If federal authorities contact you in relation to a criminal investigation, the first thing you must do is contact a criminal defense attorney. Do not attempt to determine by yourself if the federal government is contacting you as a potential witness or as a suspect. Most importantly, do not talk to the federal government without first having spoken to a criminal defense attorney. Do not attempt to determine on your own what statements you can safely make to the federal authorities. Federal agents are experts at trapping individuals and then charging someone with a crime, such as for example, with lying to federal agents. Consider Martha Stewart, who a jury convicted for making false statements to federal investigators. Although she was not guilty of any direct criminal conduct, she still spent time in prison. If the federal authorities will do this to Martha Stewart, imagine what they will do to you!
A federal criminal defense lawyer can help you assess the nature and purpose of the investigation, and why federal authorities are approaching you. While you should expect your criminal defense attorney to instruct you to provide honest answers to any questions from the federal authorities, your criminal defense attorney may be able to guide you around any potential traps or pitfalls.
When appropriate, a federal criminal defense lawyer can be present during any questioning, act as an intermediary between you and the investigating authorities, or advise you to exercise your Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. If appropriate, a federal criminal defense lawyer may be able to work out a deal where you will cooperate with the investigation, in return for more favorable treatment when the investigation is over. In appropriate cases your lawyer may also be able to secure a letter of declination, in which the U.S. Attorney formally declines to prosecute you in relation to a particular offense or investigation.