Over the past 10 years, corporate executives and employees, particularly in the financial sector, have avoided culpability for illegal acts and intentions by hiding behind their corporations. The bigger the organization, the easier for executives to fain ignorance, “I was not aware,” “I had no direct knowledge”…we have heard every such incredulous excuse over the past few years.
Since the companies boast a ‘fortress’ of deep pockets, few regulators or individuals have been able or even willing to sue them for civil damages. The result has been a shocking lack of accountability where people acting within corporations have literally gotten away with all manner of offense. Any settlement paid at all, has typically been negotiated as the cost of doing business without admission of any fault. On the criminal side, actions have been nearly nil. This pathetic state of affairs was admitted by Attorney General Eric Holder when speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee in this clip last March, where Holder agrees that many financial firms had simply become too wealthy and lawyered to successfully prosecute, never mind jail.
The US Supreme Court made it clear in the 2010 Citizens United case that corporations were protected as people with full rights under the US constitution. (See MSNBC’s Keith Oldermann’s prophetic comment on the ramifications of this decision here).
Yesterday the Department of Justice reminded JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon and everyone else of something they have thus far overlooked: along with some constitutional rights, we individuals also have legal duties and responsibilities under the law. Where we fail these duties, we can be prosecuted and penalized for criminal intent, negligence and willful blindness. While a corporation can’t go to prison, it can be penalized in accordance with the same established sentencing principles that apply to the rest of us: denunciation, deterrence, separation of offenders, protection of the public, rehabilitation, reparation, promotion of responsibility, reducing recidivism, confiscating the proceeds of crime…
The DOJ is finally onto a smart tack to restore the rule of law in the land. And it is long overdue.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara addresses the charges for two former JPMorgan employees in regards to the $6 billion “London Whale” case. “This was a perfect storm of misbehavior and inadequate internal controls,” he says. Here is a direct video link.