The Office of Senator Elizabeth Warren has released Rigged Justice: 2016 How Weak Enforcement Lets Corporate Offenders Off Easy. The Executive Summary states,
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. (1)
I think the report’s central point is that the “contrast between the treatment of highly paid executives and everyone else couldn’t be sharper.” (1)
The report does not address some of the key issues that stand in the way of achieving substantive justice for financial wrongdoing. First, many of those accused of wrongdoing were well-represented by counsel who ensured that they did not violate any criminal laws, even if they engaged in rampant bad behavior. Second, contemporary jurisprudence of corporate criminal liability presents serious roadblocks to prosecutors who seek to pursue such wrongdoing. Third, many of these cases are incredibly resource heavy, even for federal prosecutors. This can incentivize them to go after other types of financial wrongdoing instead, such as insider trading.
It seems like it is too late to address much of the wrongdoing that arose from our most recent financial crisis. But if this report achieves one thing, I would hope that it gets Congress to focus on how corporations and their high-level executives could be held criminally accountable the next time around.