WASHINGTON —Despite the many challenges in bringing such cases, the Justice Department is renewing its commitment to prosecuting corporate executives for financial misdeeds, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said Thursday.

In a warning shot to Wall Street, Yates unveiled new policies to guide federal prosecutors in bringing more criminal cases against individuals. She also acknowledged that the Justice Department has, at times, struggled to hold executives accountable for fraud that occurs at their companies.

“Crime is crime. And it is our obligation at the Justice Department to ensure that we are holding lawbreakers accountable regardless of whether they commit their crimes on the street corner or in the boardroom,” Yates said at New York University’s law school.

“Americans should never believe, even incorrectly, that one’s criminal activity will go unpunished simply because it was committed on behalf of a corporation.”

The new guidance comes amid persistent criticism that the department, even while negotiating multibillion-dollar settlements with large banks, has not been aggressive enough in prosecuting individuals for financial misconduct – including after the mortgage crisis that devastated the U.S. economy.

It’s not clear how far the new directives, some of which are already in place, will go in easing the barriers that have long thwarted successful prosecutions of high-ranking corporate executives. But taken together, the policies are designed to put the government in a stronger bargaining posture in corporate fraud investigations and to reduce leverage companies have in shielding individual executives from prosecutors.

“It does elevate to the level of policy what’s been said in speeches and what has been the practice” already of many Justice Department prosecutors, said Matthew L. Schwartz, a former Justice Department prosecutor in New York City who helped lead the case against Bernie Madoff.

Perhaps the most striking element of the guidance mandates that companies that want credit for cooperating with the government must turn over evidence of wrongdoing by specific individuals. Previously, companies could be credited for disclosing improper practices at the corporate level even if they didn’t identify individuals suspected of wrongdoing.

“It’s all or nothing. No more picking and choosing what gets disclosed,” Yates said.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.