Justice Department Steps Up Efforts to Prosecute Execs for White Collar Crimes

The Justice Department has issued a policy memo to its prosecutors urging them to demand evidence against employees “regardless of their position, status or seniority” from companies that are under investigation for corporate fraud or other white collar crime.

The renewed focus on prosecuting executives and other employees for white collar offenses is an acknowledgement of criticism the Justice Department and Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch have received about the lack of prosecution of individuals allegedly responsible for corporate white collar crime.

“Corporations can only commit crimes through flesh-and-blood people,” said Sally Q. Yates, the deputy attorney general in an interview with the New York Times. “It’s only fair that the people who are responsible for committing those crimes be held accountable. The public needs to have confidence that there is one system of justice and it applies equally regardless of whether that crime occurs on a street corner or in a boardroom.”

Yates, who authored the memo entitled, “Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing,” urges Justice Department investigators to focus on individual employees from the inception of their investigations. Companies will receive credit for providing names of individual employees allegedly involved in a white collar crime, which can save companies from paying hefty fines or from criminal charges. Cooperation credit will only be available to those companies that “provide to the Department all relevant facts about the individuals involved in the corporate misconduct.”

The memo also states that, absent any extraordinary circumstances, no company resolution will provide protection to individual employees for civil or criminal liability. “We’re not going to be accepting a company’s cooperation when they just offer up the vice president in charge of going to jail,” Yates said.

Although the Justice Department has collected billions of dollars in fines in the last few years, it has been roundly criticized for not holding executives responsible for corporate wrongdoing. In her memo, Yates said the Department faces substantial challenges in pursuing individuals for corporate misdeeds, and needs a stronger plan for investigating them.

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