Sixty-one percent of defendants sentenced in Bush administration corporate fraud cases spent no more than two years in prison, escaping the stiff penalties given WorldCom Inc. and Enron Corp. executives, Bloomberg News reports. In the past five years, 28 percent of those sentenced got no prison time and 6 percent received 10 years or more, a review of 1,236 white-collar convictions showed. Former WorldCom Chief Executive Officer Bernard Ebbers is serving 25 years and ex-Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling is serving 24.
“Sentencing white-collar defendants to two years or less does not send a strong deterrent message,” says Joshua Hochberg, who ran the Justice Department criminal fraud section from 1998 to 2005. “On the other hand, convicting a lot of defendants sends the message that you will be caught and there are consequences.” Direct comparisons of sentences before and after 2002 can’t be made because the Justice Department added a corporate fraud category in 2003 and the U.S. Sentencing Commission stiffened advisory guidelines. Median sentences for white-collar crime changed little in the 1990s, staying in a range of 12 to 13 months. That number increased to 15 months in 2001 and reached 18 months last year, reflecting the new guidelines.