NPR FOR THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

Get_Out_Of_Jail.jpgFRESH AIR

listen.gifWhen the energy giant Enron collapsed 10 years ago, top executives of the company faced criminal prosecution, and many served lengthy prison terms. In the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s, hundreds of bankers went to jail. But the financial meltdown of 2008 hasn’t generated a single prosecution of high-level Wall Street players — even though the Securities and Exchange Commission has brought civil cases against some companies and reached financial settlements. That’s a result of new guidelines issued by the Justice Department in 2008, which have allowed prosecutors to take a “softer approach” to corporate crimes. The guidelines — known as deferred prosecution agreements — have permitted financial companies to avoid indictments if they agree to investigate and report their own crimes. “It’s a gentlemen’s agreement, and it really allows companies to keep their share prices higher and it helps companies continue to do business with the government, but it’s a lot lighter [in terms of penalties,]” says New York Times financial reporter Louise Story. “And this [approach] was celebrated on Wall Street.” MORE

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