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No business owner wants to be the target of a federal investigation, but the way you react to such a situation can spell the difference between a swift outcome and a full-blown crisis.

A few tips that may help you navigate such a high-stakes event include:

  • Talk to the government’s lawyer (but not personally): You need to find out what this investigation is about, how your company is involved and the potential consequences you face. You can obtain valuable information by talking with the attorney representing the agency that is investigating you, but do not do this yourself. It is too easy to make mistakes when talking to investigators and to say things that will weaken your position. This type of communication is best handled by legal counsel with experience interfacing with federal agencies.
  • Learn if there is potential criminal liability: A civil dispute with the government is one thing, but a criminal element will change the entire shape of your response. The agency investigating you may be telling in this respect. Certain government agencies do not typically initiate criminal investigations while others, like the Department of Justice (DOJ) and The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), are more prone to do so. If there is a criminal element, you will want to hire an attorney who is experienced in both civil litigation and white collar crime defense.
  • Maintain documentation: You don’t want to have to explain to federal investigators why requested documents are missing or have been destroyed. As soon as you know you are under investigation, put a document hold in place and suspend the destruction of documents. Once you have a better grasp of the scope of the investigation, you can fine-tune your strategy and allow normal processes to resume in certain departments.

Before making any important decisions, talk to an attorney who has experience responding to investigations by the SEC, DOJ and other federal agencies. The decisions you make at the very outset of this matter will prove pivotal in its eventual conclusion.