The Corporate Crime Explosion

One thing that inside-the-beltway corporate liberals and conservatives agree on is this -- crime in America is committed primarily by the poor and the blacks.
Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist and a "liberal," believes that "young black males commit most of the crimes in Washington, D.C."
Charles Krauthammer, a nationally syndicated columnist and a conservative, has written that "crime is generally an occupation of the poor."
James Glassman, another nationally syndicated columnist, writes that the rich "don't commit the violent crimes that require billions to be spent on law enforcement."
These statements can be considered plausible only if we ignore -- as Cohen, Krauthammer, Glassman and their colleagues in the mainstream media regularly ignore -- the crimes and violence committed by powerful large American corporations and their primarily wealthy non-young-black-male executives.
Exactly how much damage is inflicted by corporate crime and violence, only the criminals, their high-powered lobbyists and lawyers know for sure. (Robert Bennett, one of the nation's premiere white-collar crime defense lawyers, has said that "ninety percent of what I work on never sees the public light of day -- and that should be true of any good white-collar crime defense attorney.")
Every year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issues its Crime in the United States report which documents murder, robbery, assault, burglary and other street crimes. The report ignores corporate and white-collar crimes such as pollution, procurement fraud, financial fraud, public corruption and occupational homicide.
The FBI does not issue a yearly Corporate Crime in the United States report, despite strong evidence indicating that corporate crime and violence inflicts far more damage on society than all street crime combined.
Much corporate crime and violence goes undetected or unprosecuted for two reasons.
First, unlike most other criminal groups in the United States, major corporations have enough power to define the laws under which they live.
Second, corporations have enough power to influence prosecutors not to bring criminal charges.
The result: less than half of one percent (250) of the criminal indictments (51,253) brought by the Department of Justice in 1994 involved environmental crimes, occupational safety and health crimes, and crimes involving product and consumer safety issues, according to David Burnham, the author of the book, Above the Law: Secret Deals, Political Fixes and Other Misadventures of the U.S. Department of Justice. Despite the corporate criminals' built-in advantages, blatant acts of criminality do sometimes slip through three cracks and are prosecuted.
Forty-six executives were convicted in the "Operation-Ill-Wind" defense procurement fraud enforcement action in the early 1990s. Six major defense corporations ---- Cubic, Hazeltine, Loral, Sperry/Unisys, Teledyne, Whittaker -- were convicted in that operation.
Exxon, International Paper, United Technologies, Weyerhauser, Pillsbury, Ashland Oil, Texaco, Nabisco, and Ralston-Purina, have all been convicted of environmental crimes in recent years.
Yet, despite a growing wave of corporate crime and violence lapping up over society, if you ask the average person to name a crime, he or she most likely will say burglary, robbery, murder -- not pollution, price-fixing and procurement fraud.
Television plays a major role in shaping this misperception. If the television crime shows and local news broadcasts, which now focus overwhelmingly on street crime, gave equal time to corporate crime and violence, the public perception no doubt would more accurately reflect reality.
But today, no matter what the topic -- America's Most Wanted, shame, or three strikes and you're out -- corporate crime and violence is left out of the conversation by corporatist media elites and politicians.
This is a prescription for societal rot. As poor Americans are driven to prison in record numbers for minor drug crimes and petit burglary, wealthy Americans and their corporations elude justice for major criminal acts like pollution, corruption, selling defective and deadly products and ripping off the government.
Corporatist politicians like Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) believe the time has come to "reestablish shame as means of enforcing proper behavior."
Who wouldn't agree? But let's start at the top.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter.
Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor.