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Does the FBI send federal target letters?

Did you receive a federal target letter? Speak to our attorneys today. 

Let’s Talk About FBI Federal Target Letters

The term: Target Letter; you probably have heard the term “target letter” in movies or the news, but what does it mean? Target letters are notices sent by investigators and agencies, such as the FBI, to people during investigations. If you get a target letter, this means you are under scrutiny and being watched – in an ongoing federal probe. It’s a serious issue. In almost all situations, you will want to hire a federal defense attorney who can represent you in the target letter. The goal of this article is to discuss FBI target letters, what FBI target letters mean, legal considerations when you get one, and guidance on responding to FBI target letters.

What is a FBI Target Letter?

FBI target letters are an official notice from the DOJ or FBI letting you know that you are under investigation for committing a federal offense. You have not been convicted; but you are under investigation, in a serious manner. This letter is most commonly sent in the following situations:

  • White collar crime investigations – e.g. fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion
  • Public corruption probes – e.g. bribery, extortion, RICO charges
  • National security matters – e.g. terrorism, espionage
  • Drug trafficking and organized crime cases

You can receive a FBI target letter if the FBI wants you to cooperate as an informant, testify before in front of a grand jury, or confess to criminal activity. It all depends on the situation you’re in. The FBI target letter is indicative of the fact that investigators have substantial evidence implicating you in a federal crime.

What Are Key Components of an FBI Federal Target Letter

Target letters have certain common features that communicate who they are from, and their purpose:

  • Sent on DOJ/FBI letterhead
  • Addressed directly to you, the target of the investigation
  • Notify you that you are the subject of an ongoing federal probe
  • Overview of potential charges being considered
  • Request for a response within a certain timeframe
  • Contact information for investigators

The FBI target letter is looking to entice targets to cooperate with prosecutors via promises of leniency. But you should be aware that any statements you give may be used against you.

How Does the FBI Decide Who Gets Federal Target Letters?

Receiving a FBI target letter is indicative of the fact that investigators have identified you as a key suspect or “target” in an active case. This targeting decision is based on:

  • Evidence the agency got through search warrants, surveillance, or subpoenas
  • Testimony the agency got from witnesses or informants identifying you in criminal activity
  • Communications the agency intercepted through wiretaps suggesting your involvement
  • Financial records, documents, or digital evidence tying you to a federal offense

You will get a target letter letter if the FBI has cause that you committed, or have assisted, with crimes under investigation. Higher level suspects get letters first in hopes they will provide evidence against additional co-conspirators.

What Legal Rights Do FBI Target Letter Recipients Have?

Targets of federal probes have certain legal rights:

  • Right to an attorney – You have the right, in the USA, to an experienced criminal defense counsel immediately to engage with prosecutors on your behalf. Do not forgo this right.
  • Right against self-incrimination – You are allowed to invoke the 5th Amendment in order to remain silent, rather than confess your guilt or testify before a grand jury.
  • Right to privacy – You have the right to keep the the FBI target letter confidential rather than revealing it to anyone.

The most important thing you can do, at this junction, is to promptly retain a federal criminal defense lawyer to protect your interests. Federal criminal defense attorneys can negotiate with prosecutors, seek information, assert your rights, and undermine the government’s case – but only if you hire one in a timely manner.

Responding Cautiously

Here are some tips if you get a FBI target letter:

  • You must contact your attorney immediately and have them handle the response.
  • You should not disclose receipt of the letter to anyone other than your lawyer.
  • Follow your lawyer’s advice about whether to meet with investigators, testify, or provide statements.
  • Understand that any statements you make, even denying guilt, can aid prosecutors.
  • Be aware you likely are under surveillance, so avoid actions that could inflame suspicions.
  • Preserve all communications, documents, and evidence relating to the allegations.

Respond carefully and strategically based on counsel’s guidance to avoid accidentally enabling the government’s case against you as the investigation unfolds.

Next Steps After Getting a Target Letter

Receiving FBI target letter means your freedom and reputation are on the line in a high-stakes federal probe. Here are important next steps:

  1. Contact a defense lawyer – An experienced federal criminal attorney is critical to defend your rights.
  2. Assess the allegations – Work with counsel to examine the potential charges and evidence against you.
  3. Weigh proffers and cooperation – Decide on your lawyer’s advice whether to cooperate as a witness or remain silent.
  4. Begin building your defense – Your lawyer can start contesting allegations, undermining witness credibility, and developing counter evidence.
  5. Expect follow-up requests – Prosecutors will likely subpoena you before a grand jury and/or propose a plea bargain to elicit your cooperation. Work through your lawyer to strategically respond.
  6. Determine trial viability – Gauge the amount and strength of evidence and determine if fighting charges at trial is a viable strategy or if a plea is advisable.

The intensive phase happens after you receive a target letter. Do not go it alone. An experienced federal criminal defense attorney can help you and give you guidance and represent you in order to make sure the justice system doesn’t unfairly prosecute you. 

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