The Restitution Process (Fraud and/or Financial crimes)
In federal court, a convicted offender may be ordered to reimburse victims for financial losses incurred due to the offender's crime. This reimbursement is called "restitution," and it may be ordered for lost income, property damage, counseling, medical expenses, funeral costs or other financial costs directly related to the crime. Some financial losses are not eligible for restitution, such as state or federal taxes, interest, penalties or fines; expenses for private legal representation relating to personal or business legal issues raised by the crime; fees for tax advisors, accountants, or other professionals; and legal expenses for the civil recovery of financial losses. Losses for "pain & suffering" are also not eligible for restitution.
To determine the amount of restitution to be ordered, the U.S. Probation Office gathers financial loss information from the investigative agent(s), the AUSA/Trial Attorney and victims prior to sentencing. Often this information is obtained by having the victims complete a "Victim Impact Statement." If you would like to complete a victim impact statement, please contact the Criminal Division’s applicable Victim-Witness Liaison.
A court may also decline to order restitution if it finds that determining restitution in a case is too complex.
At sentencing, the judge then enters an "Order for Restitution," directing the offender to reimburse victims for some or all of the offense-related financial losses. Compliance with the Order of Restitution automatically becomes a condition of the offender's probation or supervised release. However, even before the offender is released from prison, he or she is encouraged to begin repaying restitution by participating in the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program. Through this program, a percentage of the inmate's prison wages is applied to his or her restitution obligations.
Even if restitution is ordered, how likely is it I will receive any money?
The Financial Litigation Unit (FLU) is charged with enforcing orders of restitution, and monitors efforts in enforcing a Judgment if defendant assets or income are identified. FLU will pursue various means to enforce restitution, as its resources permit, on behalf of identified victims for 20 years from the filing date of the Judgment, plus the time period of actual incarceration, or until death of the defendant. In addition, while a defendant is under the supervision of a probation officer, that probation officer will also monitor and ensure appropriate restitution is paid, where possible.
Realistically, however, the chance of full recovery is very low. Many defendants will not have sufficient assets to repay their victims. Many defendants owe very large amounts of restitution to a large number of victims. In federal cases, restitution in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars is not unusual. While defendants may make partial payments toward the full restitution owed, it is rare that defendants are able to fully pay the entire restitution amount owed. If and when the defendant pays, you most likely will receive a number of small payments over a long period of time.
How is restitution processed?
Restitution payments received by the United States will be processed and disbursed to you (and any other restitution victims) by the Clerk of the applicable United States District Court. The Clerk's Office disburses money to victims as it receives payments from the defendant. Unless the Court has ordered otherwise, payments to victims are disbursed on a pro rata basis, meaning each payment will be divided among the victims in proportion to their losses.
How is restitution enforced?
The Court's restitution order on your behalf also acts as a lien in favor of the United States against all property owned by the defendant. The Criminal Division will cause judgment lien notices to be recorded in all counties where we are aware the defendant owns or may own property. The United States is allowed to enforce restitution orders on behalf of the restitution victims. So, if you have knowledge of the defendant's assets or sources of income, you should provide that information to this office to assist our collection efforts on your behalf.
You are entitled to request from the Clerk's office a document called an Abstract of Judgment. When properly recorded pursuant to state law (such as in a County Clerk's Office in a county where the defendant owns property), the Abstract of Judgment can give you a lien in your own name against the defendant's property. You will then have similar legal rights as any other civil judgment lien creditor, and this means you can collect the money from the defendant yourself. You must bear the cost of recording the Abstract of Judgment. If you request an Abstract of Judgment from the Clerk's Office by mail, you must include a self-addressed and stamped envelope.
Enforcement of the restitution order will be limited by the defendant's economic circumstances. If you have any information that will assist our efforts to collect your restitution, please contact us. Information about a defendant's assets, income and employment can be very helpful in collecting money from an unwilling defendant.
How long can a restitution order be enforced?
A restitution order is enforceable for twenty (20) years.
Where will I be receiving the restitution?
Your contact information will already be in the Victim Notification System (VNS). If restitution has been ordered to you, it is your responsibility to update VNS with any change in contact information to include address, telephone number, name, or email address. You can make updates by calling 1-866-365-4968 or going to, http://www.notify.usdoj.gov/.
In addition, it is your responsibility to make sure the Clerk's Office always has your correct mailing address. Business and corporate restitution victims must ensure the Clerk's Office has the current mailing address, telephone number, tax identification number, the relevant claim or account number, and a contact person. If the Clerk's Office does not have your correct mailing address, your share of payments from the defendant may be sent to other restitution victims.
Is there anything else I should be aware of regarding restitution?
The Criminal Division will do it’s best to enforce the restitution imposed by the Judgment in a Criminal Case (JCC) as attorneys for the United States of America. While this enforcement benefits you as a victim of a crime, neither the Criminal Division nor the Department of Justice, nor any employee thereof, is your attorney. The Criminal Division will not seek your consent to any action it may undertake to pursue enforcement of the restitution order.
We strongly encourage you to discuss the Court's restitution order and all enforcement mechanisms with your own attorney. If the restitution order does not cover all of your losses or if the restitution order is not due and payable in full immediately, or if the laws of your state provide you an effective means by which to enforce collection of the restitution civilly, your attorney can help you understand your options and if necessary, formulate a plan for civil enforcement that will complement the government's efforts. If you enforce a restitution order on your own behalf and collect money from the defendant, you must provide that information to this office and to the Clerk's office.