Just over five years ago with the stench of Enron around him, President Bush declared that corporate criminals would no longer have it easy. "Every corporate official who has chosen to commit a crime can expect to face the consequences. No more easy money for corporate criminals, just hard time,'' the President said in his speech.

Several months later when launching the Corporate Fraud Task Force, he said similar things. "This broad effort is sending a clear warning and a clear message to every dishonest corporate leader: You will be exposed and you will be punished. No boardroom in America is above or beyond the law."

But in the end, they were just words. That's what makes this Bloomberg investigation so fascinating. In their review of 1236 white-collar convictions, reporters David Voreacos and Bob Van Voris reveal that most defendants (61 per cent) sentenced in the Bush administration's crackdown on corporate fraud spent no more than two years in jail. Worse still, 28 percent of those sentenced got no prison time and only 6 percent received 10 years or more. Not much of a deterrent at all.

In her White Collar Crime Prof Blog, Professor Ellen S Podgor questions whether the figures need closer examination: "Do the statistics include all the money laundering cases that started as typical white collar cases of fraud, but had money laundering tacked onto them? Does it include cases with a RICO charge, since after all RICO has wire fraud, bank fraud, and mail fraud as its predicates? And admittedly there is no way of actually knowing what percentage of these cases were reduced because of pleas, tokens for acceptance of responsibility, and cooperation agreements with the government."

Not a bad point, although you still wonder how much whether this supposed crackdown is just a fizzer. All talk, no action. Co-operation agreements with the US Government do undermine the general deterrent and adverse publicity impact that results from corporate crime prosecutions and convictions, something that has been examined in great detail by Russell Mokhiber at the Corporate Crime Reporter.

And it's consistent with disclosures that corporate fraud investigations are falling, something I looked at here.


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