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White collar crime: dive down into tougher proposed legislation

Any claim that state and federal investigative efforts into white collar crime are lax when compared with other criminal realms has long been debunked. White collar malfeasance in Missouri and nationally has in fact been a major focus of authorities for several years running.

We prominently note in our Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry May 10 blog post that there is a “spotlight on corporate wrongdoing, specifically executives’ alleged acts of financial fraud.” Public opinion broadly perceives that entry-level and intermediate-tier employees are routinely punished for alleged acts of white collar wrongdoing, while their bosses escape criminal culpability.

That is the expressed view of presidential candidate and U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass). Warren champions prospective legislation that she and supporters say will close the door on executives seeking to hide from wrongs they personally fashioned.

The suggested antidote is the Corporate Executive Accountability Act. That statute enumerates numerous changes to existing law. Its centerpiece aim is to lower the bar for prosecutors seeking to charge and convict top-tier company managers for corporate misdeeds.

Specifically, the CEAA proposes to replace the bedrock “reasonable doubt” standard with a new test. What Warren and other CEAA proponents endorse is a more lenient charging/conviction threshold. As one recent national article on the statute notes, it “would allow punishment if [an] executive were merely negligent in overseeing the enterprise.”

That is a radical proposal. Although many people roundly support it, a broad-based camp of diverse commentators do not. They note among other things that it would dilute constitutional protections and potentially send many executives with only minimal culpability – or none at all – to prison.

We will keep readers duly updated on the progress (or subsequent stalling) of the CEAA as it moves through the always contested and complicated law-making process on Capitol Hill.

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