White-collar crime prosecutors are going after more businesses, not just executives and accountants, igniting outrage among defense attorneys, USA Today reports. In six months since the Justice Department issued stronger guidelines for corporate prosecutions, prosecutors have brought cases against PNC Financial Services, health care giant HCA, Tyson Foods, Banco Popular De Puerto Rico, Tenet Healthcare and medical device maker Guidant, among others. Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra says prosecutors have opened 200 investigations into corporations. It’s unknown how many of the probes will lead to charges against businesses, but experts predict that more companies than usual will be nailed in coming months.
Defense attorneys accuse gung-ho prosecutors of overreaching. Robert Fiske, a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell and a former prosecutor, says that an entire firm should not be punished when only a few people may have committed a crime. “If prosecutors send individuals to jail, that’s a far greater deterrent,” he said.
Defense attorneys argue that prosecutors impose a “corporate death penalty” when they file charges against businesses. When that happens, they contend, a firm and its reputation can be damaged beyond repair. Customers abandon it. Investors slam its stock price. And innocent employees suffer, losing their jobs.