Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The failure to punish big corporations or their executives when they break the law undermines the foundations of this great country: If justice means a prison sentence for a teenager who steals a car, but it means nothing more than a sideways glance at a CEO who quietly engineers the theft of billions of dollars, then the promise of equal justice under the law has turned into a lie. The failure to prosecute big, visible crimes has a corrosive effect on the fabric of democracy and our shared belief that we are all equal in the eyes of the law.” (Office of US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 2016)

“When government regulators and prosecutors fail to pursue big corporations or their executives who violate the law, or when the government lets them off with a slap on the wrist, corporate criminals have free rein to operate outside the law. They can game the system, cheat families, rip off taxpayers, and even take actions that result in the death of innocent victims-all with no serious consequences.” (US Sen Warren, Press Release, 29 Jan 2016)

The Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. Donald L. Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy Company, was convicted in December 2015 of only one misdemeanor (conspiring to willfully violate mandatory mine safety and health standards) in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that resulted in 29 deaths – despite the fact that his company had a years-long history of safety failures, including 2,400 safety violations in 2009 alone.5 The penalty in this case was so small because federal mine safety laws allow only a misdemeanor charge – not a felony – even for deadly violations of safety regulations.” (Office of US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 2016)

Miner’s Boot from Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion
Upper Big Branch Mine fire boot
From “Upper Big Branch The April 5, 2010, explosion: a failure of basic coal mine safety practices Report to the Governor Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel” By J. Davitt McAteer et. al. See: https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/upper-big-branch-mine-disaster-2010-29-died-on-easter-monday/

“Mens Rea” Proposals Would Further Weaken Enforcement Despite already weak federal enforcement, Republicans in the House and Senate argue that the federal government is too tough on corporate wrongdoers. Currently, Republicans are using a bipartisan bill intended to reduce mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders as a vehicle for an amendment to make it harder for federal prosecutors to prove that white collar criminals violated hundreds of different laws. If adopted, this amendment would severely weaken the already anemic enforcement of federal white-collar criminal laws” (Office of US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 2016)

From:
Rigged Justice: How Weak Enforcement Lets Corporate Offenders Off Easy
Prepared by the Staff of Sen. Elizabeth Warren 1

I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Laws are effective only to the extent they are enforced. A law on the books has little impact if prosecution is highly unlikely.

This country devotes substantial resources to the prosecution of crimes such as murder, assault, kidnapping, burglary and theft, both in an effort to deter future criminal activity and to provide victims with some degree of justice. Strong enforcement of corporate criminal laws serves similar goals: to deter future criminal activity by making would-be lawbreakers think twice before breaking the law and, sometimes, by helping victims recover from their injuries.

When government regulators and prosecutors fail to pursue big corporations or their executives who violate the law, or when the government lets them off with a slap on the wrist, corporate criminals have free rein to operate outside the law. They can game the system, cheat families, rip off taxpayers, and even take actions that result in the death of innocent victims—all with no serious consequences.

The failure to punish big corporations or their executives when they break the law undermines the foundations of this great country: If justice means a prison sentence for a teenager who steals a car, but it means nothing more than a sideways glance at a CEO who quietly engineers the theft of billions of dollars, then the promise of equal justice under the law has turned into a lie. The failure to prosecute big, visible crimes has a corrosive effect on the fabric of democracy and our shared belief that we are all equal in the eyes of the law.

Under the current approach to enforcement, corporate criminals routinely escape meaningful prosecution for their misconduct. This is so despite the fact that the law is unambiguous: if a corporation has violated the law, individuals within the corporation must also have violated the law. If the corporation is subject to charges of wrongdoing, so are those in the corporation who planned, authorized or took the actions. But even in cases of flagrant corporate law breaking, federal law enforcement agencies – and particularly the Department of Justice (DOJ) – rarely seek prosecution of individuals. In fact, federal agencies rarely pursue convictions of either large corporations or their executives in a court of law. Instead, they agree to criminal and civil settlements with corporations that rarely require any admission of wrongdoing and they let the executives go free without any individual accountability.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is particularly feeble, often failing to use the full range of its enforcement toolbox. Not only does the agency fail to demand accountability, the SEC frequently uses its prosecutorial discretion to grant waivers to big companies so that those companies can continue to enjoy special privileges despite often-repeated misconduct that legally disqualifies them from receiving such benefits. Lax enforcement at other agencies, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), stems primarily from a lack of important legal tools and persistent underfunding by Congress that often turn the legal rules into little more than suggestions that companies can freely ignore.

The contrast between the treatment of highly paid executives and everyone else couldn’t be sharper. The U.S. has a larger prison population than any nation in the world. People are locked up for long stretches for crimes that involve thousands—or even hundreds—of dollars. Even the settlement process is different. For most people accused of a crime, prosecutors may be willing to plead out the cases, but they typically require admission of guilt and, if the crime involves more than a trivial amount of money, time in jail. Various three-strikes rules frequently put people away for life for non-violent crimes involving modest amounts of money. Politicians routinely get elected promising to be “tough on crime,” and both federal and state governments devote immense resources to put and keep criminals in prison.

The Obama Administration has made repeated promises to strengthen enforcement and hold corporate criminals accountable, and the DOJ announced in September that it would place greater emphasis on charging individuals responsible for corporate crimes. Nonetheless, both before and after this DOJ announcement, accountability for corporate crimes is shockingly weak.

This report prepared for Sen. Warren – the first of an annual series on enforcement – highlights twenty criminal and civil cases in 2015 in which the federal government failed to require meaningful accountability from either large corporations or their executives involved in wrongdoing. These twenty cases are not the only examples of prosecutorial timidity when dealing with well-financed corporate defendants. Instead, they illustrate patterns across a range of areas from financial crimes to personal injury to environmental disasters. Despite the fact that the twenty cases listed here were among the most highly publicized cases of corporate misconduct settled in 2015, in only one case was a corporation taken to trial and an individual indicted or otherwise required to answer for their contributions to corporate wrongdoing—and that case involved multiple deaths.

Because prosecutors took only one of these twenty cases to trial and, in many cases, did not even require an admission of guilt as part of the settlement, it is not possible to officially tag most of these corporations and their executives for crimes. Even so, each case is based on widely reported—and widely admitted—facts that, on their face, raise a prima facie case of unlawful conduct. These corporations paid millions—or billions—of dollars to make these cases disappear before any public hearing. If each of these cases had gone to trial, it is possible that some of the companies might have raised a defense that would have created reasonable doubt in jurors’ minds, but that is precisely the problem here: because the prosecutors never took any of these corporations or their executives to trial, there was never a need for anyone to answer in court under oath for their actions.“. Read the short document here: http://www.warren.senate.gov/files/documents/Rigged_Justice_2016.pdf

See more on Upper Big Branch Mine disaster: https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/massey-energy-ceo-don-blankenship-found-guilty-of-willfully-violating-mine-health-and-safety-standards-leading-to-the-deaths-of-29-miners-in-the-upper-big-branch-mining-disaster/https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/upper-big-branch-mine-disaster-ceo-indicted-for-safety-violations-leading-to-29-miners-deaths/