraud/index.htm.
The moral here is: tell your bankruptcy attorney everything. Your attorney can work with you to protect your assets and avoid criminal charges, but only if you tell all. The information you share with your attorney is shielded by attorney-client privilege, a powerful and time-honored protection. While your attorney cannot counsel or assist you in an illegal act, there are many legal options available in every case. If you are in over your head, speak with an attorney and understand your legal options.