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White-collar crime spotlght: DOJ announces new focus, policy

On the one hand, the Obama administration has secured kudos for the role that federal prosecutors have played in cracking down on mega companies in large-scale white collar criminal and civil cases since the president first took office.

On the other hand, a legion of critics has lambasted the administration -- particularly the U.S. Department of Justice -- for its alleged white-gloves treatment of individual executives at high levels who have escaped liability at the same time that their companies have been punished.

As noted in a recent New York Times article addressing white collar fraud, the DOJ over the past several years "has punished few executives involved in the housing crisis, the financial meltdown and corporate scandals."

Of course, that is a relative observation and likely to be perceived in a different fashion by the CEO of a major firm and a mid-level minion, respectively. Notwithstanding empirical evidence that few truly top-rung principals in the nation's largest companies have been criminally prosecuted for white collar crimes (the Times notes that not a single top Wall Street functionary went to prison following the 2008 financial debacle),many lower-level managers and employees have suffered in white collar probes.

In fact, many of those lower-ranking workers have been targeted hard by federal and state prosecutors zealously intent on showing toughness in white collar cases and securing convictions.

The DOJ recently announced via a widely circulated memorandum a new policy aimed at prioritizing the prosecution and conviction of all employees in white collar investigations, rather than a strategy that until now has stressed more generic corporate wrongdoing and punishment of a company rather than its workers.

Although that might truly qualify as news and be a fearful prospect for executives at the top of the food chain, it is not anything new to high numbers of mid-level employees who work for those tycoons. They have long faced the wrath of criminal justice officials in white collar probes.

The bottom line in such cases is that mid-level managers and other employees working in good faith have always been the easiest targets to pursue for prosecutors.

That will likely continue to be the case, making it an imperative for many persons targeted in probes to secure diligent and aggressive defense representation against criminal prosecution at the earliest opportunity.

Source: The New York Times, "Justice Department sets sights on Wall Street Executives," Matt Apuzzo and Ben Protess, Sept. 9, 2015

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