With the change of presidential administrations in January 2017, it was expected that the priorities of the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) would shift away from white-collar crime enforcement and towards immigration, violent crime, and narcotics enforcement. But recent data actually show a significant uptick in both prosecutions and convictions of individuals by the DOJ Criminal Division’s Fraud Section in 2018 over the previous two years. Moreover, the amount of money the DOJ recovered from companies through Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) or Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPAs) skyrocketed in 2018 .
In early 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a new policy encouraging prosecutors handling False Claims Act (FCA) cases to seek dismissal of qui tam complaints that threaten the government’s interests. However, it was unclear how and to what extent prosecutors would carry out that directive. Now a year later, federal prosecutors appear to be embracing the new policy—and it is already having an effect on one case involving a drug manufacturer.
The January 2018 Granston memorandum outlined the Department’s new approach to handling FCA prosecutions in “in light of the government’s limited resources.” Under the new policy, prosecutors are encouraged to move to dismiss qui tam claims as a way to “advance the government’s interests, preserve limited resources, and avoid adverse precedent.” This marked a departure from the Department’s previous policy of rarely exercising its statutory authority to dismiss such claims. To guide prosecutors, the memorandum offered a nonexhaustive list of factors as to when a motion to dismiss a qui tam claim is proper. Those factors include: (1) “curbing meritless qui tams”; (2) “preventing parasitic or opportunistic qui tam actions”; (3) “preventing interference with agency policies and programs”; (4) “controlling litigation brought on behalf of the United States”; (5) “safeguarding classified information and national security interests”; (6) “preserving government resources”; and (7) “addressing egregious procedural errors.” Overall, the memorandum instructed prosecutors to seek dismissal when the litigation does not serve the government’s interests.
On November 29, 2018, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) much-anticipated revisions to the September 2015 Memorandum on “Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing,” commonly known as the “Yates Memo” and named for Rosenstein’s predecessor, Sally Q. Yates. The Yates Memo emphasized the importance of holding individuals accountable for corporate misconduct, and set forth principles for DOJ prosecutors to follow in determining when corporations would qualify for “cooperation credit” in corporate criminal and civil investigations. The most significant—and controversial—provision in the Yates Memo required that “in order to qualify for any cooperation credit, corporations must provide to the Department all relevant facts relating to the individuals responsible for the misconduct.” The new policy announced by Rosenstein modifies this “all or nothing” approach to cooperation credit by giving DOJ prosecutors and civil attorneys more flexibility.
In announcing the new policy, Rosenstein reaffirmed the Department’s commitment to prosecuting individual wrongdoers, stating that, “The most effective deterrent to corporate criminal misconduct is identifying and punishing the people who committed the crimes.” However, he stated that the lack of flexibility in the Yates Memo’s approach impeded resolutions and wasted resources, and in some cases was not strictly enforced.
On October 11, 2018, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Brian A. Benczkowski issued new guidance on the selection of corporate compliance monitors in Criminal Division matters. The Benczkowski Memorandum signals a shift toward a more business-friendly approach to the imposition and use of monitors by the DOJ. Among other new provisions, the guidance directs prosecutors to weigh the potential benefits of a monitor against the costs and burdens on the company, and to consider whether the company’s existing compliance program and controls obviate the need for a monitor.
Read the full Alert on the Duane Morris LLP website.
By Michael E. Clark and Amanda L. Bassen
In yet another modification by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to Obama administration policies, on July 19, 2017, Attorney General Jefferson Sessions announced a policy reviving the criticized civil asset forfeiture practice that allows the DOJ to forfeit assets seized by state or local law enforcement. The Attorney General’s order (the “Order”) authorizes the federal forfeiture of property seized under state law by state and local law enforcement agencies when alleged criminal conduct purportedly violates federal law (referred to by the DOJ as “federal adoption”). The Order allows for the seizure of cash and other personal property from individuals suspected of crimes, but not yet convicted or charged. Continue reading Back to the Future (Part II) – The Expansion of Civil Asset Forfeiture
By Michael E. Clark and Amanda L. Bassen
On May 12, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum, dated May 10, 2017 (the “Sessions Memorandum”), ordering stricter charging and sentencing policies to the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in conducting federal prosecutions. The Sessions Memorandum announced that the DOJ must charge and pursue “the most serious, readily provable” offenses. Attorney General Sessions defined such offenses as those carrying the greatest sentence under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“USSG”), including sentences carrying mandatory minimum terms of incarceration. Continue reading Back to the Future
As a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, I am well acquainted with the phrase “takedowns.” For the unwary, a subject-area “takedown” is a practice used by federal prosecutors to send a message to a given industry. Prosecutors investigate and prepare to charge cases in a given industry sector and then release the charges nationally on the same day along with a press release. The idea is that such public “takedowns” serve as a deterrent to future criminal activity in the industry. For example, almost every April 15th, prosecutors across the country release charges in dozens of tax-fraud cases. Continue reading Healthcare Fraud Takedowns
The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released a report on March 29, 2017, faulting the DOJ for failing to systematically evaluate its forfeiture data to determine the extent to which seizures benefit law enforcement efforts or present potential risks to civil liberties. While the Inspector General’s (“IG’s”) report specifically focused on the forfeiture activities of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), its conclusions may likely be extended to other arenas in which the federal government initiates civil forfeiture activities, including white collar crime. Continue reading New Scrutiny of Civil Forfeiture Laws