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Responding to Target Letters From the FBI’s Art Crime Team

March 21, 2024

Responding to Target Letters From the FBI’s Art Crime Team

Getting a target letter from the FBI can be scary. It means you’re being investigated for a federal crime. But don’t panic! There are things you can do to protect yourself. This article will explain what target letters are, why the FBI’s Art Crime Team sends them, and how to respond if you get one. We’ll also give some tips from defense lawyers on building your case.

What is a target letter?

A target letter is a letter sent by federal investigators to notify someone that they are the target of an investigation[1]. These letters are often sent out in the early stages of investigations by agencies like the FBI, DEA, IRS, SEC, and others.

The letter usually says something like “you are the target of an investigation” and requests that you cooperate by providing information or testifying[2]. But don’t let it rattle you – being a “target” doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be criminally charged.

Why you might get a target letter from the FBI’s Art Crime Team

The FBI’s Art Crime Team investigates a wide range of art-related crimes, from theft and fraud to vandalism and forgery. If you’ve bought, sold, or own a valuable art object, you could find yourself on their radar.

Some reasons they might send a target letter include:

  • You own art or artifacts that were illegally obtained or smuggled into the country.
  • You tried to sell art you don’t have legal title to.
  • You made false statements about a work of art to buyers or customs officials.
  • You engaged in financial crimes like money laundering or tax evasion involving art.

Often, the FBI doesn’t have enough evidence for prosecution yet. The target letter is meant to scare you into confessing or providing evidence against yourself or others[2].

Should you respond to a target letter?

You don’t have to respond, but in many cases it’s strategic to do so. Consulting a lawyer is highly recommended before responding.

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A well-crafted response could convince the prosecutor to drop the investigation altogether. It also starts a paper trail that could help your defense down the road[3]. At a minimum, you want to avoid making false statements that could land you in more legal hot water.

Tips for responding from defense lawyers

Here are some tips from experienced federal defense attorneys on how to respond to a target letter:

  • Get an experienced white collar criminal defense lawyer. Their relationships and credibility with prosecutors could help resolve things quietly.
  • Ask for an extension of the deadline to respond. This gives you time to prepare with counsel.
  • Craft the letter carefully with your lawyer. Admit no guilt, make no statements about the facts. Keep it short.
  • Offer to cooperate within limits – like providing documents or records relevant to the investigation. This shows you have “nothing to hide.”
  • Politely decline to be interviewed or provide evidence. Interviews are fishing expeditions and can lead to false statements.
  • Reassert your innocence, but don’t speculate about the investigation or accuse the FBI of wrongdoing.
  • If appropriate, note health or personal issues that may have impacted your memory or records.
  • Request that the investigation be dropped for lack of evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Building your case after a target letter

Don’t assume that a target letter means you’ll be indicted or prosecuted. In many cases, no charges are ever filed. But it’s wise to use the time before charges to build your defense in case the investigation continues.

Here are some steps to take:

  • Gather documents, records, receipts, emails, etc. related to the art objects or transactions being investigated.
  • Consult experts who can analyze and authenticate the artworks to prove their origin, ownership history, and value.
  • Identify witnesses like art dealers, collectors, or customs officials who can testify on your behalf.
  • Research the legal standards for crimes like smuggling, provenance fraud, tax evasion, etc. – look for defenses and precedents.
  • Proactively correct any past mistakes, like inaccurate customs declarations or tax filings related to the art.
  • Develop alternative theories for how the artworks were obtained or imported if your actions were questionable.

Having a paper trail and evidence supporting your side of the story can only help if charges are filed down the road.

Don’t panic, stay calm

The prospect of an FBI investigation is scary. But there are plenty of ways to defend yourself – especially if you consult an experienced attorney early. With the right legal advice and preparation, even serious art crime investigations don’t always lead to criminal prosecution.

So take a deep breath, gather your records, and focus on presenting your case in the best possible light. The truth is the FBI only pursues cases they think they can win in court. So give them reasons to doubt their chances, and you could very well avoid joining the small fraction of targets who wind up charged.

Sources:

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