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Corporate Criminals Cheat Because They Don't Fear Jail Time. That Must Change. Now.

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 6/10/2015 Ian Reifowitz

2015-10-06-1444135924-5454967-prison407714_640.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-10-06-1444135924-5454967-prison407714_640.jpg
There's been no shortage of reactions to the Volkswagen cheating scandal. One proposal called for the deployment of already existing technology to do emissions testing out on the road, as opposed to in a lab or in some kind of artificial testing station where an automaker can much more easily monkey with the results, as Volkswagen has apparently been doing for years.
The technology is pretty cool. Remote sensing devices placed on the side of the road can gauge the level of emissions from vehicles as they go by. Not knowing exactly when a vehicle is going to be tested makes cheating the system that much harder. However, the more I read the article about this innovative proposal, how much money it would save, and how much it would help the environment, the angrier I got.
The change we seek is simple: Throw corporate criminals in jail--every time one of them breaks the law, every time one of them commits fraud on the rest of us by cheating or covering up. No more slaps on the wrist. No more getting off with a fine, which is typically levied against the corporation rather than the individual criminal. We need to put the fear of prison time into every suit who is even thinking about cheating.
When is someone at General Motors going to go to prison for the lives lost thanks to their cheating? Or Toyota? And although we may not be able to count the bodies today, we know that Volkswagen's cheating harms the environment, and that the dirtier air for which they are responsible will cut lives short.
I'm gratified that Donald Blankenship--the Massey Energy CEO whose cheating on safety standards resulted in the deaths of 29 coal miners in West Virginia--is about to go on trial and faces a possible 31-year sentence. But I'm outraged that Blankenship is the first coal industry executive to ever face a jury of his peers--despite the numerous tragedies in which miners lost their lives. He should not be, according to Patrick McGinley, West Virginia University law professor:

Those responsible for managing mines in a way that caused multiple deaths were never held responsible. It shocks the conscience.

And then there's the financial crash of 2008. You remember that one, I'm sure. Bear in mind also that after the Savings & Loan scandal of the late 1980s, one that was "one-seventieth the size of the current crisis, both in terms of losses and the amount of fraud," the government put away hundreds of S&L fraudsters, including big fishes like Charles Keating and David Paul. Yet after 2008, how many bankers went to prison? One.
New U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says things are going to change on that front now that she has taken over from Eric Holder. They'd better. Among presidential candidates, it's quite clear that Hillary Clinton holds a different view of what went wrong in the financial industry in 2008 than does Bernie Sanders and those, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, who have argued for a more aggressive, comprehensive response. And the Republicans? Well, the less regulation of Wall Street the better, in their eyes. The ideal would be none at all, just like it was in 1929. That date should ring a bell.
Of course, in order to convict criminals we have to catch them. That requires a real commitment to properly fund the budgets of regulatory agencies. Government regulation is so weak that it took a private organization to catch Volkswagen. That's not a joke. It doesn't help that conservatives who demand exacting oversight of Americans receiving benefits like food stamps--even though fraud in such programs is largely a myth--turn around and claim that corporations are angels who don't require much, if any, oversight. Besides, the "marketplace" will take care of bad actors anyway, they say.
Just this summer the top Republican in Washington declared that too much regulation was, in fact, "the single biggest domestic problem we have regarding the future growth of our country." Not stagnant wages, rising inequality, or a crumbling infrastructure. Nah. Too much regulation. In reality, regulation saves lives and makes our economy stronger by weeding out cheaters. It works.
A stereotypical caricature of a villain (i.e. generic melodrama villain stock character, with handlebar moustache and black top-hat). NOTE: Although this image superficially resembles the character © Provided by The Huffington Post A stereotypical caricature of a villain (i.e. generic melodrama villain stock character, with handlebar moustache and black top-hat). NOTE: Although this image superficially resembles the character As for those desperate to skirt the rules our government has put in place, I try to imagine what it must be like to sit at one's desk, think deeply about how to solve a particular problem that one's company is facing, and then decide that the answer is to cheat. Do they ask themselves whether the wealth they stand to gain is worth the risk to human beings? Or, on the other hand, do they actually believe that the risk is non-existent, that the applicable rules or laws are unnecessary overkill?
Now that I think about, I don't give a hair on their twirlable mustaches how these villains answer those questions. The motive and thought process behind such premeditated--in many cases meticulously planned--criminal actions are irrelevant. And it's important that we call these well-coiffed, nattily-dressed executives exactly what they are: Criminals.
The question we really want percolating in the mind of a would-be corporate lawbreaker is this: If I cheat, am I likely to get caught and end up doing hard time behind bars? The only way to make a real dent in corporate crime is to make sure the conclusion they come to is yes.

Don't get me wrong--gadgets are great, and it's easy to respect the skills and creative thinking behind the proposal. But that's not where I was at mentally or emotionally. All I was thinking about was the people whose cold-blooded deceit create the need for such cleverness. Yes, it was terrific to see a way to thwart the cheating after the fact. We've reached a point, however, where a strategy of whack-a-mole--in particular a version where the mallet mostly lies unused on the ground--just won't cut it anymore when it comes to stopping corporate criminality. We must radically change our approach.

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