Indifference to “Suite” Crimes

You would think that, in the midst of the nation’s largest disclosed corporate crime wave, Washington would be replete with focused concern and corrective action. Not so. Look at the scene of indifference:

1. There are no congressional investigations planned on business crime and the need for stronger laws and more enforcement resources and prosecutorial attention to these violations that corrupt government and harm consumers.

2. The law Enforcement Assistance Administration continues to commit its sizeable funds to police weaponry and facilities for street crime while ignoring the raging “crime in the suites” that produces far more dollar loss and casual ties.

One looks in vain for any LEAA interest in studying business crime, improving its reporting and funding willing local prosecutors to assign staff for antimonopoly and other executive crimes against ordinary people.

3. None of the hundreds of national trade associations in this city, from the Chamber of Commerce on up, has publicly condemned in these last two hectic years the crimes of business whose representatives have been convicted or have trooped to Washington to confess to the charges in return for penny ante penalties.

Mum’s the word in the business community, which would still have us believe the problem to be only a few rotten apples in the barrel.

4. “Law and order” commentators and columnists, who style themselves “conservatives,” have said little or nothing about the Lock-heeds, the United Brands, the Exxons and the Northrops with their bribes, payoffs and political slush funds.

They look the other way from food, drug, chemical and auto companies which find the violation of health, safety and environmental laws easier than applying a fraction of their billions to reducing their destruction of other people’s property and safety.

5. President Ford delivers a crime message in June with only passing references to world business crime — primarily pyramid schemes that decidedly do not include the biggest “pyramid schemes” of all in the banking, oil and insurance industries.

Of course there is some enforcement activity, starting with the Securities and Exchange Commission, whose mission is to see that investors are told the facts about their companies or prospective investments.

What started as a trickle of corporate crime disclosures is turning into a torrent of criminality — premeditated and implemented at the highest executive suite levels. These crimes have to attract some enforcement efforts by the Treasury and Justice Departments which are difficult to block once the genie is out of the SEC bottle.

Already, however, with little more than the tip of the iceberg visible, there are signs that business-minded law enforcers think that enough genii have been let out of enough bottles.

Those officials whose mind-set identifies General Motors with America find it easy to conclude that too much corporate crime enforcement might damage not only business but also America.

Who dares to suggest in this way that America’s Siamese twin is business crime? Especially after Exxon admitted some of its $46 million payoffs in Italy were allotted to the Italian Communist Party. No one is bold enough yet to convey this thought openly. But look at the early smoke signals.

In early August, Lockheed Aircraft Corp., whose inefficiencies have long been subsidized by the little taxpayer, told the SEC that it would oppose the agency’s drive to require the company to stop bribing in order to further its sales in foreign countries.

Just a week earlier, Lockheed admitted it had paid $22 million in bribes for such purposes in recent years.

Counseled by former Attorney General William P. Rogers, now a New York corporate attorney, Lockheed said that other companies were doing the same thing and it would lose sales if it stopped bribing government officials and other intermediaries (The extent of Lockheed’s largesse in this country remains secret).

Three weeks before Rogers’ deplorably unlawyer-like advice to Lockheed was made public, SEC commissioner A.A. Sommer Jr. delivered a speech in Colorado suggesting a slowdown in detailed disclosures of such crimes and giving reasons remarkably similar to those contained in the Rogers’ strategy.

What is surprising about Sommer’s approach is that much of his speech was devoted to a recounting of these wide-ranging business crimes and how they were conceived and implemented at the highest corporate levels with “deceit, cunning and deviousness,” he added, “worthy of the most fabled political boss or fixer.”

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