Federal Target Letters

June 19, 2017By Brian Manchester

So you open your mail and you see a letter from a U.S. Attorney or other Federal Agency and you open it up and it says you are either a potential witness to a federal crime or a target of a federal criminal investigation in Pennsylvania or any other state. You are likely asking yourself the following questions:

  1. I received a Target Letters From The Federal Authorities what do I do now?
  2. What does a Federal Target Letter mean?
  3. Do I need a Criminal Defense Lawyer because I received a Federal Target Letter?
  4. Am I definitely going to be charged with a federal crime after receiving this Federal Target Letter?

First off what is a “Target”

In a federal criminal investigation people are put into three different categories:

  • Witness
  • Subject
  • Target

If you’re a target, that means that the investigation is looking into you. The law enforcement agent and the prosecutor think you did something illegal, and they’re investigating that. It’s different than being a subject – there, the feds think that something illegal happened, and a subject may know something about it, but they aren’t necessarily trying to prosecute that person.

Being a witness means the Federal authorities believe you know something about a federal crime and they want to talk to you. Being a target is the worst place to be in an investigation.

What Will Happen? 

There are a few options.

It may be that the government is locked in on you and is sending a target letter in order to get you to negotiate a plea now, so they don’t have to go to the trouble of indicting you. The AUSA will give your lawyer some information – but not as much as if charges are brought against you. You and your lawyer can talk about what they have, talk about how likely it is that you’ll be convicted if the case goes to trial, and see what the government’s offering. Maybe you plead, or maybe you don’t. If you don’t, the government is likely to bring charges.

If the government isn’t locked in on prosecuting you, your lawyer has some room to maneuver. He can meet with the prosecutor and the agent and see what they’re looking at. Then he can meet with you and prepare a presentation to make to the prosecutor about why you shouldn’t be prosecuted. My law firm has had success with that, but every case is different.

It is crucial to not deal with the federal authorities or federal law enforcement on your own when you receive a target letter. A target letter means there is federal criminal charges being investigated or already filed and you are somehow involved. If you are considered a defendant and being investigated for a federal crime or merely a potential witness to a federal crime the stakes can be high. It is easy to see why being investigated for a federal crime in Pennsylvania or any other state or territory is a bad thing but merely being a witness to a federal crime in Pennsylvania or any other state still has the potential for being charged.

A perfect example of why being a witness to a federal crime can lead to charges is Martha Stewart. She was being investigated for insider trading. However, she was cleared of insider trading but what she did was lie to the federal investigators. Lying to federal officials is itself a crime. What is even worse is a person receiving a federal target letter and going to toe federal authorities to give a statement and telling the truth but the federal authorities think you are lying and you still get charged with a crime. This is why you absolutely need a lawyer when you receive a target letter from the federal authorities.

Here are some examples of target letters sent by the federal government.

Letter 1: Request for a Lawyer Call

[Official DOJ Letterhead]

Dear [Name]:

[A law enforcement agency, FBI, IRS, Postal Inspector, an Office of Inspector General, etc.] is investigating you in connection with [some federal crime].

This office is preparing to present evidence to a federal grand jury and ask for an indictment. If you would like to resolve this matter before an indictment and the possible issuance of an arrest warrant, please have an attorney representing you contact me before [some date that’s perhaps two weeks off].

If you believe that you cannot afford your own attorney, but would like one to assist you in this matter, please completed the enclosed form and present it to the Federal Public Defender’s Office for [this judicial district].


Assistant United States Attorney

Letter 2: Request for a Meeting

[Official DOJ Letterhead]

Dear [Name]:

[A law enforcement agency, FBI, IRS, Postal Inspector, an Office of Inspector General, etc.], assisted by this Office, is investigating you in connection with [some federal crime].

I would like to meet with you to discuss this investigation. Please come to my office at [some date and time in the very near future] to meet to discuss this investigation. If you do not attend that meeting or respond to this letter, then this office is prepared to present evidence to a federal grand jury and ask for an indictment. If you do not attend this meeting, we may seek an arrest warrant if an indictment is returned against you.

If you believe that you cannot afford your own attorney, but would like one to assist you in this matter, please completed the enclosed form and present it to the Federal Public Defender’s Office for [this judicial district].


Assistant United States Attorney

Sample Letter 3: Come to the Grand Jury

[Official DOJ Letterhead]

Dear [Name]:

You are the target of an investigation by a Grand Jury sitting in [court location]. In connection with that investigation, you are invited to testify before the Grand Jury.

As a Grand Jury witness you will be asked to testify and answer questions, and to produce records and documents. Only the members of the Grand Jury, attorneys for the United States and a stenographer are permitted in the Grand Jury room while you testify.

We advise you that the Grand Jury is conducting an investigation of possible violations of federal criminal laws involving, but not necessarily limited to [insert description of possible criminal offenses]. You are advised that the destruction or alteration of any document required to be produced before the grand jury constitutes serious violation of federal law, including but not limited to Obstruction of Justice.

You are advised that you are a target of the Grand Jury’s investigation. You may refuse to answer any question if a truthful answer to the question would tend to incriminate you. Anything that you do or say may be used against you in a subsequent legal proceeding. If you have retained counsel, who represents you personally, the Grand Jury will permit you a reasonable opportunity to step outside the Grand Jury room and confer with counsel if you desire.


Assistant United States Attorney

Recently I was contacted by a person who received a target letter from the FBI. She was being investigated for Health Insurance Fraud. She wisely chose to call me so I first called the Assistant United States Federal Prosecutor (AUSA) assigned to the case. After multiple discussions with the AUSA and FBI my client cooperated and turned from a target into a witness and no charges were ever filed because we showed the federal authorities that she was innocent and actually tried stopping the crimes from occurring.

Whatever you do, do not speak to anyone when you receive a target letter from the federal authorities in Pennsylvania or any other state until you speak to a lawyer first.

Posted in: Federal Crimes

Tags: Criminal Defense, Federal Target, Federal Target Letters,

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About the Author

Brian Manchester is the owner of Manchester and Associates in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. His law firm practices DUI and Criminal Defense exclusively throughout the entire state of Pennsylvania in both state and federal court. He has a team of two other lawyers with a combined 50 years of trial and courtroom experience are also trained in science and many other skills that are relevant to criminal defense to include the psychology of persuasion as well. One of his associates is a former District Attorney (chief prosecutor) in central Pennsylvania.   Mr. Manchester and his team routinely handle serious felony cases including murder, manslaughter, sex crimes, complex financial crimes, and serious assaults. A large part of Mr. Manchester’s practice is the defense of alcohol and drug-based DUI offenses as well as drug cases using science and analytical chemistry. Mr. Manchester has training as a Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Instructor. He is one of a handful of Certified Lawyer-Scientists as recognized by the American Chemical Society in the United States. He is a member of NCDD and is a Founding Member of DUIDLA. He is also a member of the American Chemical Society with over 170,000 members across the world. To date, he is the only practicing criminal defense lawyer to belong to the Society of Forensic Toxicologist where he is an Associate Member. Mr. Manchester speaks nationally on the topic of blood and drug testing for alcohol as well as the metrological (measurement uncertainty) in forensic testing.

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