A 17-Year Quest for Accountability

The phrase banana republic was coined in the early 20th Century to describe countries dominated by large corporations which operated plantations marked by the ruthless exploitation of their workers. Perhaps the most notorious of those companies was United Fruit, which used both its economic power and the might of the U.S. military to rule much of Central America. The latter was seen clearly in the 1954 ouster of the populist Arbenz government in Guatemala in a coup engineered by the CIA.

United Fruit later changed its name to United Brands and then to Chiquita Brands International, but its behavior did not cease to be scandalous. In the 1970s, for instance, it was revealed to have paid a large bribe paid to the president of Honduras.

Another major controversy with its origins in the 1990s has tainted the company for three decades, culminating in a recent jury verdict against Chiquita in a federal civil lawsuit in Florida. That controversy stemmed from the company’s decision to make payments to a rightwing paramilitary group in Colombia, supposedly to protect its personnel and operations in the country. Chiquita continued to bankroll the group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia (known by its Spanish initials AUC), even after it was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. government.

Chiquita eventually found itself the target of an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, and in 2007 it pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid a penalty of $25 million.

But that was not the end of the matter. Families of farmers and other civilians slaughtered by the AUC brought suit against the company in the U.S. with the help of EarthRights International. They argued that Chiquita improperly benefitted from the group’s reign of terror, including the purchase of land at depressed prices that had been owned by murdered farmers. It took 17 years of litigation, but the jury in the first of a series of trials just awarded the plaintiffs $38.3 million in damages.

Chiquita plans to appeal, but the verdict was a major accomplishment in the effort to hold large corporations responsible for abuses in connection with their foreign operations. In its statement hailing the verdict, EarthRights International said: “This historic ruling marks the first time that an American jury has held a major U.S. corporation liable for complicity in serious human rights abuses in another country, a milestone for justice.”

While it is true that Chiquita has major offices in Florida, the company has its international headquarters in Switzerland. Chiquita is owned by two Brazilian firms: Cutrale and the Safra Group. Fortunately, these complications did not prevent the jury from finding the company culpable under U.S. law.

Chiquita is not the only large company to have gotten into legal jeopardy for bankrolling an entity designated as a terrorist group. In 2022 Lafarge S.A., part of the Swiss building materials group Holcim, and its Syrian subsidiary pleaded guilty to a criminal charge brought by the U.S. Justice Department, accusing them of conspiring to provide material support and resources to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the al-Nusrah Front, both U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations. Lafarge was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay $777 million in penalties.

Naming the Offenders

Regulatory agencies and prosecutors seek to punish misbehaving corporations in the hope they will change their practices and obey the rules. That happens occasionally, but all too often corporate offenders go on to break the law again, sometimes repeatedly.

The prevalence of such recidivism is one of the main conclusions that arises from the data on enforcement actions—numbering more than 600,000—my colleagues and I have collected in Violation Tracker.

Now one of the more aggressive federal regulators is planning to assemble an official resource on rogue corporations. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau just announced it will create a registry of companies that have broken consumer protection laws and that are subject to court orders regarding their ongoing behavior.

“Too often, financial firms treat penalties for illegal activity as the cost of doing business,” said CFPB Director Rohit Chopra. “The CFPB’s new rule will help law enforcement across the country detect and stop repeat offenders.”

I am happy to report that Violation Tracker played a role in the agency’s development of the registry. As noted on page 405 of the lengthy description of the plan, CFPB made use of data from Violation Tracker to estimate how many companies might be affected.

Given that CFPB’s registry will cover only nonbank consumer finance companies, its scope will be much narrower than that of Violation Tracker, which covers all kinds of corporations, large and small. Yet it is important for there to be official compilations, since they will hopefully provide more pressure on bad actors.

It would be good if the CFPB’s move inspires the Justice Department to do more to respond to calls from members of Congress and corporate accountability advocates to create a comprehensive database on corporate crime.

Last year, DOJ created a page of its website called Corporate Crime Case Database, which initially contained only about a dozen items but was described as being “still in the process of being populated.” It’s now been about 12 months since the site went up, but that process is proceeding at a glacial pace. The page currently contains all of 85 case summaries, making it far from a comprehensive database.

It is no surprise that DOJ seems reluctant to do more to highlight its criminal enforcement, given that the department has been emphasizing leniency rather than aggressive prosecution of corporate miscreants. DOJ continues to allow large corporations to escape from criminal investigations with a deferred or non-prosecution agreement under which the company pays a penalty but does not need to plead guilty.

In theory, companies which fail to change their behavior would be subject to a real prosecution in the future, but there are many cases in which one leniency agreement is followed by nothing more than another leniency agreement.

Sometimes DOJ employs another device known as a declination in which the possibility of a prosecution is completely taken off the table. This deal was recently offered to a company called Proterial (formerly known as Hitachi Cable), which misrepresented to customers that the motorcycle brake hose assemblies it sold met federal safety performance standards. The problem was not that the company failed to test the assemblies. It did the tests but lied to customers about the results, claiming that the assemblies had passed when in fact they had failed. A page on the DOJ website lists 20 declinations, but there may be more that are not disclosed.

When it comes to corporate crime, DOJ needs to engage in more aggressive prosecutions and make sure the public knows about them.

Connive Nation

When Live Nation, the giant of the concert promotion business, and Ticketmaster, which dominated the performance booking business, proposed to merge in 2008, antitrust regulators thought it would be sufficient to require some concessions from the firms.

The Justice Department and state attorneys general gave their blessing to the deal in exchange for an agreement by Ticketmaster to license its ticket software to a competitor, to sell a subsidiary, and to promise not to engage in various anti-competitive practices.

Christine Varney, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, declared: “The Department of Justice’s proposed remedy promotes robust competition for primary ticketing services and preserves incentives for competitors to innovate and discount, which will benefit consumers. The proposed settlement allows for strong competitors to Ticketmaster, allowing concert venues to have more and better choices for their ticketing needs, and provides for anti-retaliation provisions, which will keep the merged company in check.”

That’s not exactly what happened. The merged company, Live Nation Entertainment, was accused by DOJ of repeatedly violating the agreement. In 2019 DOJ extended the court order under which it was overseeing Live Nation for another five years—which hardly seemed like an adequate way to rein in a company that was apparently flouting the commitments it had made.

Now DOJ is finally moving to undo its original mistake of allowing the merger. It and a group of state AGs have filed a lawsuit accusing Live Nation of operating as an illegal monopoly and calling for its dismantlement. Attorney General Merrick Garland charged that the company’s anti-competitive practices harm fans, artists, smaller promoters, and venue operators: “The result is that fans pay more in fees, artists have fewer opportunities to play concerts, smaller promoters get squeezed out, and venues have fewer real choices for ticketing services.”

Along with these economic impacts, Live Nation has been frequently embroiled in regulatory actions and class action lawsuits alleging a variety of misconduct. Violation Tracker documents a slew of such cases in which the company has paid tens of millions of dollars in fines and settlements. They include:

A $71 million settlement with the Arizona Attorney General to resolve allegations it failed to provide refunds for live events that were cancelled, postponed, or rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A $42 million settlement of a class action alleging it overcharged customers for delivery and processing fees.

A $23 million settlement of a class action alleging it misled customers into joining a costly online coupon service.

A $19 million settlement of a class action alleging it misled customers into purchasing tickets from a companion website that charged more than the face value.

There is even a criminal case in the mix. The Ticketmaster portion of Live Nation was accused by federal prosecutors in New York of improperly accessing the computer system of a competitor. The company was able to resolve the matter in 2020 by entering into a deferred prosecution agreement and paying a $10 million fine.  

If the DOJ is successful in its current lawsuit, the result could be greater competition as well as fairer practices in the live event industry.

Corporate Criminals Await Sentencing

A federal court in California will soon decide whether a bold move by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Justice Department will pay off. At issue is whether two corporate executives should face prison time for endangering the public.

Judge Dale Fischer is considering what sentence to impose on Simon Chu and Charley Loh, who were convicted last November of conspiracy to defraud the CPSC in the first-ever criminal prosecution brought under the 1972 Consumer Product Safety Act. The two men were part owners and top officers of Gree USA, Inc., a subsidiary of the Chinese-owned Hong Kong Gree Electric Appliances Sales Co., Ltd. Chu and Loh were charged with deliberately withholding information about defective dehumidifiers that could catch fire and selling these units with false certification marks stating that the products met applicable safety standards. They were convicted of conspiracy to defraud the CPSC and failure to meet reporting requirements, though they were acquitted of wire fraud.

The CPSC worked with the Justice Department to prosecute Chu and Loh individually after first bringing a criminal action against the company. That case was resolved through a 2021 deferred prosecution agreement under which Gree was able to avoid a conviction by paying a penalty of $91 million and agreeing to provide restitution for any uncompensated victims of fires caused by its defective dehumidifiers.

It is unusual for a deferred prosecution or non-prosecution deal with a company to be followed by criminal charges against executives at the firm. Given the uncertainties related to cases against individual corporate executives, the convictions won by DOJ sent a strong signal.

The question now is whether Chu and Loh will face a strong punishment. Not surprisingly, lawyers for each of the men submitted filings to the court arguing for no prison time as all. Loh’s filing makes a case for leniency based on the fact that the CPSC failed to bring criminal charges in other instances in which companies and executives failed to promptly report hazards. At the same time, the document tried to downplay Loh’s culpability, claiming his “actions were not those of a ‘typical’ criminal or felon – though those are labels he will have to live with for the rest of his life – but of a well-intentioned man who wrongly opted for self-preservation over economic suicide.”

For good measure, the filing goes on to state: “Numerous family members, friends, and colleagues have written testimonial letters to the Court attesting to Mr. Loh’s true nature, integrity, and charitable endeavors. Their letter provide [sic] a true sense of his good character. They also confirm that he is the sole caretaker for two elderly and infirm people: his 101 year old father who has Alzheimer’s disease and his 90 year old godmother who has advanced stage cancer.”

It remains to be seen whether the judge is swayed by any of this. Prosecutors clearly are not. They are seeking ten-year prison sentences for each of the men.

Although it may not provide justification for leniency in his sentence, Loh’s argument that CPSC had failed to pursue criminal charges in similar cases does raise an awkward issue for the agency. Its position might be stronger if the actions against Loh and Chu were part of a broader effort to tighten enforcement.

That does not appear to be the case. There has been no wave of additional product safety criminal prosecutions. In fact, there has not even been a rise in civil enforcement. The CPSC has not announced any penalty actions in more than six months, and there were only half a dozen in all of last year.

It is commendable that the CPSC has acted aggressively against Gree and its executives, but it should not be a one-off. The agency needs to punish all manufacturers that fail to protect the public.

The Limits of Leniency

The mission of the U.S. Justice Department is to enforce federal law, but when it comes to corporate offenders the DOJ often exhibits a puzzling reluctance to carry out that function.

A current example of this hesitancy involves Boeing. In 2021, in the wake of two crashes linked to defects in the company’s 737 MAX airliner, DOJ initiated a criminal investigation into whether Boeing conspired to mislead the Federal Aviation Administration about the safety of the plane.

Yet instead of filing charges, DOJ offered Boeing a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) under which it would pay about $2.5 billion in penalties while not having to plead guilty. DOJ declined to require the appointment of an independent monitor, but it required the company to strengthen its compliance and ethics procedures.

More than three years have passed, and the DOJ has concluded that Boeing has not lived up to its obligations. Rather than announcing it will now bring actual criminal charges, Boeing sent a letter to the federal judge overseeing the case saying it is “is determining how it will proceed in this matter.”

This sounds like a prelude to some other kind of leniency deal with the company. That might mean a modification of the current DPA or a new one.

Boeing’s failure to comply with the DPA is hardly unprecedented, and there have been plenty of examples of corporations that have been offered more than one leniency arrangement. Among the more than 500 deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements documented in Violation Tracker, there are about three dozen parent companies that have received more than one. Among those is Boeing, which in 2006 was allowed to enter into a non-prosecution agreement to resolve a case involving federal contracting violations.

Amazingly, there are ten parents that have been given more than two leniency agreements. These are mostly banks, both domestic (such as JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo) and foreign-based (such as Deutsche Bank and HSBC). The DOJ is willing to go to great lengths to help rogue banks avoid a guilty plea.

The rationale for leniency agreements is that they will prompt companies to clean up their practices. In all too many cases, that is not what happens. After getting its deal, the corporation ends up violating the same or other laws. At that point, DOJ should throw the book at the offender. When DOJ instead offers up more leniency, that makes a mockery of the process.

In the case of Boeing, more leniency would be especially ridiculous, given that the company is already the subject of a new criminal investigation stemming from an incident earlier this year in which a fuselage panel blew off an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX mid-flight.

At the very least, DOJ should file real criminal charges against Boeing for violating the DPA. The Department should also use this as an opportunity to rethink its entire approach to corporate criminality. The reliance on leniency is not working.

It is time to explore new forms of punishment that will compel large companies to take their legal obligations more serious—and thereby protect the public from the consequences of their misconduct.

Private Equity is Bad Medicine for Hospitals

One day after 60 Minutes aired a laudatory story about the efforts of an executive at KKR to promote partial employee ownership at firms he takes over, the more common consequences of private equity were on display in the announcement that Steward Health Care was filing for Chapter 11. The company then put its 31 U.S. hospitals up for sale.

Bankruptcy was the unsurprising destination for a company that has been on a downward trajectory since 2010, when Cerberus Capital Management took over what had been a Catholic non-profit hospital chain known as Caritas Christi Health Care and turned it into a for-profit operation. As is common in private equity deals, the new business assumed the cost of the acquisition.

It appeared that Cerberus was less interested in turning a profit and more focused on looting the company. It accomplished this by selling the firm’s facilities for over $1 billion to a real estate investment trust, which then started collecting hefty rents from Steward while Cerberus and its investors reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in gains. While Steward went deeper into debt and struggled to pay its bills, Cerberus exited the company in 2020.

While Steward’s financial woes have received a fair amount of coverage, it is also worth pointing out how the company’s ordeal with private equity ownership and its aftermath is also reflected in its dismal compliance record.

As shown in Violation Tracker, Steward has racked up millions in regulatory penalties since Cerberus converted Caritas Christi. In 2020, for example, Steward Holy Family Hospital in Massachusetts paid a penalty of more than $6 million to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for failing to maintain physician certifications, recertifications, and treatment plans for inpatient psychiatry services in violation of Medicare billing requirements.

In 2022 Steward paid over $4 million to settle a case brought by the Justice Department alleging that the Steward Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, Massachusetts made improper payments to a local urology practice for referring patients. The payments were supposed to compensate the  practice to operate a Prostate Cancer Center of Excellence at the hospital that did not actually exist.

In 2016 the Steward Carney Hospital in Dorchester, Massachusetts was fined by OSHA for failing to provide puncture-resistant gloves to staff members in the psychiatric unit who were required go through patient belongings where sharp objects such as knives and needles had been found.

In 2017 Steward acquired IASIS Healthcare, which had its own tainted record, which included a penalty of $1.5 million for implanting cardiac devices in Medicare patients who were not eligible for the procedure.

For-profit hospitals were not a good idea to begin with, but adding private equity to the mix only makes things worse. Steward is a glaring example of how PE deteriorates both working conditions for hospital staff and the quality of care for patients. If its hospitals fall to find responsible buyers, entire communities may suffer adverse consequences as well.

What Does a Billion-Dollar Settlement Accomplish?

The news that the Dutch company Royal Philips has just agreed to pay $1.1 billion to settle U.S. litigation concerning defective breathing machines was reported on page B3 of the print edition of the Wall Street Journal and page B5 of the New York Times. In other words, it was not considered a major story of the day.

There was a time when a billion-dollar class action settlement would be front-page news and might have an impact on a company’s stock price and its reputation. That was especially true with regard to the $368 billion settlement the tobacco industry reached with state governments. That deal merited a banner headline stretching across the entire front page of the Times in 1997.

A great deal of attention was also paid to the multi-billion settlements reached in 2012 with BP with regard to the Deepwater Horizon disaster and in 2016 with Volkswagen in connection with its emissions cheating scandal.

These days, major settlements receive less notice despite a spate of what might be called mega-settlements—those with a price tag of $5 billion or more. Last year, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay around $9 billion to settle lawsuits alleging that its talcum powder causes ovarian cancer. 3M agreed to pay $6 billion to settle litigation over hearing loss said to be caused by defective combat earplugs supplied to members of the military.

This year 3M agreed to pay $12.5 billion to settle litigation alleging it was responsible for contaminating thousands of public water systems with dangerous PFAS chemicals. Visa and Mastercard agreed to a $30 billion settlement of antitrust litigation concerning the fees they charge to merchants.

A mega-settlement has also appeared in Brazil, where joint venture partners Vale and BHP have agreed to provide an estimated $25 billion to communities ravaged by the 2015 collapse of a tailings dam.

These examples are limited to private litigation. Companies are also paying billions in cases brought by government agencies, especially with regard to the opioid crisis.

There are positive and negative aspects to these settlements. On the plus side, it is good that giant corporations are being compelled to pay sizeable compensation packages to groups of people harmed by their misconduct. It is true that a big chunk of these payouts goes to plaintiffs’ lawyers, though the hope it that they will use the proceeds at least in part to fund future class actions.

The problematic part is that corporations can view the settlements—whose size often falls short of the estimated harm caused by the company—as a tolerable cost of doing business. They may then feel little pressure to change their practices in a fundamental way.

Major litigation is not just a way to punish corporations financially for wrongdoing. It is supposed to serve as a deterrent against future bad acts. That fact seems to be getting forgotten as companies regard settlements as mere transactions, and the public pays less attention. Normalization of corporate misconduct will result in more of it.

Antitrust in the Workplace

Seeking to end one of the last remaining forms of indentured servitude in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has issued a final rule that would largely ban the ability of companies to prevent employees from taking a job with a competing firm. The change would remove shackles from an estimated 30 million workers.

This is a bold move by the FTC, which normally handles cases involving anti-competitive practices by individual companies and which has traditionally focused on consumer protection rather than worker rights. The agency argues that eliminating non-competition clauses will not only help workers but will indirectly benefit consumers by stimulating business formation and reducing market concentration.

There appears to be broad support for the FTC action. The agency said that, of the 26,000 comments it received on the proposed rule on non-competes issued last year, over 25,000 endorsed the change. Corporations, on the other hand, are outraged at the rule. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a statement calling it “another attempt at aggressive regulatory proliferation.” The Chamber, which vowed to bring a legal challenge, also argued that the issue should be left up to the states, most of which currently allow non-competes.

Non-competition restrictions are fundamentally a form of wage suppression. Workers barred from taking a job with a rival company are in a weaker bargaining position when it comes to pay. As such, non-competes serve the same function for employers as two other anti-competitive practices: non-poaching agreements and wage-fixing arrangements.

The first of those are agreements among companies not to hire people from one another. Workers, whether or not they are subject to a non-competition agreement, are thus in effect blacklisted if they apply for a position at another firm. The Justice Department has brought several cases as criminal matters and has faced a series of setbacks in court.

Private plaintiffs’ lawyers, on the other hand, have won a few dozen settlements in civil class actions. The largest no-poach settlement occurred in 2015, when Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe Systems agreed to pay a total of $415 million to class action plaintiffs. Cases have also involved blue-collar occupations such as truck drivers and railcar assembly workers.

Wage-fixing, analogous to price-fixing, occurs when employers in a specific labor market agree not to pay wages above a certain level. DOJ has had limited success in its prosecutions in this area as well, but here too there have been some substantial civil settlements. The most significant of these have occurred in the poultry processing industry, where companies including Pilgrim’s Pride have paid over $40 million in settlements. Several other settlements, including a $60 million agreement with Perdue Farms, are awaiting final court approval. Groups of hospitals in Michigan and upstate New York have paid over $70 million to resolve allegations they conspired to depress the wages of nurses.

The FTC’s regulatory initiatives, along with these court cases, constitute an aggressive use of antitrust law to address employer abuses. They offer significant hope for reducing the severe imbalance of power between employers and workers in U.S. labor markets.

Declining Prosecution

Three attorneys at Covington & Burling recently received a letter that could be seen as the ultimate achievement of a corporate lawyer. The U.S. Justice Department wrote to inform them that, although fraud was committed by employees of their client, Proterial Cable America, no charges would be filed against the firm.

Proterial, formerly known as Hitachi Cable America, is the latest recipient of a DOJ leniency practice known as declination. The Department has frequently been criticized for its extensive use of deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements. These arrangements allow companies involved in criminal misconduct to avoid having to enter a plea, though they must pay a penalty. DOJ holds open the possibility of an actual prosecution at a later date if the company does not change its behavior.

In a declination, prosecution is in effect taken off the table entirely. The only real consequence for the company is having to disgorge the profits it earned as a result of the fraudulent behavior. In the case of Proterial, that amount is about $15 million. This is a far cry from the amounts companies pay in deferred and non-prosecution agreements, which for firms such as Wells Fargo and Boeing have been several billion dollars.

Proterial’s fraud consisted of misrepresenting to customers that the motorcycle brake hose assemblies it sold met federal safety performance standards. The problem was not that the company failed to test the assemblies. It did the tests but lied to customers about the results, claiming that the assemblies had passed when in fact they had failed.

The Justice Department justified its declination in various ways. It said Proterial self-reported the misconduct; it cooperated with the investigation; it terminated the employees; and it agreed to the disgorgement. DOJ’s declination letter does not, however, explain how the misconduct came about—specifically, the issue of whether the employees who lied about the test results were acting at the direction of supervisors or managers.

It is difficult to believe that low-level employees would decide on their own to engage in the deception. It may very well be that they were pressured, whether explicitly or implicitly, by their bosses to do so. This is what happened, for example, at Wells Fargo, where employees facing impossible demands from managers to increase revenue resorted to the creation of bogus accounts, unbeknownst to customers.

Proterial’s parent, Hitachi Metals Ltd., does not have a spotless record. In 2014 it pled guilty and paid a $1.25 million criminal fine to the DOJ for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for automotive brake hoses installed in cars sold in the United States and elsewhere. This prior offense should have made the company ineligible for the declination.

Since the Biden Administration took office, the DOJ has carried out half a dozen declinations, according to a list published on the Department’s website. It is unclear how many other leniency agreements contain the additional benefit of remaining anonymous.

The DOJ seems wedded to the idea that leniency provides an effective incentive for companies to self-report misconduct, but it may also be a way for rogue companies to take themselves off the hook.

The $1 Trillion Cost of Corporate Misconduct

When you hear a reference to $1 trillion, it usually is in connection to the stock market capitalization of a handful of the largest tech companies. Yet that ten-figure number can now also be applied to what those companies and others have together paid in fines and settlements to resolve allegations of misconduct.

The total penalties documented in the Violation Tracker database for the period from 2000 through the present now surpass $1 trillion. To mark this milestone, my colleagues and I have just issued a report called The High Cost of Misconduct, which looks back at the last quarter-century of corporate crime and regulatory non-compliance.

Total payouts grew from around $7 billion per year in the early 2000s to more than $50 billion annually in recent years. This amounts to a seven-fold increase in current dollars, or a 300 percent increase in constant dollars.

The $1 trillion total could not have been reached without the massive penalties paid by companies such as Bank of America ($87 billion, mainly in connection with the toxic securities and mortgage abuses scandals of the late 2000s), BP ($36 billion, mainly from the Deepwater Horizon disaster), Wells Fargo ($27 billion, largely from the bogus accounts scandal), and Volkswagen ($26 billion, primarily from the emissions cheating scandal). There are 127 companies with penalty totals of $1 billion or more.

With these companies and many others, their totals reflect flagrant recidivism. Looking only at the more serious cases, two dozen parents have been involved in 50 or more cases in which they paid fines or settlements of $1 million or more. Bank of America has the most, with an astounding 225 such cases.

While the vast majority of the 600,000 cases in Violation Tracker are civil actions, the database contains more than 2,000 entries involving criminal charges. These account for more than 13 percent of the $1 trillion penalty total. Twenty-six parent companies have paid $1 billion or more in criminal cases, with the largest totals coming from the French bank BNP Paribas in connection with economic sanctions violations and from Purdue Pharma for its role in causing the opioid epidemic.

In many of these criminal cases, the companies were able to resolve the matter without having to plead guilty. That is because the Justice Department makes extensive use of arrangements known as deferred prosecution agreements and non-prosecution agreements. These are leniency deals by which companies pay substantial penalties but avoid a criminal conviction. Violation Tracker documents more than 500 cases involving a DPA or an NPA, with total penalties of more than $50 billion.

The theory behind these leniency agreements is that companies will learn from their mistakes and clean up their conduct. Yet there have been numerous instances of companies that signed a DPA or NPA ending up embroiled in another scandal. Amazingly, some of these companies were offered another leniency agreement, thus making a mockery of the deterrence concept. Among the double-dippers are American International Group, Barclays, Boeing, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and Teva Pharmaceuticals.

The fact that penalties have reached the 10-figure level suggests that during the past quarter century we have been living through a continuous corporate crime wave. Every year, companies pay out billions of dollars for a wide range of offenses. Many large corporations are fined or enter into settlements over and over again, often for the same or similar misconduct.

Monetary penalties are meant in part to deter future transgressions, but there is no indication that is happening. Instead, the fines and settlements seem to be regarded as little more than a cost of doing business. Presumably, the profits from wrongdoing outweigh the penalties.

It is odd that amid a move to return to tougher policies to combat street crime, there is not an analogous effort to crack down on corporate crime. Instead, the Justice Department continues to employ leniency agreements that have frequently been ineffective in getting rogue companies to change their ways. The DOJ also remains reluctant to bring criminal charges against corporate executives, except in the most flagrant circumstances.

In a few cases, DOJ has experimented with different approaches, including forcing companies to exit lines of business in which they behaved illegally. Last year, for example, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Glenmark Pharmaceuticals were not only fined for scheming to fix prices of several generic drugs—they had to divest their operations relating to one of the drugs. That kind of penalty should shake up companies more than fines alone and thus should be used more frequently.