U.S. deputy attorney general takes on corporate fraud

POIPU — Like the blindfolded lady of justice, Larry D. Thompson, deputy attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice, balances his sworn duty to go after those suspected of committing corporate fraud with the need to protect innocent employees.

Thompson addressed a room of around 450 judges and attorneys gathered at the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort & Spa here Wednesday morning as part of the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s annual judicial conference held this week at the Poipu hotel.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s jurisdiction includes Hawaii, other western states, and some Pacific island territories.

Thompson said he was personally asked by Pres. George W. Bush to head up a federal corporate fraud task force that has since July of last year pursued 200 cases, made 200 arrests, secured 75 convictions, and gotten over $1 billion in forfeitures and other fees into federal-government coffers.

Still, he said, there is the need to consider “real-world” ramifications of indicting corporations, including harm done to innocent employees who work at the indicted corporations, financial-market reactions to corporate indictments, and congressionally mandated regulations that business owners may find “excessive or inappropriate” as enacted as a result of highly publicized, corporate-fraud cases.

Federal prosecution efforts seek to hold corporations and involved managers and owners accountable for financial misdeeds, without hampering the entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking necessary for businesses to succeed, he said.

Under Thompson’s leadership, the Department of Justice has revised its corporate indictment guidelines, in part to ensure honest corporate compliance with federal investigations, he added.

Bush demands “tough, vigorous, criminal prosecution” of those involved in corporate financial misdeeds, but Thompson, a former private-practice attorney and U.S. attorney, acknowledges the need for honest business people to remain free to compete in open, competitive markets.

Thompson’s daily work also focuses on the war on terrorism, under Attorney General John Ashcroft, he said.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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