Last week, a top U.S. Justice Department official issued a tough warning to banks and other corporations that repeatedly commit crimes: officials could do away with their deferred-prosecution agreements, reports NPR. Such deals allow companies that have broken the law to escape criminal convictions by promising to clean up their act. A new book looks at the role these agreements play in the corporate world. In recent decades U.S. officials have charged a lot more companies with crimes such as bribery, insider trading and fraud.
Criminal convictions can be a death sentence for big companies, as the 2002 guilty verdict of Arthur Andersen showed. Officials have increasingly turned to the deferred prosecution agreement. Prosecutors hold off charging a company with a crime. In return the company promises to reform, and in most cases promises to cooperate with investigators and pay a big fine. Brandon Garrett of the University of Virginia law school discovered there have been more than 300 such agreements in the past decade, many involving big publicly traded companies. In his book, Too Big to Jail, Garrett writes that the agreements with companies are sometimes vaguely written.