White-collar prosecutions and corporate fines drop under Trump

Peter Stubley

A drop in white-collar crime prosecutions and corporate fines during the Trump administration has prompted a warning from a leading law firm.

New York-based Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz issued a memo to its clients noting the “significant” decrease in both the number of cases and the scale of penalties over the last two years.

The lawyers advised businesses not to relax their approach to laws and regulations, adding: “Our experience suggests that succumbing to such temptation would be a mistake.”

It comes after data from the US Department of Justice revealed white-collar prosecutions – including offences of fraud, antitrust violations and identity theft – hit a 20-year low earlier this year.

Prosecutions peaked in 2011, during Barack Obama’s first term in office, and have steadily declined since, according to Syracuse University’s TRAC reports.

“White-collar prosecutions since President Trump assumed office generally have been lower than in previous administrations,” researchers said.

Corporate fines from criminal prosecutions also plunged by more than 90 per cent, according to a study comparing the last year of the Obama administration and the first year under President Trump.

The “lighter touch” approach towards the banking industry is further demonstrated by a large drop in the number of cases pursued by the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to analysis by The New York Times.

“In such an environment, companies might be tempted to think that having an effective compliance programme is less urgent and less important than the past,” Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz told its clients on Wednesday.

“In fact, now is arguably the best time for corporations to continue investing in their compliance programmes to ensure they have in place an effective and comprehensive set of compliance policies, procedures and internal controls.”

The Department of Justice has previously tried to deny suggestions that white-collar prosecutions are decreasing, claiming a three per cent rise during the year to September 2018, with more than 6,500 suspects charged nationwide.

“President Donald Trump is a law-and-order president—and this is a law-and-order administration,” said attorney general Jeff Sessions, less than three weeks before he resigned at Mr Trump’s request.