Taxpayers Against Fraud’s Patrick Burns has an idea.
Get rid of the term “white collar crime.”
“The term frames the way we see crime,” Burns told Corporate Crime Reporter.
“People that go to country clubs get a get out of jail card,” Burns said. “People who listen to country music get a jail cell with a concrete floor and steel bars.”
What would you say instead of white collar crime?
“Crime — lying, cheating and stealing,” he answered.
“The term white collar crime suggests that there are a different set of rules,” Burns said.
But there are a different set of rules.
“Yes, but that’s wrong,” he says.
“Whether you are rich or poor, black or white, male or female, before the law, you are supposed to be equal,” he says.
“When we start using terms like white collar crime, we make a mockery of equality. If you lie steal or cheat, the pain ought to be personal.”
Which gets us to what is really eating at Burns today.
Individual executives within corporations that are ripping off the government aren’t paying the price.
The corporations may be pay $500 million or $1 billion to settle allegations that they violated the False Claims Act.
But the executives within those companies pay nothing.
“Crime is not committed by corporations,” he says. “Corporations don’t love, they don’t bounce a baby on their knees, they don’t play basketball, they aren’t put to death in Texas.”
“And they don’t commit crimes. Executives commit crimes.”
“Who is paying the $500 million?” he asks.
“If the company isn’t caught, it’s the taxpayers,” he says.
“If the company is caught, it’s the shareholders.
“But no one in the corporate headquarters pays the price.”
“Either way, the people within the building keep their jobs, get promoted, get stock options, get bonuses,” he says. “All of the incentives inside the company are to do another fraud. And they do.”
Burns wants the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS IG) to start excluding corporate executives from the health care business.
Yes, HHS IG does exclude thousands of people a year.
But it’s the small fry.
Burns quotes from Eugene O’Neill’s Emperor Jones when the Emperor says:
“Dere’s little stealin’ like you does, and dere’s big stealin’ like I does. For de little stealin’ dey gits you in jail soon or late. For de big stealin’ dey makes you Emperor and puts you in de Hall o’ Fame when you croaks.”
Burns says that you will find hundreds of cases of exclusion like “dentists who are perfectly competent, but not licensed in the United States.”
“He’s working here, he fills cavities, he bills Medicaid,” Burns says. “And bam — they take his house, they fine him $3 million, they exclude him for life.”
“It’s like a hammer on a roach,” he says.
“Meanwhile, the folks managing companies that are stealing billions of dollars from the American people are treated as if they are paragons of virtue,” he says.
“It’s jaw dropping, howling at the moon outrageous when HHS IG and the Department of Justice say — we couldn’t get enough evidence to exclude anyone in this $500 million fraud,” he says.
“In some cases, you can’t exclude the CEO,” he says. “They are like Mafia dons. They are so far above the fray that they can argue that they don’t know.”
“But if you start excluding the middle managers, if you start throwing those people under the bus, you change the risk equation for people in the middle of the pack in whether they will participate in fraud.”
Burns said he would like as a condition of settlement with companies doing more than $50 million in business “a requirement that HHS issue a list of five executives from that company they will consider for exclusion.”
“Note in a public document that they are being considered for exclusion,” he says. “Then eventually they will be excluded.”
“If you lie, steal or cheat, the pain ought to be personal,” he says.
Burns says you can’t exclude a company because they are too big to fail.
And you can’t jail executives because “they went to Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Cornell.”
“Because I can’t exclude a company, because I can’t jail these ivy league bureaucrats, the most I can hope for is to exclude the executives,” he says.
“And exclusion is powerful,” he says. “It will change the arc of their lives.”
“They are going to have to explain to their families and friends that they are unemployed and unemployable as managers in companies that do business with the United States.”