“We are in a situation now where most Americans are criminals, but they either don’t know it, or they think they will not be prosecuted” says Tim Lynch in his introduction to this Cato panel last month. Perhaps even worse, “federal regulators and prosecutors have so much power that they can pressure people who are totally innocent into pleading guilty and paying fines.”
Discussing their experiences with agency and prosecutorial power at the panel are: Kevin Gates, Vice President, Powhatan Energy Fund, subject of a FERC investigation for vaguely defined “market manipulation”; William Yeatman, Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who studies FERC as well as other energy and environmental agencies; Lawrence Lewis, who as a building manager at a military retirement home got a criminal record after diverting a backed-up sewage system into a drain he believed fed into the sewage treatment system; and William Hurwitz, M.D., specialist in pain treatment and target of a controversial prosecution of which John Tierney wrote: “Lapses in medical judgment – or even just differences in medical judgment – have been criminalized…. All it takes is a second opinion from a jury”.
Critics of asset forfeiture have warned for years that it not only warps the priorities and incentives of law enforcement agencies, but creates a slush fund ripe for abuse by sidestepping the appropriations process. Now investigators accuse longterm Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes of using forfeiture funds to pay more than $200,000 to a P.R. consultant whose labors were largely devoted to advancing Hynes’s campaign. The consultant’s firm was paid more than $1 million over a decade. [New York Times]
They wouldn’t show him the warrant because it was sealed [Bill Frezza, Forbes]:
While 30 men in SWAT attire dispatched from Homeland Security and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cart away about half a million dollars of wood and guitars, seven armed agents interrogate an employee without benefit of a lawyer. The next day [Gibson Guitar CEO Henry] Juszkiewicz receives a letter warning that he cannot touch any guitar left in the plant, under threat of being charged with a separate federal offense for each “violation,” punishable by a jail term.
Up until that point Gibson had not received so much as a postcard telling the company it might be doing something wrong….
Juszkiewicz alleges [federal prosecutors] were operating at the behest of lumber unions and environmental pressure groups seeking to kill the market for lumber imports. “This case was not about conservation,” he says. “It was basically protectionism.”
Earlier on the extraordinary Gibson case here.
And the curious thing is, they’re from prosecutors. “The prosecutors’ office replaced part-time assistant prosecutors with full-time positions in 2011. Eight of the part-time employees who were replaced sued the city for age, race and/or gender discrimination, The Kansas City Star reported. … The eight former assistant city prosecutors filed their lawsuits individually and alleged different circumstances.” [Claims Journal]
We’ve been reporting on Standard & Poor’s contentions for a while (here, here, here), and now allegations have surfaced in a new legal filing [Politico; background from Cato's Mark Calabria]
A Tennessee defense counsel’s funny response to an opposing prosecutor’s ill-considered in limine motion asking not to be referred to as “The Government.” [Lowering the Bar]
They appear to have gotten one very conservative San Diego judge exiled to traffic court [Will Baude]
Should prosecutors hype their charges for publicity value? U.S. District Court Judge Richard Sullivan (S.D.N.Y.) is scathing about a sensationally worded press release put out by the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on bringing corruption charges against two Gotham politicos. The alternative presumably would be to save the colorful language in the name of the public until actually securing a conviction. And by contrast, Mike Koehler quotes comments by Judge Richard Leon on dismissing Africa Sting FCPA cases:
This appears to be the end of a long and sad chapter in the annals of white collar criminal enforcement. Unlike takedown day in Las Vegas, however, there will be no front page story in the New York Times or the Post for that matter tomorrow reflecting the government’s decision today to move to dismiss the charges against the remaining defendants in this case. Funny isn’t it what sells newspapers.
[FCPA Professor] More from Scott Greenfield:
According to the Law360 article, “fellow panel member and deputy U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Richard B. Zabel defended the practice, saying under U.S. Department of Justice guidance, part of the reason to have a press conference or release is to explain to the public what is going on. ‘The purpose of a quote is to be quoted and draw attention to the case,’ Zabel said. “Laypeople can’t read a complaint.”
Is that not a great explanation or what?
Why a Duke lacrosse alumnus backs the Georgia Innocence Project [Fulton County Daily Report]
… when regulatory/enforcement agencies generate their own budget from fines, notes Michael Greve, reflecting on the J.P. Morgan “London Whale” settlement and other matters:
Here’s where the $920 million [from the Morgan settlement] went: OCC, $300 million; SEC, $200 million; the Fed, $200 million. (The remainder went to the British authorities.) That much money, in a single action, raises the alarming prospect of agencies that become self-funding and, moreover, profit centers for a cash-starved Congress — through their enforcement activities. Here’s the blazingly obvious problem: most of the laws on the books are stupid and, when fully enforced, would land half of us in jail and the rest of us in bankruptcy. A principal way to check that problem is the appropriations process, which limits the enforcers’ budgets (and may influence their enforcement choices, for good or ill). When the money starts flowing in the other direction, all bets are off: you’re living under a NAFI regime.
NAFI is a term of art: it means “Non-Appropriated Funds Agencies”—outfits that are part of the government but financed not through congressional appropriations but through their own operations and revolving funds. The U.S. Mint is a NAFI. So is the Federal Reserve: it finances its budget from its earnings and then kicks the rest over to the Treasury. The CFPB has strong NAFI features: it simply sends a demand letter to the Fed, telling it how much money it wants (up to a certain percentage of the Fed’s earnings—above that level, the CFPB may receive appropriations). As noted, the Fed’s earnings don’t initially go into the Treasury and therefore aren’t appropriated from it.
The Securities and Exchange Commission hasn’t reached NAFI status yet, Greve writes, but not for want of trying.
“Prosecutors claim Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio was guilty of insider trading, and that his prosecution had nothing to do with his refusal to allow spying on his customers without the permission of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But to this day, Nacchio insists that his prosecution was retaliation for refusing to break the law on the NSA’s behalf.” [Andrea Peterson, WaPo; earlier here, here]
Also on surveillance: “One NSA analyst was recreationally surveilling women for 5 years, until a girlfriend realized he was wiretapping her.” [Kevin Poulsen, Wired] “To boldly snoop where no snoop has snooped before” [Lowering the Bar on NSA grandiosity] No, it’s not creepy at all for the British government to put up big peeping-eyes posters to remind taxpayers they’re being watched [Telegraph last November]
My new Cato post tells how on-site feds increasingly direct big business decisions.
P.S. Related thoughts on deferred prosecution agreements from Brandon Garrett and David Zaring at NYT “DealBook.”