Is Wall Street a Gang, Part IV?
The record of criminality within the boardrooms and offices of American corporations continues with no abatement. Their behavior fits the profile of a “street gang.”
While not every corporation is literally housed on “Wall Street” they nevertheless are listed on the New York Stock Exchange. And the SEC – the cops of Wall Street – continues to be quite busy, as are federal courts.
Here are two recent examples:
· “Twenty Nine Dead and Alpha Gets a Non Prosecution Agreement” – so reads the headline from the Corporate Crime Reporter which tells the story of the infamous mining “accident” in Montcoal, West Virginia where an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine (UBB) killed 29 and injured two. In a deal with the prosecutors the parent company, Alpha Natural Resources, will pay a $209 million fine as part of a “non-prosecution” agreement with the company. The mine was owned by Massey Energy Company at the time and has since been purchased by Alpha. A “non-prosecution” has become a standard response to corporate crime. It allows the corporation to escape criminal prosecution along with its negative imagery and damage to its reputation. The process began during the Bush Administration and continues under the current administration. Not all cases end this way however, as the next news item notes.
· “Merck Pays a Pittance for Mass Deaths” is another headline. In this case Merck has agreed to pay a $950 million fine and actually pled guilty to a criminal charge over the marketing and sales of the painkiller Vioxx. It has been estimated that 165,000 have died worldwide from taking the pill.
Another report in the Corporate Crime Reporter references a law review article written by Jane Barrett titled When Business Conduct Turns Violent: Bringing BP, Massey, and Other Scofflaws to Justice, 48 American Criminal Law Review 287 (2011). It this article the author notes that in April, 2010 a total of 47 people died because the companies they worked for “gambled with their lives.” Besides the above referenced mining accident in West Virginia, Barrett lists the following two examples:
· On April 2, a blast at Tesoro Corporation's oil refinery in Anacortes, Washington took the lives of seven workers.
· April 20th, eleven people were killed when the BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico – an explosion that injured seventeen others and created an ecological and economic nightmare for the region.
Barrett goes on to argue that what is needed is a “Federal Workplace Homicide Law” that would be the equivalent to the Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute. This law says that “a captain, an engineer, a pilot or any person employed on a vessel, whose misconduct, negligence or inattention to his or her duties results in a loss of life, can be held accountable for a felony that carries a ten year prison term.” The law also “covers an owner, inspector, or public officer whose fraud, neglect, connivance or misconduct results in the death of a person.”
Barrett says such a law should also apply to land businesses.
Barrett’s article goes deeper and brings up numerous additional examples of corporate criminal acts (in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health law, which is enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA). Examples include the explosion at a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, back in 1984 resulting in the deaths of about 3,000 and injuries to 100,000 or more; numerous instances of BP failing to abide by safety standards, resulting in several explosions and hundreds of deaths and injuries (e.g., an explosion at a Texas oil refinery that killed more than 170 in March, 2005, plus another one at the same place in 2008 that killed one person). Despite these and other criminal acts, says Barrett, “not a single individual employee, agent, officer or director of any BP subsidiary or parent organization, has been charged, much less convicted of a crime.”