TUESDAY 2 MARCH 2021
Justice under Capitalism
Those relying on the U.S. justice system to hold the Trump administration accountable for the crime spree that was the past four years, need to consider the record of the Justice Department in prosecuting corporate and white collar criminals. Let’s just start with one case.
In January of 2021, the Justice Department allowed Boeing to resolve a criminal charge “related to a conspiracy to defraud” the government in connection with the FAA’s evaluation of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplane.
Boeing needed FAA approval for the planes and FAA was charged with developing safety protocols for them. Employees of Boeing, however, placing “profit over candor” deceived the government by withholding important information from the regulatory agency, information which might have delayed approval or necessitated increased training for the use of the planes.
These employees continued to withhold the information and participate in a conspiracy to cover up the withholding, even after the first disastrous crash of the Boeing 737 MAX in 2018.
In 2018, Loin Air Flight 610 crashed near Indonesia. 189 passengers and crew were killed. In March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, crashed near Ejere Ethiopia. All 157 passengers and crew died. In March 2019 the plane involved, the 737 MAX, was officially grounded.
No individuals were charged in the federal criminal information filed against a company, Boeing, and no individuals were punished. Boeing was allowed to buy itself out of prosecution.
The agreement accepted by the Justice Department was a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), one of many the Department of Justice enters into with corporations every year. According to “The Chikenshit Club” by Jesse Eisinger (one of the most underestimated books in the past decade) from 2002 until the Fall of 2016, the Justice Department entered into 416 such agreements. In the previous 10 years, they had participated in 18.
These DPAs take the place of prosecutions. They are easier for the Justice Department (require less resources and risk of losing), allow the Department to claim victories and tout what appear to be large fines. And, the NPAs are much less painful for the corporation. The fines are usually tiny compared with resources of the corporation, and they rarely involve individuals.
So even though individuals at Boeing made decision after decision to deceive the regulatory agency the public depends on to ensure flying safety, they were not named and not prosecuted. They were allowed to hide behind a NPA that resulted in a fine paid by Boeing.
DPAs are similar to plea bargains. But, unlike plea bargains, they are not lowered charges in exchange for a guilty plea. It is a prosecution that has been deferred, not brought. Boeing has not been prosecuted for a crime, and can claim so. It has been allowed to buy itself out of prosecution.
Every criminal in every court in the country (except the innocent ones) would love to be allowed to pay a small sum in order not to be prosecuted for the crime s/he committed. They are almost never afforded this opportunity.
Ordinary criminal defendants (the poor) are almost always required to plead guilty to a crime in order to secure a more lenient sentence. The poor defendant is subject to the stigma of criminal prosecution, the economic costs. These companies, however, are allowed to negotiate a settlement that doesn’t even include prosecution, or necessarily an admission of guilt.
In this case, Boeing agreed to a settlement, a bribe, in order not to be prosecuted for deceiving the government by withholding crucial information about one of its planes from those charged with developing safety protocols, information that might well have prevented two crashes and the loss of over 400 lives.
Boeing, a company, a legal fiction, is held responsible for its’ employees behavior. Those employees who participated in this conspiracy, knowing that it would endanger lives for profit, are left free to be promoted, or leave the company and get jobs working elsewhere, committing more crimes.
The FAA is one of the agencies administering regulations about how corporations function. Republicans have spent the past forty years fighting against every regulation of industry, starving regulatory agencies of funds, and demonizing them in the eyes of the public they were designed to protect.
When a white collar or corporate criminal is caught, they are allowed to hide behind their “company” and evade responsibility.
If you want to know what Republicans stand for, this is it – free, unfettered, unaccountable fraud against the American people for profit.
Free Speech TV: Economic Update with Richard Wolff, History Lessons on Capitalism’s Failures, 3/2/21.
Department of Justice News: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/boeing-charged-737-max-fraud-conspiracy-and-agrees-pay-over-25-billion
Mother Jones several background articles
The Chickenshit Club by Jesse Eisinger