DOJ White-Collar Crime Prosecutions Continue Decline

The Department of Justice’s prosecution of white-collar crime has been dropping steadily for the past decade. Just as it did in 2021, another analysis of DOJ data shows that 2022 had the lowest rates of white-collar crime prosecution since tracking started two decades ago.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a Syracuse University joint research data center, has been creating reports on the case-by-case Department of Justice Data every year and recently found 2022 marked an all-time low since tracking began during the Reagan administration. 

TRAC found 4,180 white-collar defendants were prosecuted during 2022’s fiscal year, which ended in September. 

The DOJ has previously disputed TRAC’s methodology.

“Data provided by TRAC routinely differs from data and statistics reflected in the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys’ published annual reports, DOJ’s main litigating division reports, U.S. Sentencing Commission data and U.S. Courts data,” a DOJ spokesperson said in a 2021 statement.

TRAC’s 2022 DOJ numbers were even lower than in 2020 when COVID-19 caused partial federal shutdowns but introduced a new popular form of white-collar fraud: COVID-19 Relief Fund and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) fraud. Agencies indicted 97 individuals in 2020 on charges related to PPP fraud. Still, numbers continued to decline.

“The fact is the trend is continuing and it is so persistent, regardless of changes in presidential administrations and their priorities, it continues,” Susan B. Long told The Crime Report. Long co-founded TRAC in 1989 with investigative journalist David Burnham and still acts as co-director.

In March 2022, U.S Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General of the DOJ’s criminal division Kenneth Polite addressed the American Bar Association’s (ABA’s) National Institute on White Collar Crime Convention, reaffirming the Biden administration’s commitment to fighting white-collar crime and making it a top priority for 2022 as Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP reports. Still, prosecutions hit their lowest point yet. 

“In this report, we spent more time trying to get at how long does [a white-collar investigation take actually,” Long said. “While there isn’t really any known data at least that we’re aware of for how long [white-collar] investigations take, we did have systematic data on how long it took federal prosecutors to consider the evidence before deciding whether or not to take the matter to court.”

White-collar crimes have a lower rate of federal prosecution compared to most other categories of crime including immigration crimes which TRAC found to have a 96 percent likelihood of prosecution, followed by drug offenses at 73 percent and crimes involving weapons at 68 percent. White Collar Crime had the third to lowest rate of prosecution at 38 percent. 

As TRAC notes, white-collar investigations can take years before they result in a criminal case, meaning 2022’s prosecutions were shaped by investigations that were ongoing before President Joe Biden took office. TRAC found the review process for white-collar prosecutions filed in 2022 to be an average of 452 days, 3.6 times more than the average federal prosecution time for the whole year.

Cases against businesses tracked by TRAC were prosecuted by the DOJ at a much lower rate than individuals, with one business being prosecuted for every 100 individuals on average throughout the years since this type of data started to be recorded in 2004. While businesses are rarely prosecuted, white-collar crimes and fraud typically involve organizations, government programs or other providers. 

Long pointed to the 2011 peak of white-collar crime prosecutions, where prosecution reached heights double the rates of recent years, as a sign that it is not impossible for the U.S. to prosecute more white-collar crimes.

“I mean, that’s a big difference,” Long said.

Read the full report, ‘Corporate and White-Collar Prosecutions Hit New All-Time Lows in FY 2022,’ at TRAC-FBI. 

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