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Justice Department Pledges To Crack Down On Wall Street Fraud


The Justice Department announced today that it's changing the way it pursues corporate crime. Instead of just prosecuting big banks and companies, it will also pursue the individuals behind the crimes more aggressively. NPR's Jim's Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: It's been a major complaint against the Department of Justice in recent years - the U.S. has pursued charges against numerous big banks and Wall Street firms, often racking up big financial settlements, but it has rarely named any of the individuals who worked at those places. Now the department is promising a shift in tone. Today Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates addressed a crowd at NYU Law School.


SALLY YATES: Americans should never believe - even incorrectly - that one's criminal activity will go unpunished simply because it was commitment on behalf of a corporation.

ZARROLI: The department sent out a memo saying that from now on, investigations of wrongdoing will begin with individuals and widen out to corporations. The department will not agree to spare individuals' criminal liability except in extraordinary circumstances. And companies that want credit for cooperating with the government will have to disclose all relevant facts about individuals.

Brandon Garrett, of the University Virginia Law School, wrote a book about the way the Justice Department prosecutes white-collar crime. He says today's move is welcome.

BRANDON GARRETT: Well, we have major banks, major corporations that are recidivists. They have not been fixed. And when that happens, I'm relieved that the Department of Justice is starting to listen to the critics.

ZARROLI: It's not clear the memo will have much effect on current cases being pursued by the department. It's meant to serve as guidance for U.S. attorneys going forward. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.