The Yates Memo and Three Dog Night

Deputy Attorney General Yates

Deputy Attorney General Yates

Unless you have been on a monastic retreat or hidden as carefully as Hillary Clinton’s email server, you have by now likely read reports and analyses of the “Yates Memorandum,” a policy document issued by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates entitled “Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing.”

(Here is the document:  Yates-Memo-Prosecution-of-Individuals.pdf ).

In this essay, I focus on one particular aspect that may be crucial for companies, their boards of directors, their audit committees and law department: The timing of potential disclosures to the Government and the degree to which outside counsel needs to have comfort that what he or she is relating to the Government on the company’s behalf is more or less reliable.

The Yates Memo sets out six principles that the Department of Justice intends to apply in a renewed (or apparently renewed) emphasis on the prosecution of individuals in the context of the investigation of corporate wrongdoing.

The key summary paragraph is as follows:

The guidance in this memo reflects six key steps to strengthen our pursuit of individual corporate wrongdoing, some of which reflect policy shifts and each of which is described in greater detail below: (1) in order to qualify for any cooperation credit, corporations must provide to the Department all relevant facts relating to the individuals responsible for the misconduct; (2) criminal and civil corporate investigations should focus on individuals from the inception of the investigation; (3) criminal and civil attorneys handling corporate investigations should be in routine communication with one another; (4) absent extraordinary circumstances or approved departmental policy, the Department will not release culpable individuals from civil or criminal liability when resolving a matter with a corporation; (5) Department attorneys should not resolve matters with a corporation without a clear plan to resolve related individual cases, and should memorialize any declinations as to individuals in such cases; and (6) civil attorneys should consistently focus on individuals as well as the company and evaluate whether to bring suit against an individual based on considerations beyond that individual’s ability to pay.

There has been considerable criticism of DOJ from politicians, editorialists and judges (see the Southern District of New York’s Judge Jed Rakoff here and a note here and here about Judge William H. Pauley) over the paucity of individual prosecutions arising from the financial crisis.  Assuming that the memorandum is more than a simple public relations effort to deflect that criticism, a number of points come to mind.

Difficult to keep calm, actually.

Difficult to keep calm, actually.

First, if implemented, the Yates Memo will cause more corporate officers and employees to lawyer up, and lawyer up earlier, then at any time since the savings and loan crisis.  As a white-collar and internal-investigations lawyer with looming college tuition to pay for, I have no objection to such an outcome, but it may actually make getting the facts out of an internal investigation more difficult, not less.

Second, the renewed focus on facts pertaining to individuals will potentially make it very uncomfortable for boards of directors, audit committees, chief legal officers and other decision-makers who will more frequently be tempted to throw company officers and employees under the bus than previously.  To cite Three Dog Night from their eponymous 1969 album, “one is the loneliest number.”

Third, although DOJ officials in speeches have said repeatedly that they are not trying to force corporate outside counsel to be police officers, there is more than a whiff of that impulse in the Yates Memo.  Such an approach raises multiple potential conflict of interest problems.

Civil discovery.  Criminal facts?

Civil discovery. Criminal facts?

Fourth, the focus on individual wrongdoing (and disclosure of facts relating to individual wrongdoing) is to apply equally in the civil arena. Companies and businesspeople have far more civil problems then criminal.  The ultimate effect of the Yates Memo may be felt most dangerously (and most expensively) in the civil context.

Fifth, it is unclear (at least to me) whether and to what extent the Yates Memo will require outside counsel conducting an internal investigation to modify a standard Upjohn instruction.  (We have previously discussed Upjohn warnings in these posts).  In other words, does company counsel need to add an explicit statement that, should the witness reveal facts about himself or herself that appear to be a reasonable basis of criminal liability (theirs or the company’s), the lawyer will probably tote those facts over to the Government?

As a practical matter for corporations and those who guide and advise them, as well as for lawyers who represent individual officers and employees, the most delicate task will be trying to figure out at what point in time does one pull the disclosure trigger with regard to evidence of individual wrongdoing.

In other words, when do you know what it is that you know? And, what if you make your early or premature disclosure to the Government but you are wrong?

Off to college? Or, to a meeting at the U.S. Attorney's Office?

Off to college? Or, to a meeting at the U.S. Attorney’s Office?

As I write this, my daughter is a high school senior in the midst of college applications.  These applications come at the tail end of a lengthy period of campus visits, alumni interviews, webpage reading and prayer.  We have been diligent, and the process by turns exhilarating, disappointing and expensive.

What struck me is how different things look now than when we began.  At some point, one must “land the plane” – that is, make a decision – whether one is in the midst of a college search process or an internal corporate investigation.  Yet, had my daughter been forced to apply very early in the process to, say, what were her top five choices then, we would have been in an artificially different (and most likely more disadvantageous) situation from the one in which we find ourselves today.

The Yates Memo will put boards of directors, audit committees and chief legal officers is in a similar position of having to make a call unnaturally early in an internal investigation in hopes of reaping the harvest of cooperation.  As most anyone who is been through an internal investigation can attest, the factual landscape and legal conclusions are often different (but more accurate) late in the day.  The next months and years under the Yates Memo will tell, but it would be a shame if, in order to grasp at cooperation’s life jacket, American businesses and their legal advisers are put in a situation that helps neither the legitimate aims of Government prosecutions nor those companies’ shareholders and stakeholders.

SIDEBAR: In the context of governmental policy, it is easy to talk about the prosecution of individuals without putting a face (and a life) to a name.  With faceless defendants, we sometimes forget what investigations and trials can do to individuals and their families.

Tom Hayes and wife Sarah Tighe

Tom Hayes and wife Sarah Tighe

In this five-part series in the Wall Street Journal, David Enrich lays out the prosecution of LIBOR trader Tom Hayes.  “The Unraveling of Tom Hayes” bears a careful read.

 


Why Innocent People Plead Guilty: Judge Rakoff, Eddie Coyle, Albert Camus and Sweet Dreams of Oppression

If they give awards for “Best White-Collar Article of The Year,” I wish to nominate one.  And it’s not even, strictly speaking, an article only about white-collar crime.

Judge Jed Rakoff

Judge Jed Rakoff

Jed Rakoff is a federal district judge in the Southern District of New York (in other words, in Manhattan).  We have mentioned Judge Rakoff before, here and here.  He also famously criticized DOJ’s failure, as he perceived it, to prosecute individual executives in the financial crisis.

Here, he has a thoughtful article on Why Innocent People Plead Guilty.

Portions bear quoting at some length:

The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes.

To the Founding Fathers, the critical element in the system was the jury trial, which served not only as a truth-seeking mechanism and a means of achieving fairness, but also as a shield against tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

The Sixth Amendment guarantees that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” The Constitution further guarantees that at the trial, the accused will have the assistance of counsel, who can confront and cross-examine his accusers and present evidence on the accused’s behalf. He may be convicted only if an impartial jury of his peers is unanimously of the view that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and so states, publicly, in its verdict.

The drama inherent in these guarantees is regularly portrayed in movies and television programs as an open battle played out in public before a judge and jury. But this is all a mirage. In actuality, our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.

Dark WatersJudge Rakoff explains why it is really the prosecutor, rather than the judge, who sets the sentence:

[T]he information-deprived defense lawyer, typically within a few days after the arrest, meets with the overconfident prosecutor, who makes clear that, unless the case can be promptly resolved by a plea bargain, he intends to charge the defendant with the most severe offenses he can prove. Indeed, until late last year, federal prosecutors were under orders from a series of attorney generals to charge the defendant with the most serious charges that could be proved—unless, of course, the defendant was willing to enter into a plea bargain. If, however, the defendant wants to plead guilty, the prosecutor will offer him a considerably reduced charge—but only if the plea is agreed to promptly (thus saving the prosecutor valuable resources). Otherwise, he will charge the maximum, and, while he will not close the door to any later plea bargain, it will be to a higher-level offense than the one offered at the outset of the case.

In this typical situation, the prosecutor has all the advantages. He knows a lot about the case (and, as noted, probably feels more confident about it than he should, since he has only heard from one side), whereas the defense lawyer knows very little. Furthermore, the prosecutor controls the decision to charge the defendant with a crime. Indeed, the law of every US jurisdiction leaves this to the prosecutor’s unfettered discretion; and both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer know that the grand jury, which typically will hear from one side only, is highly likely to approve any charge the prosecutor recommends.

But what really puts the prosecutor in the driver’s seat is the fact that he—because of mandatory minimums, sentencing guidelines (which, though no longer mandatory in the federal system, are still widely followed by most judges), and simply his ability to shape whatever charges are brought—can effectively dictate the sentence by how he publicly describes the offense. For example, the prosecutor can agree with the defense counsel in a federal narcotics case that, if there is a plea bargain, the defendant will only have to plead guilty to the personal sale of a few ounces of heroin, which carries no mandatory minimum and a guidelines range of less than two years; but if the defendant does not plead guilty, he will be charged with the drug conspiracy of which his sale was a small part, a conspiracy involving many kilograms of heroin, which could mean a ten-year mandatory minimum and a guidelines range of twenty years or more. Put another way, it is the prosecutor, not the judge, who effectively exercises the sentencing power, albeit cloaked as a charging decision.

Why should you care about any of this?  You haven’t tried heroin since the 1970s, much less sold it.

You should care because you likely do not consider yourself a criminal and would be be offended if someone in authority charged you publicly with being one.  As Judge Rakoff puts it:

A cynic might ask: What’s wrong with that? After all, crime rates have declined over the past twenty years to levels not seen since the early 1960s, and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that our criminal justice system, by giving prosecutors the power to force criminals to accept significant jail terms, has played a major part in this reduction. Most Americans feel a lot safer today than they did just a few decades ago, and that feeling has contributed substantially to their enjoyment of life. Why should we cavil at the empowering of prosecutors that has brought us this result?

* * * *

First, it is one-sided. Our criminal justice system is premised on the notion that, before we deprive a person of his liberty, he will have his “day in court,” i.e., he will be able to put the government to its proof and present his own facts and arguments, following which a jury of his peers will determine whether or not he is guilty of a crime and a neutral judge will, if he is found guilty, determine his sentence. As noted, numerous guarantees of this fair-minded approach are embodied in our Constitution, and were put there because of the Founding Fathers’ experience with the rigged British system of colonial justice. Is not the plea bargain system we have now substituted for our constitutional ideal similarly rigged?

Second, and closely related, the system of plea bargains dictated by prosecutors is the product of largely secret negotiations behind closed doors in the prosecutor’s office, and is subject to almost no review, either internally or by the courts. Such a secretive system inevitably invites arbitrary results. Indeed, there is a great irony in the fact that legislative measures that were designed to rectify the perceived evils of disparity and arbitrariness in sentencing have empowered prosecutors to preside over a plea-bargaining system that is so secretive and without rules that we do not even know whether or not it operates in an arbitrary manner.

Third, and possibly the gravest objection of all, the prosecutor-dictated plea bargain system, by creating such inordinate pressures to enter into plea bargains, appears to have led a significant number of defendants to plead guilty to crimes they never actually committed. . . . . [T]his self-protective psychology operates in noncapital cases as well, and recent studies suggest that this is a widespread problem. For example, the National Registry of Exonerations (a joint project of Michigan Law School and Northwestern Law School) records that of 1,428 legally acknowledged exonerations that have occurred since 1989 involving the full range of felony charges, 151 (or, again, about 10 percent) involved false guilty pleas.

When a defendant enters a plea in federal court, the judge asks him or her questions about the defendant’s acknowledgment of guilt. This process is called a “colloquy” under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.  The court must assure itself that “there is a factual basis for the plea” and that “the plea is voluntary and did not result from force, threats, or promises (other than promises in the plea agreement).”

"Now, you're sure this is voluntary and everything?"

“Now, you’re sure this is voluntary and everything?”

But in a system where, as Judge Rakoff puts it, “it is the prosecutor, not the judge, who effectively exercises the sentencing power, albeit cloaked as a charging decision,” what constitutes “force”?  Who defines “threats”?

Usually, Rule 11 colloquies are perfunctory, although occasionally the pleading defendant balks entirely, and the plea goes out the window.

Rarely, though, you get some actual discussion, as with a former Bechtel executive, accused of taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from energy companies, who entered a guilty plea last week:

During the hearing, Judge Deborah K. Chasanow asked Mr. Elgawhary if he was entering the plea because of threats against him or his family. Mr. Elgawhary laughed. “Not at all,” he said.

“Tell me why that caused that reaction?” the judge asked.

“I just want to…ease the life of my family.” he responded

“So you are pleading guilty because you are acknowledging your responsibility and this is the best you think you are going to do for minimizing impact on other people you care about?”

But had anyone threatened him with harm, the judge asked, or was the pressure he felt just from the charges themselves?

“It’s the fact that the charges are there and I don’t want to pay something more,” he said. “Let us stop here and deal with it”

Pressing further, the judge asked: “The pressure you feel comes from the charges themselves, is that correct, and not because someone else is putting any pressure on you to plead guilty?”

“Most likely, you honor,” Mr. Elgawhary said.

Cooperation, indeed.

A plea often comes with a Government price-tag known as “cooperation.”  The Economist makes a similar point about prosecutors-on-steroids and “cooperating” witnesses in The kings of the courtroom: How prosecutors came to dominate the criminal-justice system:

Another change that empowers prosecutors is the proliferation of incomprehensible new laws. This gives prosecutors more room for interpretation and encourages them to overcharge defendants in order to bully them into plea deals, says Harvey Silverglate, a defence lawyer. Since the financial crisis, says Alex Kozinski, a judge, prosecutors have been more tempted to pore over statutes looking for ways to stretch them so that this or that activity can be construed as illegal. “That’s not how criminal law is supposed to work. It should be clear what is illegal,” he says.

The same threats and incentives that push the innocent to plead guilty also drive many suspects to testify against others. Deals with “co-operating witnesses”, once rare, have grown common. In federal cases an estimated 25-30% of defendants offer some form of co-operation, and around half of those receive some credit for it. The proportion is double that in drug cases. Most federal cases are resolved using the actual or anticipated testimony of co-operating defendants.

Co-operator testimony often sways juries because snitches are seen as having first-hand knowledge of the pattern of criminal activity. But snitches hoping to avoid draconian jail terms may sometimes be tempted to compose rather than merely to sing.

As Robert Mitchum said in The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (1973): “If I give you this, I can’t do no time.”

Here is an excerpt from our earlier take on all things Eddie Coyle, the worn-out cooperator (or snitch):  George V. Higgins and the Archeology of White-Collar Crime:

In popular culture, business-crime is presented cartoon-fashion. In movies, on television or in novels, businesspeople who are corporate targets of government investigations come across as Snidely Whiplashes with French cuffs.  This practice is predictable, its results boring.  Not so with the work of the late Boston-based novelist and one-time Assistant United States Attorney George V. Higgins (1939 – 1999).

(Read the rest of the post here).

A grubby world, plea-bargaining.

A grubby world, plea-bargaining.

If plea-bargaining and press-ganged cooperation are two legs of the devil’s stool for white-collar defendants, the third leg is the evaporation of the presumption of innocence, a point we made in a post about Independence Day:

[T]he “presumption of innocence” about which we all learned (or, at least, used to learn) in civics class has been translated into a presumption of guilt.  Most citizens, most of the time, believe that when a person or company is charged with a criminal offense, they are guilty (or perhaps guilty of something pretty close to the charged offense).  (We have discussed presumption problems here and here).

In real life, how do I tell a client to not put very many eggs in the presumption-of-innocence basket?

To a businessperson or a professional, I say something like this:

“Imagine that you’re at breakfast one morning and see a news item.  The news item says that someone has been arrested and charged with running a meth lab.  To the extent you think about it at all, what do you think?  You think the guy’s most likely guilty and was in fact running a meth lab, or do you think that he’s most likely innocent and is being falsely charged?”

I pause, watch it sink in and go on:

“Now, consider the guy who runs the meth lab. He sees a news item at breakfast that a banker has been charged with fraud; or a doctor has been charged with taking kickbacks; or a defense contractor has been charged with false billing.  To the extent he thinks about it all, does he think that the banker or the doctor or the defense contractor is most likely innocent or most likely guilty?”

I realize that “most likely” is, technically speaking, not the standard in a criminal case.  A discussion about the presumption of innocence cannot meaningfully proceed, however, without an appreciation of what I’ve come to realize over the years: jurors did not really apply (and sometimes do not even understand) the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

Rather, jurors apply what I call “preponderance plus.” By “preponderance plus,” I mean that they apply the “more likely than not” standard used in civil cases, and then they tighten it.  In everyday conversation, we and they use “most likely” constantly, and the words mean something.  When was the last time you used the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt” outside of a legal discussion?

So what, if anything, is to be done?

I love Judge Rakoff’s proposal to involve judges in the plea-bargaining process, but that is unlikely to happen.

The Fall

The Fall

Perhaps the tonic needed is the self-knowledge articulated by Clamence, the protagonist of Albert Camus’s The Fall (1956): “I was a lawyer before coming here. Now, I am a judge-penitent.”

The truth is that every intelligent man, as you know, dreams of being a gangster and of ruling over society by force alone. As it is not so easy as the detective novels might lead one to believe, one generally relies on politics and joins the cruelest party. What does it matter, after all, if by humiliating one’s mind one succeeds in dominating every one? I discovered in myself sweet dreams of oppression.

 

 


The Agatha Christie School of Cooperating Witnesses

Tyrone Power, Jr. in Witness for The Prosecution (1957)

Tyrone Power, Jr. in Witness for The Prosecution (1957)

From Lawrence S. Goldman and our friends at White Collar Crime Prof blog, a summary of a Second Circuit decision  addressing (1) the extent to which prosecutors can “bolster” cooperating witnesses’ testimony by relying on their cooperation agreements and (2) whether or not the tardy production of Brady and Jencks material matters.   (Answer: it doesn’t).  In particular:

The opinion also excuses, but does not condone, the improper failure of the government to turn over handwritten notes by a testifying agent which were discovered in the later examination of another agent and belatedly revealed to the defense.  The notes should have been revealed earlier, says the Court, not only since they included evidence favorable to the defense, but also pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. Pro. 16(a)(1)(B)(ii), a discovery rule, and 18 U.S.C. 3500, the Jencks Act.  However, since the notes were, however belatedly, turned over and the defense had an opportunity to review them, examine the later-testifying agent about their content, and recall the earlier witness if it chose, and since their timely disclosure would not have changed the verdict, in any case there was no Brady violation.  The opinion thus demonstrates that late provision of Brady (or Rule 16 or Jencks) by the government during trial will virtually never be grounds for reversal, at least not in the Second Circuit.

The well-dressed Government witness.

The well-dressed Government witness.

We have written before about cooperation agreements before here and here, and Brady non-disclosure abuse here.  And here is the trailer for Billy Wilder’s 1957 film Witness For The Prosecution (starring Tyrone Power, Jr. and Charles Laughton).


For Corporate Counsel || Stalking Horses, Pitchfork Crowds, Narrow Neckties, Mr. Rogers’s Slippers and Indicted Employees: 6 Steps To Dodge Being Deweyed

" . . . brave, clean and reverent.  And, cooperative in the civil investigation."

” . . . brave, clean and reverent. And, cooperative in the civil investigation.”

You may (or may not) recall the Boy Scout Law:

“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, friendly, brave, clean and reverent.”

Your corporate employees, officers and colleagues may exhibit all, some or none of those characteristics.  Even if one masters all the peculiars of the Boy Scout Law, however, strict adherence is no shield against indictment in the situation where one moves from “witness” to “target” for reasons outside the control of the “Scout.”

So: herewith 6 lessons to heed if you wish to avoid ending up like a young man named Zachary Warren.

 

Mother's Day.

Mother’s Day.

It is unusual for the government to indict leaders of a major law firm, as the Manhattan District Attorney’s office indicted three of the leaders of the now very-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf.  What has caused the most discussion, controversy and even introspection is the indictment of a fourth defendant, one Zachary Warren, a 29 year-old “client relations manager”  — apparently, a glorified internal bill collector with a distinguished resume, both before and after Dewey.

What can inside counsel, or those who advise them, learn from the path that led these four men — but young Mr. Warren, in particular — to being charged and perp-walked?  More remains to be told of this tale: as in all such white-collar sagas, there are likely at least two sides to every side.  I do not know Mr. Warren, nor do I have any special insight into what he, the investigating agents and the prosecutors were or might have been thinking.

Nevertheless, I can at least provide six lessons on how to minimize the likelihood that you — inside corporate counsel, risk manager or chief compliance officer — will have to explain to the boss or the board how your own Mr. or Ms. Warren got himself in a criminal fix.

Some background is unavoidable.  The best places to start are an article by James B. Stewart in the New York Times (A Dragnet at Dewey & LeBoeuf Snares a Minnow); an Atlantic article by Stewart (In Dewey’s Wreckage, Indictments); and a post by David Lat at Above The Law (What Dewey Know About Zachary Warren, Defendant No. 4 In The Criminal Case?).  Read the articles in full, but here are some relevant portions:

From James B. Stewart in the Times:

“You’ve been indicted,” an assistant Manhattan district attorney, Peirce Moser, told Zachary Warren, a 29-year-old magna cum laude graduate of Georgetown Law School with a prestigious clerkship on the Federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Memphis.

“Can you say that again?” a stunned Mr. Warren asked when he received the call two weeks ago Friday.

Almost as surprised as Mr. Warren himself were Mr. Warren’s cellmates before his arraignment a week ago — the top managers of Dewey & LeBoeuf, the global law firm that imploded in 2012. Although some of them had trouble remembering who Mr. Warren was, the indictment claims that all four were co-conspirators in a major accounting fraud. The firm’s chairman, executive director and chief financial officer, ages 60, 57 and 55, had long known that they were the subjects of a criminal investigation. All had prominent criminal lawyers, while Mr. Warren had hired a lawyer only after the phone call that Friday.

Alone among the defendants, Mr. Warren was charged in two separate indictments, one accusing him of a “scheme to defraud” and falsifying business records and the other charging him with six felony counts of having “made and caused” false entries in books and records. Mr. Warren pleaded not guilty and was released on $200,000 bail. His once-bright future has now been threatened.

How did a 29-year-old with an impeccable record, someone who had never even taken an accounting course, end up as an accused mastermind of what the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., called “a massive effort to cook the books” of the once-giant law firm? And how did he get there without realizing he should hire a lawyer?

From Mr. Lat:

I fall somewhere in between the extremes of “naive youngster ambushed by the DA’s office” and “arrogant lawyer full of hubris.” Here’s my theory as to why Zachary Warren didn’t bring a lawyer with him to the interview: he didn’t see himself as one of “those people,” i.e., a potential criminal defendant.

And now for the 6 lessons.

And now for the 6 lessons.

Lesson Number 1: Recognize that the danger is not innocence or naivete on the one hand, nor guilt or arrogance on the other, but rather the conviction that “I” am not one of them.

What’s the tag line of the blog you’re reading?  Don’t read us because you’re a criminal.  Read us because, some time or other, someone may think you are.  In his Above The Law post, Mr. Lat alludes to the problem, which is perhaps the most common trait among people charged with white-collar offenses.  No employee, colleague, officer or director thinks that he or she is a criminal.  Ready to do what you have to do for your family and future?  Absolutely.  Willing to throw an elbow?  When needed, sure.  Holding your nose through something unethical?  Well, there was that one time, back in 1990.

But something criminal?  Nope.  No way.  Criminals are people who break the law.  They steal stuff and hurt people.

The Government point-of view (via New Line Cinema).

The Government point-of view (via New Line Cinema).

The task that arises from lesson number 1 is to convince those you are guiding that their assessment of their culpability (or lack of culpability) is irrelevant to how agents, investigators, prosecutors, regulators and politicians will view their culpability.  Indeed, some of the facts that your employee trumpets as an emblem of innocence may, in the government’s eyes — or “Eye,” if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan — be just as likely a badge of fraud.

Lesson Number 2: The civil case is always a stalking horse for the criminal case.

Not very sporting.

Not very sporting.

Of course, “always” is not “always,” but it is often enough to make it reliable.  If a person believes he or she is part of a civil inquiry only, he or she will conclude — wrongly — that the exposure is limited.  An employee or officer being interviewed by law enforcement or prosecutors should assume that there is a shadow criminal investigation and that he or she is at least a “subject” of that investigation.

We'd like a word.

We’d like a word.

Lesson Number 3: The company’s civil case and the individual officer or employee’s criminal case are on two different planets because of the current pitchfork mentality about putting “somebody” in jail. 

Corporations are not natural persons and cannot be imprisoned.  When very bad things happen, the natural impulse is to determine (or shift) blame.  The fruit of that impulse is to hope someone goes to jail — even where the civil and criminal standards are different; where “knowledge” and “intent” must be discerned differently; and where the rules of evidence and Constitutional principles apply to individuals in ways that differ from the manner in which they apply to corporate entities.  Judges are not immune from such sentiments, as where a federal judge publicly urges the Department of Justice to prosecute individuals:

U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley approved the auto maker’s settlement with prosecutors Thursday, saying it “painted a reprehensible picture of corporate misconduct.” But he added that ultimately individuals are responsible for corporate misconduct and urged the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which conducted the investigation into Toyota, to continue its probe.

“I sincerely hope that this is not the end but rather the beginning to seek to hold those individuals responsible for making these decisions accountable,” Judge Pauley said during a roughly 20-minute hearing in Manhattan federal court.

When asked if prosecutors would pursue individuals during a news conference Wednesday, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said he wasn’t “foreclosing anything” but believed the settlement is the “final resolution” of the case.

“[T]he rules of evidence sometimes do not allow you to use certain kinds of evidence and certain documents against individuals, although they might be admissible against the company itself,” said Mr. Bharara. “And so although there is an admission that there were individuals who engaged in conduct which provides for a basis to bring a case against the company, they are not charged here.”

The comments add to a growing chorus from judges who have criticized prosecutors for settling claims of wrongdoing with companies while not bringing charges against executives or others who actually made the decisions.

 

Lesson Number 4: Government agents and investigators lie to you.  They deceive you all the time; it is ethical for them to do so; and there is little you can do about it.

Many employees think that, in general, law-enforcement agents do not lie (or, at least, that law-enforcement agents do like lie to people like them).

Not so forbidden, actually.

Not so forbidden, actually.

Surprisingly large numbers of otherwise savvy, well-educated people profess shock and dismay when they find out that an agent has misled them, told them an untruth or left out an important fact that might have changed their answer to a question.

However heartfelt, such dismay is misplaced.  Much of what we expect law-enforcement to do — especially with regard to undercover operations, searches-and-seizures and interrogations — is premised on not being forthcoming.  Like any other witness, an FBI agent or a sheriff’s deputy must testify truthfully in court proceedings, and is subject to perjury and other sanctions if he or she fails to do so.  By the time we reach that stage of an investigation and prosecution, however, our employee or colleague has already spoken with the agents out of a desire to cooperate; from fear of being perceived as not cooperating; or from embarrassment at being associated with particular events, even by implication.

This compulsion to speak leads us to the next lesson: avoid the Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Syndrome.

Lesson Number 5: Teach your employees and colleagues to avoid the Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Syndrome.

Getting carded, back when there was no casual Friday.

Getting carded, back when there was no casual Friday.

I’ve spoken before on why businesspeople talk to agents without having their lawyer or the company lawyer present.  I call it the “Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Syndrome,” named after the star of the old television series The FBI.  Watch this 140-second video on the Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Syndrome, then keep reading.

(An aside: I’ve written before on the relationship between crime and narrow neckties: Criminals In Ties: Contract Law and Reservoir Dogs)

 

 

 

Lesson Number 6: Tell the truth in response to questions you understand, and demand a new question if you don’t understand the old one, but don’t put on Fred Rogers’s slippers.

If your employee or colleague decides to cooperate in an investigation, they need to meditate on the old chestnut “in for a penny, in for a pound.”  Lying is the quickest path to indictment.  In complicated, expensive, protracted business-crime or regulatory investigations, false-statement or obstruction charges are easier and cheaper to prove that the underlying, substantive conduct.  And, judges and juries jump to conclusions about liars and document-shredders.

Foot powder and an immunity letter.

Foot powder and an immunity letter.

On the other hand, answering “truthfully” does not mean answering “cuddly.”  Assume that the agent knows the answer (or has a decent guess about the answer, or has a preconceived notion about the answer) to every question that he or she poses.  Further, assume that each question, and therefore each answer, is at best a “neutral” event from the perspective of the person being questioned.

Good luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Winter Olympics of Cooperation: The Bridge On The River Kwai, White-Collar Self-Image and Federal Sentencing

“Cooperation” is a complex concept for individuals and businesses caught up in white-collar criminal cases, compliance reviews and breakdowns of business ethics.  As with the more obscure or corrupt Winter Olympic events, there are ways to demystify the complexity, but it is not easy.

The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957).

The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957).

In David Lean’s 1957 film The Bridge On The River Kwai, we see cross-currents of duty, vainglory, cooperation, resistance, collaboration and death.  (We also hear some great whistling, but that is another matter).  All of these ideas and emotions come into play when a colleague, an employee or a corporate officer or director is faced with the question: “Do I [or we] cooperate with [the Government, the Audit Committee Special counsel, the court-appointed corporate monitor, etc.]?

Remember that, in the sense in which we use the term, “cooperate” is not exactly the opposite of “be obstreperous.”  Rather, we mean to work together with whatever authority is opposed to us, in the hopes of a better outcome, rather than going down another path.

So, before we choose whichever path, a few observations to guide those of us — internal counsel, internal audit, compliance, risk management and outside counsel — charged in turn with guiding the unfortunates who must actually make the decision.

Not your everyday Saturday morning cartoon about cooperation.

Not your everyday Saturday morning cartoon about cooperation.

Cooperation Is A Shock To The Potential Cooperator.  An innocent-minded employee or corporate officer will see cooperation as natural — What do I have to hide? — until he or she appreciates the necessary condition: a cooperator has something to cooperate about.  He or she has something to offer in exchange for lenient treatment.  If you have something to cooperate about, odds are you have done something to put yourself in that position.  At a minimum, everyone will believe you did.  (We have written earlier about motive and otherwise apparently innocent-minded people, here: Good People, Bad Acts and Intent).

This shock-effect is a close cousin to the reluctance of most businesspeople to invoke their rights under the Fifth Amendment.  We have discussed that reluctance before — Salinas and The Fifth Amendment  — and it can be fatal.

Rejecting the proposed plea agreement.

Rejecting the proposed plea agreement.

Cooperation Is Not A Sign Of Guilt Or Weakness, Nor Is Fighting Proof Of Innocence Or Strength.  Shock may lead to misapprehension of the nature of cooperation.  Cooperation is an economic transaction, not a moral one.  The cooperator offers something of value (information or action) in order to receive something of value (leniency or favor).  We must help our client, employee or colleague understand the transactional nature of cooperation.

 

"Sure, I falsified a couple of wastewater reports, but who knew it's make that much mess?"

“Sure, I falsified a couple of wastewater reports, but who knew it’d make that much mess?”

Cooperation Is Not Explanation, Or Putting The Story In Context.  The innocent-minded may conclude, especially on first blush, that “If I can just tell my story and put things in context, the problem will vanish.”  This is a canard.  (“Canard” is French for “duck,” and I double-majored in political science and French, so I sometimes like to say things like that).  Whatever the external, outside force we are facing — a government investigation, say — its representatives are only tangentially interested in the “truth,” at least in an objective fashion.  Rather, they are assessing a case, fulfilling a mandate or looking to preserve or advance a higher good.  To the FBI or Homeland Security agent, the effort to contextualize will likely be misunderstood and, if understood, then perceived to be an effort to minimize wrongdoing.  They don’t really care.

Testifying in the grand jury on Christmas Eve.

Testifying in the grand jury on Christmas Eve.

Cooperation Has Benefits, But The Burdens Can Run For A Long Time.  For some of the reasons set out below, cooperation can bring benefits, but the extent and duration of cooperation can come as an unpleasant surprise.  You are not selling your soul, but you are putting your conscience and your sleep out on a long-term lease to someone else.

 

 

Early Cooperators Do Better.  This is conventional wisdom, but it is almost always true.  Is it ever too late to cooperate?  Here’s a thoughtful piece Why Didn’t Martoma Cooperate? And Is It Too Late?  by Lawrence S. Goldman at the White Collar Crime Prof blog.

Sharpen your pencils.

Sharpen your pencils.

Cooperation, Resolution and Disclosure

Cooperation can play a significant role in settlement (of a civil enforcement action) or in a plea deal (in a criminal prosecution). The relationship between cooperation and resolution is not precise.  As Professor Peter J. Henning points out in a recent note on the subject — For Settlements, Companies Sketch Contours of a Black Box — it is difficult even to figure out how the government arrives at tan acceptable dollar figure for resolution:

The government is taking an increasingly hard line in seeking large settlements, as shown by the litigation reserves companies are required to set up once they have determined the cost of resolving a case. What we don’t really know, however, is what goes into the process of assessing a penalty and how it relates to the harm caused by a violation.

* * * *

Accounting rules require a company to disclose a material loss because of litigation once it is both probable and the amount can be reasonably estimated. When that line is crossed is a matter of judgment, but once the parameters of a deal with the government are in place, a company can be expected to disclose how much it thinks it will have to pay.

How the two sides arrive at the penalty remains something of a mystery to the general public. Companies rarely disclose what happened in the negotiations, as Avon did.

Federal statutes provide the maximum fine for a violation, but that is only for a single violation. Corporate crime often involves hundreds, or even thousands, of separate offenses, so the total potential fine could be enormous.

The federal sentencing guidelines provide a set of factors to be considered when a court determines a financial penalty. The list includes whether a company cooperated in the investigation and the involvement of senior management in the crime.

But few cases involving large corporations ever see the inside of a courtroom. Instead, the Justice Department usually resolves corporate investigations through deferred and nonprosecution agreements, along with civil settlements, that do not require judicial approval of any penalty assessed against a company. So it is often unclear how the government determined the amount to be paid as the punishment for a violation.

The Sentencing Guidelines: Cooperation, Resolution and Dollars

Contemplating a Guidelines recalculation.

Contemplating a Guidelines recalculation.

Professor Henning mentions the federal Sentencing Guidelines, and it is worth a brief review here as they relate to cooperation, settlement and the amount of a financial penalty.

A primary source, of course, is the United States Sentencing Commission’s 2010 FEDERAL SENTENCING GUIDELINES MANUAL CHAPTER EIGHT – SENTENCING OF ORGANIZATIONS, which sets out in great detail the Commission’s view of organizational sentencing.  In particular, the Commission sets out four general principles, with “cooperation” being one [emphasis added]:

First, the court must, whenever practicable, order the organization to remedy any harm caused by the offense. The resources expended to remedy the harm should not be viewed as punishment, but rather as a means of making victims whole for the harm caused.

Second, if the organization operated primarily for a criminal purpose or primarily by criminal means, the fine should be set sufficiently high to divest the organization of all its assets.

Third, the fine range for any other organization should be based on the seriousness of the offense and the culpability of the organization. The seriousness of the offense generally will be reflected by the greatest of the pecuniary gain, the pecuniary loss, or the amount in a guideline offense level fine table. Culpability generally will be determined by six factors that the sentencing court must consider. The four factors that increase the ultimate punishment of an organization are: (i) the involvement in or tolerance of criminal activity; (ii) the prior history of the organization; (iii) the violation of an order; and (iv) the obstruction of justice. The two factors that mitigate the ultimate punishment of an organization are: (i) the existence of an effective compliance and ethics program; and (ii) self-reporting, cooperation, or acceptance of responsibility.

Fourth, probation is an appropriate sentence for an organizational defendant when needed to ensure that another sanction will be fully implemented, or to ensure that steps will be taken within the organization to reduce the likelihood of future criminal conduct.

These principles have taken on urgency for companies that do business in the United Kingdom.   As we see here — U.K. Issues New Sentencing Guidelines for Corporate Fraud — the new guidelines are intended to be implemented alongside the UK’s deployment of American-style deferred-prosecution agreements.

The other key document to have to hand is a copy of DOJ’s Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations, essentially a set of charging guidelines for prosecutors.  They have discretion.  Try to leverage it in your favor.

Speaking of discretion, we leave you with a note from Matthew 5:23-26:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.