Yesterday the Justice Department apparently responded to the frequent lament, “Why has almost no one gone to prison for the financial crisis?” DOJ signaled that it will now look to hold responsible both culpable individuals and their companies for corporate misdeeds–both criminally and civilly.
If DOJ means what it says, this policy change is profound. It should hit corporate officers whose business models are based on fraud and false claims. It should also snare high level executives who turn a blind eye to wrongdoing, and who typically get away with it.
Corporations can act only through the humans who run them. Sometimes those humans steer the business to corrupt methods.
Until yesterday’s change in DOJ policy, however, the few corporations brought to heel by DOJ for crimes, fraud, or false claims absorbed the consequences, while the individuals who directed the wrongdoing usually escaped responsibility. Those individuals were free to continue their corrupt practices at the same firm or a different one.
New U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates plans to change that result. As a federal prosecutor in Atlanta, Yates was not afraid of pursuing big cases against individuals and their companies, as I learned from representing clients in some of those cases.
Yesterday Yates issued a Memorandum titled, “Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing.” It is far-reaching, if implemented. Yates announced “six key steps to strengthen [DOJ’s] pursuit of individual corporate wrongdoing, some of which reflect policy shifts and each of which is described in greater detail below: