Special Advisory

Embargoed for Sunday, June 27 (6:30 p.m. Saturday)

FBI Convictions are Minimal for Consumer, Medical, Securities and Commodities Fraud

FBI Now Employs More Agents per Capita Than In Any Previous Period

FBI Enforcement Records Somewhat Improved

Syracuse, N.Y.--June 27--Less than four percent of all 1997 FBI convictions concerned consumer, medical, securities and commodities fraud, according to Justice Department data obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

The relatively small number of such FBI cases should be considered against the general backdrop of America's booming trillion dollar economy and special hot spots like the extensive amounts of fraud thought to infect federally supported medical programs.

For information about how to obtain detailed data on FBI enforcement--for the nation as a whole and in each judicial district--go to

Also in the cellar when it came to FBI convictions, were high-publicity subjects like internal security and terrorism, civil rights violations and corrupt government officials.

A special characteristic of these seven low-frequency FBI enforcement areas is that they concern matters where the bureau is expected to play a prominent role or actually has exclusive jurisdiction.

In contrast to the extreme rarity of successful cases listed in the seven mentioned program categories, fully one half of all the bureau's 1997 convictions involved subjects that in most cases could have been handled by local police--drugs, bank robberies and fraud against banks, frequently by credit card.

While the processing of drug cases and bank robbers often will involve a fraction of the time required for the investigation of a fraudulent medical provider or an international terrorist, the contrast in the comparative conviction numbers is nevertheless striking.

Total 1997 FBI convictions in federal court
Consumer fraud
Medical fraud
Securities fraud
Commodities fraud
Internal security and terrorism
Civil rights
Official corruption
Drugs, bank robbery and fraud against banks, often by credit card

Other new findings:

  The FBI employed more agents per capita in 1997 than at any time in the last five decades, more than at the height of World War Two, the depth of the Cold War or the confused period of anti-war demonstrations and civil rights protests during the Vietnam war. In 1997, there were 11,269 FBI agents or 42.1 per million population. This contrasts with 4,886 agents at the height of World War Two (36.5 per million in 1944), 6,451 agents at the depth of the Cold War (41.2 per million in 1952), and 8,767 agents (41.5 per million) in 1973.

 Analysis of Justice Department data shows that the FBI enforcement record has somewhat improved during the last seven years. From 1992 to 1998, for example, the proportion of FBI referrals prosecuted went from 41 to 49 percent. During the same period, the proportion of those prosecuted who ultimately were convicted also went up from 67 to 76 percent. While the median FBI sentence increased, going from 18 to 25 months, the average sentence was essentially unchanged at 55 months. The increase in median sentences was primarily a reflection of the changing composition of cases, and in particular an increasing shift towards drug prosecutions from other types of crimes.

  From 1993 to 1997, Justice Department prosecutors disposed of 222,504 matters referred to them by the FBI. Surprisingly, only about one quarter of the disposals were the result of a conviction. The obvious question is what happened to the balance. One part of the answer is that assistant U.S. attorneys decided that slightly less than one third of the FBI matters they considered did not warrant prosecution because they were legally insufficient. The bottom line here: more FBI referrals were rejected because they were legally insufficient than were successfully prosecuted. While 1997 figures show an improvement over 1996 in this regard, when compared with other federal investigative agencies the FBI "strike out" record was still not impressive. A relatively large part of IRS referrals, for example, involve complex white collar crimes with defendants who are able to hire competent defense attorneys. Unlike the FBI, however, the IRS had nearly two convictions for each weak evidence declination.

  The median sentences resulting from an FBI conviction are extraordinarily varied. The median FBI sentence in the Southern District of Illinois--East St. Louis--was 72 months. The median sentence in Washington West (Seattle) was one month. Because most cases are settled by a plea and judges are subject to sentencing guidelines, these variation are thought to largely be the product of the kinds of cases being pursued in different districts. But even when the sentences involve a single crime, considerable differences are found depending on where the person was convicted.

TRAC is a non-partisan data gathering, research and data-distribution organization associated with Syracuse University. TRAC has been supported by the University, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the New York Times Company Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and many other organizations. TRAC's embargo on the information about the FBI is intended to give news organizations adequate time to contact responsible government officials for their comments. For detailed information go to

Syracuse: 488 Newhouse II, Syracuse, NY 13244-2100 Tel. (315) 443-3563
Washington, D.C.: Suite 301, 666 Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E., 20003-4319 Tel. (202)544-8722

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