Is DOJ De-Prioritizing White Collar Crime?

News organizations from across the political spectrum are taking note of recent signals from US AG Jeff Sessions which suggest he and the Trump administration are likely to shift law enforcement resources away from white collar crime enforcement.

While it remains to be seen whether such predictions will bear out, a further shift of resources would be remarkable given the post-9/11 move to prioritize anti-terrorism and national security and de-emphasize white collar crime cases. That re-organization drained the ranks of white collar investigators and prosecutors, leaving many US Attorney offices’ fraud and financial crimes sections decimated. At least one prominent commentator (U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff) has speculated that the paucity of prosecutions after the 2008 financial meltdown was a result of the shift. Anecdotal conversation among white collar defense attorneys suggests that the number of fraud cases has severely declined in the last fifteen years.

A move to specifically prioritize prosecutions of violent crime – as outlined in Session’s March 8 memo – could very well lead to even fewer white collar cases, at the very same time that regulations which emerged from the 2008 crisis are being repealed. But let’s give DOJ some time to settle in before we jump to conclusions about where it is headed…after all, it was only a month ago that all the US Attorneys were asked to resign, and most have yet to be replaced.

UPDATE: Responding to the reports and concerns cited above, Law360 reports

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a speech Monday that the new administration will not bring a sea change in white collar enforcement, saying the U.S. Department of Justice ‘will continue to investigate and prosecute corporate fraud and misconduct.'”

“Sessions lauded the work of compliance professionals and signaled that the DOJ will continue to credit compliance, proactive disclosures and cooperation when prosecuting corporate wrongdoing. ‘We have done our part to reward effective compliance programs and to better understand your efforts; you have my commitment that we will continue to do so,’ Sessions said.”