criminal justice Economy Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader: Is Corporate Criminal Law Heading for Extinction?

Corporate criminal law is not paid enough attention by Congress, White House, and Federal Reserve, allowing these executives to "get away with it."
Man offering batch of hundred dollar bills. Hands close up. Venality, bribe, corruption concept. Hand giving money – United States Dollars (or USD). Hand receiving money from businessman.

By Ralph Nader

Crimes without criminals was not a subject for study when I was in law school. The two were seen as part of the same illegal package. That was before notorious corporate lawyers and a cash register Congress combined to separate economic, health and safety crimes from corporate accountability, incarceration and deterrence.

Lawlessness is now so rampant that a group of realistic law professors, led by Professor Mihailis E. Diamantis of the University of Iowa Law School, claim there is no corporate criminal law. I say “realistic” because their assertion that corporate criminal law, does not in fact, exist is not widely acknowledged by their peers.

Most Americans know that none of the executives on Wall Street who are responsible for the lies, deception, and phony investments they sold to millions of trusting investors were prosecuted and sent to jail. “They got away with it,” was the common refrain during the 2008-2009 meltdown of Wall Street that took our economy down and into a deep recession that resulted in massive job loss and the looting of savings of tens of millions of Americans.

Not only did the Wall Street Barons escape the Sheriff but they got an obedient Congress, White House and Federal Reserve to guarantee trillions of dollars to bail them out, implicitly warning that the big banks, brokerage firms and other giant financial corporations were simply “too big to fail.” They had the economy by the throat and taxpayer dollars in their pockets. Moreover, Wall Streeters made out like bandits while people on Main Street suffered.

All this and much more made up a rare symposium organized by Professor Diamantis last year at Georgetown Law School. (See: https://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/news/200/imagining-a-world-without-corporate-criminal-law-symposium/). He wrote that the “economic impact of corporate crime is at least twenty times greater than all other criminal offenses combined,” quoting conservative estimates by the FBI. It’s not just economic, he continued: “Scholars, prosecutors and courts increasingly recognize that brand name corporations also commit a broad range of ‘street crimes’: homicide, arson, drug trafficking, dumping and sex offenses.”

The litany of corporate wrongdoing ranges from polluting the air and drinking water, dumping microplastics that end up inside human beings, promoting lethal opioids that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, providing millions of accounts or products to customers under false pretenses or without consent, often by creating false records or misusing customers’ identities, (Wells Fargo), manufacturing defective motor vehicles, producing contaminated food, allowing software failures resulting in crashes of two Boeing 737 MAX’s with 346 deaths. (See, Why Not Jail? By Rena Steinzor).

People don’t need law professors to see what’s happening to them and their children. People laugh when they hear politicians solemnly declare that “no one is above the law,” extol “the rule of law” and “equal justice under the law.”

By far the greatest toll in preventable fatalities and serious injuries in the U.S. flows from either deliberate, negligent or corner-cutting corporate crime under the direct control and management of CEOs and company presidents, many of whom make over $10,000 an hour over a 40-hour week.

Five thousand people a week die in hospitals due to “preventable problems,” documents a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study. The EPA estimates some 65,000 deaths a year from air pollution; OSHA has estimated about 60,000 work-related fatalities from diseases and traumas in the workplace. This carnage does not include the far greater numbers of people suffering from illnesses and injuries.

This range of corporate destruction was pointed out thirty-four years ago by Russell Mokhiber in his classic book, Corporate Crime and Violence: Big Business Power and the Abuse of the Public Trust (Sierra Club, 1988).

What are Congress and the White House saying and doing about this growing corporate crime wave? Saying little and doing almost nothing. Corporate criminal law enforcement budgets are ridiculously paltry. The Department of Health and Human Services recovers less than three percent of the estimated $100 billion a year stolen from Medicare and Medicaid.  There are too few cops on the corporate crime beat and the White House and Congress are unwilling to remedy this problem.

Congress doesn’t hold broad hearings on corporate crime, except when a dustup gets headlines like the recent contaminated baby formula from the unsanitary Abbott factory in Sturgis, Michigan.

This is remarkable because since January 2021, two of the rare outspoken lawmakers against corporate criminality, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), both are chairs of subcommittees in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There are large gaps to be filled and updated in the inadequate federal corporate criminal law. Some regulatory agencies, such as the FAA (aviation) and NHTSA (auto safety) have no criminal penalty whatsoever for willful and knowing violations that directly result in fatalities.

Then there is the patsy Department of Justice (DOJ). For years we’ve asked DOJ officials to ask Congress to fund a corporate crime database (like the street crime database). Attorney General Merrick Garland won’t even respond to letters about this issue. For years, specialists like Columbia Law professor John Coffee have been urging the DOJ to stop settling the few cases they bring against corporate crooks with weak “deferred prosecution agreements” or “non-prosecution agreements.” These deals involve modest fines, no jail time for the corporate bosses and a kind of temporary probation for the corporation.

Corporate attorneys play the DOJ like a harp knowing that the Department has a small budget for prosecuting corporate crime and that many DOJ attorneys are looking for lucrative jobs in these corporate law firms, after a few years of government service. Any one of many giant corporate law firms has more attorneys than all the lawyers working on corporate crime in the Department of Justice.

Professor Diamantis, W. Robert Thomas and their colleagues are prolific writers of law review articles. They argue for a range of effective penalties that will deter recidivism, which is rampant. They probe restructuring the corporate hierarchies of privileges and immunities from the law. They argue for updating the antiquated federal criminal code to match new technological/Internet/artificial intelligence (AI) violations.

Until, however, these scholars can make it into the mainstream media to reach enough citizens and get this “law and order” agenda adopted by candidates campaigning for elective office, the ideas they advance will circulate mostly among themselves indefinitely.

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is an American political activist, author, lecturer, and attorney noted for his involvement in consumer protection, environmentalism, and government reform causes. The son of Lebanese immigrants to the United States, Nader attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

22 comments

  1. Hey Ralph, you forgot criminal pharma corporations, which produce unsafe and ineffective products that are then waived through by completely captured “regulatory” agencies.

    1. From paragraph #6 – “The litany of corporate wrongdoing . . . promoting lethal opioids that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths . . . “

  2. Corporate criminal law has always been more of a distraction than anything. You can’t put a corporation in prison, and top executives and shareholders never go to prison either when their corporations are convicted. The death penalty for corporations would be a good idea. But the fundamental problem is that corporations exist in the first place. Corporations are tools for the rich to consolidate their power and eliminate personal responsibility for what they do.

  3. Ralph Nader has been the conscience of America for as long as I can remember. That he hasn’t changed is a credit to him as well as the country. But, the problems! The problems are so deep and so ingrained in our system that solutions are like scaling a 100 ft brick wall with no fingernails. And our elected and unelected officials provide a firewall against any organized headway to those solutions.

  4. Little Iceland has demonstrated how to convict and jail corporate criminals. August 2010 WikiLeaks published internal documents of Kaupthing Bank showing fraud and other illegal actions. The bank was nationalized and the perpetrators of the crimes were convicted and jailed. Such actions caused nightmares across the world of international banksters. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaupthing_Bank
    On November 29, 2010 Forbes published an interview with Julian Assange. In the interview Assange revealed that WikiLeaks had a trove of business documents including a copy of the hard drive of the CEO of a major bank, suspected by Time Magazine to be BofA. The documents were scheduled to be released in early 2011. He speculated that the document release would result in the failure of at least 2 major banks. https://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2010/11/29/an-interview-with-wikileaks-julian-assange/?sh=21353ccb2c27
    Very quickly the banksters responded. Dec. 1, 2010 Amazon deplatformed WikiLeaks. Dec. 2 PayPal canceled WikiLeaks, Dec 3, Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Western Union followed suit. Dec 10 an arrest warrant was issued by Sweden. Here again Iceland was the only country to follow the law and successfully sued a subsidiary of Visa based in Iceland to reinstate WikiLeaks. While Assange was out on bail mid 2011, he was asked publicly why WikiLeaks had not released the business documents, He responded that he was not at liberty to say but the audience could imagine why. I imagine he, his family and othe members of WikiLeaks were threatened. His response, I imagine, was that if anything happened the documents would be released. Most of this will probably never be public.
    I surmise that the asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy was arranged/allowed to keep Assange safe from any loose cannon and easily observed, which is public.
    Timing is telling. Assange was released in 2017 when the statute of limitations would have expired for any financial crimes exposed in those documents. ONE HOUR after his illegal expulsion from the Ecuadorian Embassy the IMF released $4.5 billion to Ecuador. Lenin Moreno, who was president then is now living in Paraquay, which has no extradition treaties. All those of course are only coincidences and mean nothing.

    1. AntiSandman,
      Excellent – connecting the dots. Too bad the info was not released before the SOL was up – but from what Ralph and others write, it wouldn’t have mattered – there would be no prosecution. However, it does put a new light on why Assange is being persecuted – this has nothing to do with “national security” …

      Ralph, I voted for you 4 times – so who are you passing the baton to …

      1. I am no investigative reporter. I happened to see the reply mentioned and started thinking. I am semi-literate on computers so I sent the info I had gathered to real investigative reporters like Taibbi, Caitlin, Johnston and others more than 5 years ago. I have seen no follow up. The idea that the financial criminal cartel has that much power is difficult to process. I have switched my energies to teaching the children how to use their eyes and brains. This phase of civilization is doomed, but humans will survive as they have for hundreds of thousands of years.

      2. To Antisandman,
        I know what you’re talking about in terms of sending info to others one believes would be interested enough to pursue it, I have done so on a number of issues with a similar result – nada. The ? always arises – Why? One can always speculate – perhaps their priorities are different, of course one can then question why isn’t that issue a priority and that opens up a can of worms which seem to be the subject of most of the comments seen on sites like this …

        Your approach to teaching kids is spot on – how to use their eyes and brains – I would guess perhaps that includes taking their eyes off screens and looking at the life around them, using their brains to “connect the dots”, as you do here, hopefully understanding that, in fact, all things are connected …

        As to being “semi-literate on computers”, ha, you are ahead of me there (smile), I don’t even have a “smart phone” to endlessly swipe or take “selfies” with, in this Brave New World …

        So thank you for your approach, for connecting some dots, and I hope you will continue to do so – and show the kids how …

    2. Thanks for your knowledgeable and detailed comments. Too bad these facts aren’t widely covered. Unfortunately the MSM is complicit in these crimes.

      1. Privately held corporations and banks are a cancer on society. I do not condone Russia’s actions but the take over of Ukraine and its 8 years of shelling and preparations for invasion was seen as a metasticism that needed to be halted. If you remove all the layers to the base strata, you will find international banksters pulling the strings. Andrew Jackson called them a pit of vipers. They were more visible then. Now they use the FED, Pentagon and CIA et al to do their dirty work. When civilization is rebuilt, it is going to fail we don’t know when, privately held corporations and banks must not be allowed. When people are not held responsible for their actions the pathological narcissists rise to the top. They have no empathy.

  5. Thank you once again Ralph Nader…may the “sheeple” read this article and start demanding real justice!! We live in some pretty despicable times ..the masses suffering from the “classes”.. and our elected officials who reap many benefits by these criminals. Corporatocracy needs to come to an end!

  6. I translate this title thusly:

    Are we going to finally get honest and admit that the rich get away with pretty much anything they want all the time, including launching full scale wars continuously and murdering tens if not hundreds of thousands of people, destroying the planet, and crushing the masses for cheap thrills and hubris?

    More succinctly, can we stop pretending it’s new?

    1. (Tupe)
      Uncle Sam he does as he pleases
      All of his life, he’s masked his choices
      Deep in his heart, he’s just, he’s just a boy
      Living his life one day at a time
      And showing himself a really good time
      Laughing about the way they want him to be

      When you get caught between China and Global Warming
      You know it’s crazy, but it’s true
      It’s like goin’ to the gun store for an uzi
      The best that you can do
      Is World War III

      (Arthur’s Theme- apologies to Christopher Cross and Burt Bacharach)

      1. Dang, I love me some Christopher Cross! Although Arthur’s theme is probably my least favorite of his songs.

        What can we do with Ride Like The Wind? I see a lot of potential with that one.

    2. I think we all know this is true – the question is why aren’t we doing something about it – why are we continuing to put the same folks, and by same, I mean D/Rs, in office the same who are passing the laws that allow this crime to go unpunished, and appointing the folks, like AG Garland (remember he was the guy folks were so up in arms about Reps refusing to vote on his choice by O for the SC – does anyone think he would act any differently as a Justice than he has as an AG) .

      It’s not a matter of an electorate “waking up to a need to prosecute corp crime” – it’s a matter of waking up to the need to finally puting folks in office who will do it – Ralph would have, if we had had the guts to put him in office or at least give him a large enough vote to convince the Ds, especially, that they had better deal with the issue, among others, or their days were numbered – we might have had a kick-ass AG by now …

      I confess, after decades of listening to complaints by folks about our elected “representatives” and their appointees, the same folks who put them in office in the first place, about all I can do is yawn – until we put our votes where our mouth is, nothing, as Biden has assured us, will fundamentally change …

  7. Tell some truth – in the context of larger lies. Sure they’re getting away with it. That’s how their social con-tract is set up: the rich get richer, and the poor get prison (Jeffrey Reiman). “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.” (Anatole France)

    Then they have their grievance procedures for slaves of the system to imagine themselves free by recourse to the rule of law and representative government. They’re running good-cop/bad-cop routines with the entire population variously trying to plea bargain its way out of a catch-22.

    As Dostoevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” It’s instructive that the overwhelming majority of those preyed upon in lockdown Amerikkka, constituting a permanent underclass to draw attention from the far greater crimes against humanity by class rule, have ended up there with no trial by jury, as guaranteed by our so-called rights, which are more like leashes our masters hold.

    We the people have been bargaining with demons so long we’ve forgotten how to fight in the radical, revolutionary ways necessary to counter the slow motion coup that now has become fast-tracked with covid-1984 and the new abnormal. And this time, our compliance leads to a prison planet.

  8. Your about forty years late with this one Ralph. The Corporates own the law, and whatever fines or penalties they incur, it’s just the cost of doing business for them, while keeping up the facade of a rule of law based society. It’s one big never ending sham.

    Love you Ralph but perhaps you should consider retirement, because the times seem to have really passed you bye.

    1. @JustAMaverick
      Totally agree that he should retire, and he should take Chomsky with him. The things that Nader writes now make it seem like he’s forgotten what he used to say (maybe he has).

    2. Maverick,
      I suggest that it is we who are about a quarter of a century late in putting folks like Ralph in office – if we want to know why this stuff is ongoing, perhaps we ought to look in the mirror …

  9. Ralph, you and all other progressive and constructive legal advocates fighting for product safety and support of holding capitalist corporations responsible for obvious damages and even deeply disguised and hidden ‘Negative Externality Cost’ dumping to generate ‘faux-profits’ via looting wealth through “Accumulation by Dispossession” [David Harvey] are fully acquainted with the disease of not only ‘Regulatory Capture’ — but are now, IMHO, faced with increased and oppressive ‘State Capture’, ‘Government Capture’, and, what I would define as ‘Empire Capture’ of our entire “ailing social order” [Zygmunt Bauman] in our captured country.

    The Anxiety is not only affecting our children regarding the spiraling costs of this massacre of gun deaths within America, but it is also causing anxiety among the C-Suite Boards of not only JP Morgan, but also; scamming Defense Contractors, “Merchant of Death”, Oil polluters, Private Equity Pirates, Hedge Fund Whores, and Social Media propagandists — all of whom are starting to realize and fear that ‘we the people of America’ are beginning to put the dots together and understand that:

    Capitalism
    Creates
    EMPIRE

    “Guns don’t kill — Capitalist EMPIRE does”.

  10. Watch Robert Barnes on the
    Duran for a complete takedown of the Durham
    Prosecutorial coverup for the controlling criminals
    at the CIA/FBI/DOJ.
    Corporate criminals like FAUCI and Gates skate
    while January 5,2017 Oval Office treason meeting
    regarding Flynn remain covered up-especially by
    the CIA/MEDIA complex

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