Elizabeth Warren: Corporate criminals have it too easy

Elizabeth Warren's white collar crime report.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s new report Rigged Justice claims the nation has a two-tiered justice system, one for the rich and powerful, and one for everybody else.

The study highlights 20 cases last year in which the government caught big companies breaking the law, defrauding taxpayers, covering up deadly safety problems and stealing billions from consumers or clients. The courts let corporations off easy. In remarks on the Senate floor last week, Warren called out Republican efforts to make cracking down on white-collar crime even harder.

“In the 20 cases I examined, just one executive went to jail for a measly three months,” she said. “And that case involved 29 deaths.”

Warren was referring to a former CEO of Massey Energy convicted of willfully violating safety standards — the cause of a deadly West Virginia mine explosion. The study found corporate criminals routinely escape prosecution, and fines were a fraction of annual profits, with some structured as tax deductions.

Russell Mokhiber, editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter, has documented white-collar crime for three decades. He says this is the first time a U.S. senator has exposed how cases are handled by the Justice Department.

“If you and I engage in criminal wrongdoing, most likely we’re going to jail,” says Mokhiber. “But if corporations engage in criminal wrongdoing, most likely they get something called ‘deferred non-prosecution agreements.’ So, it’s crime without accountability.”

Mokhiber says the solution doesn’t involve changing existing statutes. Prosecutors just need to do their jobs and hold powerful criminals to the same standards of justice as anyone else who breaks the law.

“We have to find the political will to criminally prosecute some of the most powerful entities in our society,” he says. “And then, we’ll begin deterring this kind of wrongdoing, saving lives, saving tens of millions of dollars and living in a more just society.”

Senator Warren has promised to make the study an annual report card on the Justice Department.

This story was produced by Colorado News Connection. 

Photo credit: Jonathan Mueller, Creative Commons, Flickr