Criminal defense lawyers across the nation have been complaining for years that the US Attorney’s office is targeting low level employees and outsiders in white collar crime investigations while ignoring the offenses committed by corporate executives.
Earlier this week an internal memo from the Justice Department was leaked. The new memo was the first major policy statement by new Attorney General Loretta Lynch. In the memo, Lynch directed federal prosecutors to prioritize the prosecution of individual employees, not just seek large fines from corporations.
The real issue now is how prosecutors interpret the memo. The effect of the memo will be determined by how Justice Department officials act. In several important aspects, the memo reiterates already existing law and policy. Justice Department officials, including those in the Eastern and Northern Districts of California, have been forced to defend the lack of prosecutions of corporate insiders while indicting hundreds of people on mail and wire fraud charges, mortgage fraud and other crimes relating to the financial meltdown and the collapse of the housing market.
Criticism already abounds surrounding this new memo because of its timing. The statute of limitations has expired for many crimes related to the financial crisis and, given the passage of time, records can be difficult or impossible to locate 6 or 8 years after the fact.