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Strategies for Responding to Target Letters in Complex Financial Crime Cases

Strategies for Responding to Target Letters in Complex Financial Crime Cases

Receiving a target letter from the government can be an intimidating and stressful experience. These letters indicate that you are under investigation for potential criminal violations. In complex financial crime cases involving allegations like securities fraud, accounting fraud, insider trading, or money laundering, the stakes are especially high. Penalties can involve massive fines, restitution, forfeitures, bans from working in your industry, or even prison time. So it’s crucial to respond carefully to avoid making costly mistakes.

The most important first step is: Do NOT panic. Take a deep breath. A target letter does not mean you will be criminally charged. It means you are a “target” of an investigation. There is still opportunity to avoid indictment if you proceed cautiously. Here are some key strategies for responding prudently:

1. Retain Experienced White Collar Defense Counsel

Your first call should be to an experienced white collar criminal defense attorney, preferably one who specializes in the type of financial crime you are alleged to have committed. Do not delay. The earlier counsel is retained, the more effectively they can protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. As one source notes:

Below are tips on how to respond after receiving a target letter: Retain the legal services of an experienced federal defense attorney. Before responding to the letter, speaking to investigators, or providing any information, you should have qualified legal counsel advising you. [4]

A knowledgeable attorney will guide you through the process, advise you on interacting with investigators, and work to achieve the best possible outcome given the circumstances.

2. Do Not Speak to Investigators Without Your Attorney Present

You may feel pressure to cooperate and provide information to investigators, or even sit for an interview, after receiving a target letter. But this urge should be resisted. Anything you say can potentially be used against you, even if you believe you have done nothing wrong. As one law firm cautions:

Politely decline interviews or information requests from investigators without counsel present. Anything you say may be used against you. Let your attorney handle all communications. [2]

Your attorney can interact with investigators on your behalf and determine if any interview or cooperation would be in your best interest.

3. Gather and Preserve Documents

Work with your attorney to gather and preserve relevant documents, emails, texts, financial records, and other evidence. This will help assess the scope of the investigation, identify possible defenses, and avoid any allegations of destroying evidence.

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Be sure to follow your attorney’s instructions about properly gathering this information to avoid accusations of obstruction of justice. Never destroy or delete any documents without explicit approval once you have received a target letter.

4. Conduct Internal Investigation

In complex financial crime cases, targets are often companies or entities rather than individuals. If the target is your business, work with counsel to conduct an internal investigation. Review practices, transactions, communications, and records to uncover any potential wrongdoing.

Self-disclosure of any misconduct uncovered can sometimes lead to reduced charges or penalties from prosecutors. But be careful not to create misleading or false records in the process.

5. Explore Early Resolution

In some cases, it may be in your best interest to explore early resolution with prosecutors before any formal charges are filed. This involves voluntary cooperation, admission of wrongdoing, and negotiation of penalties. As one law firm explains:

An experienced lawyer may be able to help you avoid the actual filing of criminal charges through negotiation with federal prosecutors, through counseling on whether to cooperate with the government’s investigation, and through the presentation of exculpatory evidence. [3]

Your attorney can advise you on whether it makes sense to pursue this option in your specific case.

6. Prepare Your Defense Strategy

Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Work closely with your attorney to prepare your defense strategy in case charges are ultimately filed. Gather exculpatory evidence, line up expert witnesses, and build legal arguments to undermine the prosecution’s case.

Look for technicalities, procedural issues, or other opportunities to get charges dismissed before trial. Also assess the strength of the government’s evidence and potential sentencing exposure to make informed decisions.

7. Follow Your Attorney’s Advice

This process can be extremely unnerving. But listen closely to your experienced attorney, follow their advice, and do not discuss your case with anyone except your lawyer. As one firm emphasizes:

Follow Your Attorney’s Advice on Not Discussing Your Case Even if the target letter encourages you to contact the prosecutor to discuss matters informally, you should not do so without consulting your attorney. Anything you say to the government can be used against you. [5]

Trust your counsel to handle all aspects of responding to the target letter and investigation strategically.

8. Stay Calm and Patient

The waiting game after receiving a target letter can be agonizing. But stay calm and patient, knowing your attorney is working diligently on your behalf. Do not panic or overreact in ways that could worsen your situation.

Take comfort in knowing many investigations conclude without charges being filed. With proper legal guidance, there is a strong chance of achieving a favorable outcome.

9. Be Cautious on Social Media

Avoid posting anything about your case on social media platforms or discussing it online. Remember investigators may be monitoring your digital footprint. Do not write or say anything that could be taken out of context.

Maintain your innocence publicly but do not provide details or speculate. Refer any media inquiries to your attorney to avoid accidental admissions.

10. Take Care of Yourself

This process inflicts immense mental stress. So take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Eat healthy foods, exercise, get plenty of rest, and lean on your support system. Consider speaking to a therapist if you are struggling with anxiety or depression.

Stay positive and focus on tasks within your control. With patience and the right legal strategy, the storm will eventually pass.


Receiving a target letter signals serious legal jeopardy. But all is not lost. With prompt retention of experienced counsel, disciplined silence, careful preparation, and strategic decision-making, many positive outcomes are possible. Avoid rash words or actions. Follow your attorney’s advice at every turn. And take care of your mental health as this stressful process unfolds.

While the government may initially view you as a “target,” smart navigation of the investigative process can lead to fair and just results in these complex financial crime cases.


[1] https://www.federallawyers.com/criminal-defense/strategies-for-responding-to-target-letters-from-the-cftc/

[2] https://www.federallawyers.com/criminal-defense/strategies-for-responding-to-target-letters-from-the-dea-tactical-diversion-squad/

[3] https://www.robertslawteam.com/articles/what-should-i-do-if-i-received-a-target-letter/

[4] https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/i-received-a-target-letter-now-what-5628286/

[5] https://haaslawpllc.com/2019/11/13/what-to-do-when-you-receive-a-target-letter-from-the-federal-government/

[6] https://www.burnhamgorokhov.com/target-letters-what-to-do-if-you-receive-one/

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