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How feds prosecute corporate crime

Alan Wallace
| Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Much about federal prosecution of corporate crime remains murky, but Brandon L. Garrett, a University of Virginia law professor, sheds considerable light on the topic in his new book, “Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations” (Belknap Press).

The title plays on the “too big to fail” rationale for taxpayer-funded Great Recession bailouts of some corporations. But Garrett wasn't motivated by the recent financial crisis. He began the research that underpins the book in 2006, before the housing bubble burst. The book's scope extends beyond Wall Street. And rather than grinding an ideological ax, he aims to call attention to how — and how effectively — corporations are held accountable for crimes.

As Garrett noted in a February interview posted on the website of Harvard University Press (of which Belknap Press is an imprint), “the government does not keep data on corporate crime.” So, he took it on himself to assemble (and has made available online) data on federal prosecutions of corporations from 2001 through 2012.

In Garrett's view, the collapse of accounting firm Arthur Andersen after its criminal conviction in 2002 — despite that conviction's reversal on appeal — changed federal prosecutors' approach. They increasingly began using agreements to defer or avoid prosecution of corporate defendants that agreed to admit wrongdoing, pay financial penalties and reform practices. And Garrett maintains that judges, who have to approve such deals, too often provide little or no follow-up.

In about two-thirds of such cases he studied, no individual employees faced charges. He says such agreements often are prosecutors' only way to get results, given the difficulty of defining and detecting corporate crime and the advantages provided by the millions of dollars that corporations can spend on criminal defense.

Garrett urges making such agreements more stringent and subject to closer, ongoing judicial review. He also calls for increased transparency regarding corporate crime and punishment — which would require government to make public much more information of the sort in “Too Big to Jail.”

UNIONTOWN'S GENERAL

“George Marshall: A Biography” by Debi and Irwin Unger with Stanley Hirshson (Harper) — Billed by the publisher as the first biography offering “a complete picture” of its subject's life, this book takes a measured approach to the Uniontown native, World War II Army chief of staff and five-star general who won the Nobel Peace Prize for rebuilding postwar Europe as secretary of State. Covering all of Marshall's 78 years, the book credits him for much, including his opposition to prewar isolationism, quick expansion of the Army from 275,000 to 8 million-plus troops, focus on winning in Europe first and management of relations with U.S. allies. Yet it also questions his acumen in selecting Douglas MacArthur and others to lead campaigns in the field, the effectiveness of Army training on his watch and whether he truly deserves all the credit he long has been given for the Marshall Plan.

ECONOMICS FOR ALL

“Basic Economics — Fifth Edition” by Thomas Sowell (Basic Books) — This is an updated version of a classic book by a Hoover Institution senior fellow and frequent Trib columnist. It stays true to what the publisher calls its “core principle: that the fundamental facts and principles of economics do not require jargon, graphs or equations and can be learned in a relaxed and even enjoyable way.” Like the prior editions, this one uses real-life examples from around the world and historical examples from across the centuries as it explains its subject in plain English and emphasizes focusing on incentives created by economic policies rather than their goals. Most prominent among additions since the fourth edition was published in December 2010 is a lengthy new chapter, “International Disparities in Wealth,” which covers how geographic resources and culture, including human capital, affect economic development.

IN THE PIPELINE

Forthcoming titles from both ends of the political spectrum:

Conservative

• “The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order” by Sean McFate (Oxford University Press, Jan. 2)

“Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters — Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler” by Allan H. Ryskind (Regnery History, Jan. 5)

• “Taking on Theodore Roosevelt: How One Senator Defied the President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics” by Harry Lembeck (Prometheus Books, Jan. 6)

•“An American Diplomat in Bolshevik Russia” by DeWitt Clinton Poole, edited by Lorraine M. Lees and William S. Rodner (University of Wisconsin Press, Jan. 6)

•“Criminal Capital: How the Finance Industry Facilitates Crime” by Stephen Platt (Palgrave Macmillan, Jan. 12)

Liberal

• “The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell” by Alec MacGillis (Simon & Schuster, Dec. 23)

• “Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Warfare” by Scott Horton (Nation Books, Jan. 6)

• “Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics” by Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski (Beacon Press, Jan. 6)

• “The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy” by Murray Bookchin, edited by Debbie Bookchin and Blair Taylor, preface by Ursula K. Le Guin (Verso, Jan. 6)

• “The Radical King” by Martin Luther King Jr., edited by Cornel West (Beacon Press, Jan. 13)

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or awallace@tribweb.com).

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