Federal White Collar Crime: Six Case Studies Drawn from Ongoing Prosecutions to Protect Public Health, Worker and Consumer Safety, and the Environment

Center for Progressive Reform Issue Alert, No. 1507, Nov. 2015

U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-41

32 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2015

See all articles by Rena I. Steinzor

Rena I. Steinzor

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law; Center for Progressive Reform

Date Written: November 23, 2015

Abstract

The Heritage Foundation, the Koch brothers, and other allies have pressed members of Congress to deal with the “overcriminalization” of federal law enforcement by enacting changes in statutory mens rea standards. These radical revisions would undermine white collar criminal prosecutions for everything from mail, wire, and securities fraud to adulterated food and drugs to mine safety and automobile defects. Advocates argue that Congress has put too many laws on the books without specifying whether a defendant must have a “guilty mind” (mens rea) in order to be convicted. They add that federal agencies have created thousands of so-called “regulatory violations” that trigger criminal liability and that these provisions are so hyper technical that no reasonable person could understand what they mean, much less apply them to ordinary conduct.

This paper tells a very different story about the people and corporations the Department of Justice (DOJ) has prosecuted or investigated for white collar crimes in the last several years. Cumulatively, these cases involve the death of hundreds of people, with many more made gravely ill, and include the worst environmental disaster in the nation’s history. These incidents include: the 2005 BP Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15; the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed eleven and released 210 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, causing irrevocable environmental damage; the 2010 collapse of Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine that took 29 lives; the Peanut Corporation’s 2008 shipment of peanut paste contaminated with salmonella with the result that 9 people died; the New England Compounding Center’s 2012 sale of 17,000 vials of steroid injections tainted by fungal meningitis with the result that 64 patients died and 741 contracted meningitis; and the installation of a cheat device in eleven million Volkswagen cars.

When examined in detail, each incident demonstrated that corporate managers acted with recklessness regarding the safety of their workers, their customers, and the environment and were willfully blind to what the law required. In most cases, regulatory authorities warned them repeatedly that their conduct was illegal, and they were approached multiple times by employees and outside experts gravely concerned about the intolerable risks they were taking.

Keywords: MSHA, OSHA, EPA, white collar crime, CDC, criminalization, disasters, case studies, industrial catastrophes

JEL Classification: K14, K31, K32

Suggested Citation

Steinzor, Rena I., Federal White Collar Crime: Six Case Studies Drawn from Ongoing Prosecutions to Protect Public Health, Worker and Consumer Safety, and the Environment (November 23, 2015). Center for Progressive Reform Issue Alert, No. 1507, Nov. 2015, U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-41, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2694516

Rena I. Steinzor (Contact Author)

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
United States

Center for Progressive Reform ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
United States

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