WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department has issued new guidelines that emphasize prosecuting individual executives in white-collar crime cases, and not just their corporations.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, author of a memo outlining the rules for federal prosecutors, was to announce the guidelines in a speech on Thursday at the New York University Law School.
The memo, first obtained by the New York Times, came in response to criticism that the Obama administration had not vigorously pursued individuals in the financial meltdown and housing crisis of 2008-2009 and in various corporate scandals, the newspaper said.
"Crime is crime," Yates planned to say in her address, according to excerpts released by the Justice Department.
"And it is our obligation at the Justice Department to ensure that we are holding lawbreakers accountable regardless of whether they commit their crimes on the street corner or in the board room," she added. "In the white-collar context, that means pursuing not just corporate entities but also the individuals through which these corporations act."
By going after individuals, Yates said the Justice Department wanted to "change corporate culture to appropriately recognize the full costs of wrongdoing, rather than treating liability as a cost of doing business."
Yates said companies would not get credit for cooperating with investigators unless they identify all employees responsible for crimes - regardless of executive rank or seniority - and turn over all evidence against them. Civil and criminal attorneys both should focus on individuals from the beginning of an investigation, the memo said.
It also said cases against corporations should not be resolved unless there is a clear plan to resolve related cases against individuals.
Yates said companies would not be allowed to let low-level employees take the blame in criminal cases.
"We're not going to be accepting a company's cooperation when they just offer up the vice president in charge of going to jail," she told the Times.