The U.S. Department of Justice issued a memo on Thursday containing new guidelines stating that it will pursue the prosecution of individual employees, and not just their companies, for their role in precipitating the financial crisis in 2008.
Many have wondered why the DOJ has not previously made the prosecution of these individuals a priority while the Department has entered into multi-billion dollar settlements with the nation's largest banks in the last two years. The DOJ has settled with JPMorgan Chase (a then-record $13 billion in November 2013), Citi ($7 billion in July 2014), and Bank of America (a record $16.65 billion in August 2014) for selling toxic-mortgage backed securities to investors in the run-up to the crisis.
The memo was sent to all U.S. attorneys general and the rules outlined are effective immediately.
"One of the most effective ways to combat corporate misconduct is by seeking accountability from the individuals who perpetuated the wrongdoing," deputy attorney general Sally Q. Yates wrote in the memo. "Such accountability is important for several reasons: it deters future illegal activity, it incentivizes changes in corporate behavior, it ensures that the proper parties are held responsible for their actions, and it promotes the public's confidence in our justice system."
According to Yates, the guidelines outlined in the memo reflect six key steps in the DOJ's pursuit of individuals as opposed to just corporations:
- Corporations must provide the DOJ with relevant facts relating to the individuals responsible for the misconduct in order to qualify for any cooperation credit;
- From the inception of the investigation, criminal and civil investigations should focus on individuals;
- Criminal and civil attorneys who are handling these investigations should be in routine contact with each other;
- The DOJ will not release culpable individuals from civil or criminal liability when resolving a matter with a corporation, barring extraordinary circumstances;
- DOJ attorneys should have a clear plan to resolve related individual cases before the statute of limitations expires when resolving matters with a corporation, and declinations as to individuals in these cases should be memorialized; and
- Civil attorneys should consistently focus on individuals as well as corporations in their investigations and should consider more than just that individual's ability to pay when evaluating whether to bring suit against an individual.
Click here to view a complete copy of the memo.