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Anti-shredding law used against man in case of missing fish

Louisiana residents may know the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was passed into law in 2002 after the scandals involving falsified accounting at Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc. Among other things, the law was designed to stamp out wrongful corporate practices by prohibiting the destruction of certain kinds of records. This so-called anti-shredding law opened the door to new kinds of prosecutions for white collar crimes.

In a case now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, federal prosecutors are accused of taking the anti-shredding law way beyond its intended purpose.

The case involves a fisherman who was convicted on several charges, including violation of the anti-shredding law, after officials said he ordered employees to destroy evidence during an investigation. The twist in this case is that the evidence in question wasn't made up of accounting spreadsheets or e-mails. It was made up of fish.

Prosecutors said that officials measured red grouper on the man's boat at sea and found that 72 of them were under the 20-inch size limit set by state and federal regulations. However, once the boat had returned to shore, at least some of the undersized fish were found missing. Prosecutors accuse the boat owner of ordering his employees to destroy the fish so that they couldn't be used as evidence against him, in violation of the anti-shredding law.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has supported the fisherman's defense, arguing that the man's case is an example of government overreach. The group says that federal prosecutors are increasingly pressing federal criminal charges when a civil fine or prosecution under state law would be more appropriate.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in its next term, which begins this fall.

White collar crime laws typically apply in cases involving allegations of insider trading, fraud and embezzlement. Whatever the allegations, these cases can be very damaging to the professional reputation of the accused. It's important for those accused of these crimes to have the help of a Louisiana attorney with experience defending people against federal charges in these complex cases.

Source: Reuters.com, "Top U.S. court to hear white-collar case of fish thrown overboard," Lawrence Hurley, April 28, 2014

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