Call Corporate Crime Corporate Crime

Can’t we just call corporate crime – corporate crime?

Deputy Attorney General
Lisa Monaco

No we can’t.

Apparently, major institutions are so beholden to the corporate powers that be that they can’t even speak – or write the phrase.

Instead they prefer a word that means the opposite of crime. 

That word?


The section of the Wall Street Journal that covers corporate crime doesn’t use the term.

Instead, it’s called Risk & Compliance Journal.

NYU Law School has a program to study and report on corporate crime. But they call it the NYU Law Program on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement.

The New York Times prefers the term white collar crime. As does the American Bar Association, which has a White Collar Crime Division. Primary topic of discussion? Corporate crime. 

Why white collar crime instead of corporate crime? 

White collar crime includes not just the corporate crime of the bank stealing from millions of customers, but bank tellers stealing from the bank. 

The implication?  Hey, it’s not just corporations. Everybody does it!

Some law schools have courses in white collar crime, but few, like Duke Law School, have courses in corporate crime.

The major corporate criminal law firms generally don’t use the term corporate crime. 

The Gibson Dunn corporate criminal defense unit is called – White Collar Defense and Investigations.

The Kirkland & Ellis corporate crime defense unit is called – Government, Regulatory & Internal Investigations 

Skadden’s is called – Government Enforcement and White Collar Crime.

When major corporate crime enforcement agencies put out press releases about corporate crime cases, they openly work to minimize reputational damage.

Regularly, the corporate criminal “agreed to pay” a certain amount of money.

Look how agreeable they are. They agreed to plead guilty or they agreed to pay.

Last year, the Justice Department put out a press release telling reporters that Purdue Pharma “agreed to plead guilty” to three felonies and the Sackler family “agreed to pay” $225 million to settle False Claims Act charges.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department put out a press release titled – “Boeing Charged with 737 Max Fraud Conspiracy and Agrees to Pay over $2.5 Billion.”

Purdue Pharma and Boeing were two of the largest corporate crimes in recent years. 

The Boeing corporate crime caused the deaths of 346 innocents in two crashes — one in Ethiopia and one in Indonesia. The Justice Department settled a criminal investigation with a deferred prosecution agreement with the company that the department said “holds Boeing accountable for its employees’ criminal misconduct.”

In what way?  No corporate guilty plea. No executives were charged. No manslaughter charge. Only a lowly deferred prosecution agreement with no monitor to check on future wrongdoing. 

In 2006, federal prosecutors in Virginia drew up a more than 100 page prosecution memo that laid out the case of Purdue Pharma. 

The memo was featured in a New York Times mini documentary titled – A Secret Memo that Could Have Slowed an Epidemic.

The epidemic was the opioid epidemic that has now killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Had the prosecutors been allowed to move on their memo and bring felony charges against key Purdue Pharma executives and proceeded in a full out prosecution of the company and its high ranking executives and owners, the epidemic could have been limited, saving tens of thousands of American lives.

But high powered corporate criminal defense attorneys went over the heads of line prosecutors to high ranking officials at Main Justice and limited the range and scope of the prosecution.

All this avoidance of the term corporate crime is totally predictable. These major American institutions – the law schools, the mainstream media, the legal profession as a whole, are beholden to corporate America. 

As are the enforcement agencies, whose prosecutors are flying through the revolving door, into lucrative positions with corporate criminal defense law firms. (Most recently and most egregiously, Erin Nealy Cox, the U.S. Attorney who negotiated the deferred prosecution agreement with Boeing’s attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis, left the Justice Department a few months later to join Kirkland & Ellis as a partner.) 

Wouldn’t want to offend those who grease the skids by using street language to describe criminal wrongdoing.

But the extent to which the language is being watered down is troubling.

Law enforcement can take some baby linguistic steps in the right direction.

Stop saying – “agreed to.” These are corporate criminals who have been brought to justice. They were forced to pay. 

Boeing will pay. Purdue Pharma will plead guilty. Purdue Pharma will pay. Wells Fargo will pay. (The title for the Justice Department’s press release on Wells Fargo from last year: “Wells Fargo Agrees to Pay $3 Billion to Resolve Criminal and Civil Investigations into Sales Practices Involving the Opening of Millions of Accounts without Customer Authorization “)

And then, speak the words corporate crime.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco recently gave a speech to the ABA’s National Institute on White Collar Crime in which she laid out “new actions that the department is taking today to strengthen the way we respond to corporate crime.”

Monaco used the term corporate crime eight times in that speech, probably a record for any speech of any Justice Department official in recent memory.

Monaco even announced the formation of  the “Corporate Crime Advisory Group, which will be made up of representatives from every part of the department involved in corporate criminal enforcement.” 

Maybe progress is being made.

But then again, just today, we received an email from the Justice Department’s press office announcing that Monaco was going to be interviewed live at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Summit about her recent speech about corporate crime.

But in the press advisory, the Justice Department dodged the term corporate crime with something we had never seen in our 35 years of weekly reporting.

“Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco will sit for a live interview for the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit on how the Justice Department is approaching the intersection between business and government,” the press advisory read.

One step forward, two steps back.

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