The U.S. Needs to Crack Down on White-Collar Crime | Bloomberg Opinion

Source: The U.S. Needs to Crack Down on White-Collar Crime | Bloomberg Opinion, by Editorial Board

In 2015, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates explained why prosecutors struggle to hold individuals accountable. “In modern corporations, where responsibility is often diffuse, it can be extremely difficult to identify the single person or group of people who possessed the knowledge or criminal intent necessary to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said. “This is particularly true of high-level executives, who are often insulated from the day-to-day activity in which the misconduct occurs.”

All of which is true, no doubt — but justice still demands that serious crimes earn serious punishments.

That would require more resources. According to Don Fort, the chief of IRS criminal enforcement, the agency has the same number of special agents — about 2,200 — as it did 50 years ago, despite huge increases in the number of tax filers and the complexity of financial crimes.

A skillful white-collar defense bar has arisen to defend executives and challenge prosecutors. Corporations have grown adept at shifting liability to shareholders. And the will to crack down has subsided. After the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s, more than 1,000 people were charged, and more than 100 company officers and directors served prison terms. A similar response is virtually inconceivable today.

This needs to change. White-collar crime is a menace, and the impunity of its ordinary perpetrators is intolerable.