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We Can Stop CEO Fraud — Here’s How

In the frenzy of new corporate crime-busting laws getting passed by publicity-hungry politicians, I’d like to offer a modest proposal to use stronger law enforcement methods to deter such crime.

To begin with, the accounting police should be given wide latitude in evidence-gathering, using wiretaps and other technology to monitor executives’ phone calls, e-mail, hard drives, and even keystrokes while they type. As long as investigators act “in good faith,” this evidence would be allowable in court.

Since corporate criminals routinely destroy evidence, when raiding offices police need “no-knock” warrants. Cops could break into corporate headquarters at any time, without having to identify themselves, gain permission for entry, or show a search warrant in advance. The electrical power to the building should be cut before raids, to avoid any last-minute shredding.

Since conspiracy is equal to actually committing the crime in the eyes of the law, any two people who had a conversation about such crimes can be prosecuted. This includes family members, so the threat of prosecuting spouses and children should be used when questioning corporate officials. Paid informants could also be used, and prisoners could have their sentences reduced for testifying.

Asset forfeiture should aggressively be used against all corporate officers and accounting firm executives. All executives’ houses, luxury yachts, private planes, vacation homes, vehicles and bank accounts should be seized immediately whenever there is the slightest suspicion of corporate crime. None of these assets could be used to pay legal fees, or bail.

If it turns out later that there is not enough evidence to convict (or even to prosecute), then executives would be free to put up a bond and sue to regain their property. Of course, they would have to meet the burden of proof that they legally obtained the property, instead of the government’s having to prove it was acquired illegally.

If the executive eventually did win in court, they would have to pay storage and other related costs in order to regain their property.

Once convicted, corporate criminals would be handed mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years, 25 years, or life, depending solely on the amount of money involved (not the seriousness of the offense). These sentences would be in ordinary federal prisons (not minimum security “country clubs”). There would be no hope of early release or parole, except for one loophole: convicts’ sentences could be reduced by implicating other corporate officials in crimes (although not necessarily more senior officials or more serious crimes).

If the prisoners can’t implicate anyone else, perhaps they can convince a member of their family to set up a “sting” operation to catch some other corporate official in wrongdoing.

Sound farfetched? Do you think this would be an unprecedented use of police power, and new laws would have to be passed to allow such things in America? Think again. All of the above law enforcement tools have already been successfully used, most of them related to the war on drugs.

The legal precedents have already been set by courts all the way up to the Supreme Court. These law enforcement powers exist and are being used on a daily basis.

So why not use them evenhandedly? Our society can either have two standards of law enforcement, or have a single standard applied to all. When our justice system treats corporate criminals the same way it treats everyone else, then we will have achieved “justice for all.”

Wouldn’t it be enjoyable to watch an episode of “COPS” on TV where Ken Lay’s vacation home gets raided and confiscated?

Most important, wouldn’t the corporate boardroom atmosphere change just a little bit if they knew all this would happen to them when there was just the suspicion of wrongdoing?

—Published 7/17/02, Page 10B
Copyright © 2002, San Jose Mercury News
By Chris Weigant

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