Fierce indictment of a parallel-universe judicial system that punishes the poor but increasingly lets the rich walk away from the wreckage of their crimes.
In the early 2000s, writes Pulitzer Prize–winning ProPublica senior reporter Eisinger, the dot-com bubble burst “revealed a corporate book-cooking pandemic” that sent numerous corporate officers from Qwest, Enron, Adelphia, and other corporations straight to prison. Later in the decade, the crash that brought the world economy close to the brink of depression saw no prison terms for the top bankers who speculated their ways into disaster—even though Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke quietly observed that it would have sent a useful message to the financial community. Eisinger’s account picks up speed with the Enron investigation, which went after individuals as much as corporations themselves. The government’s prosecutorial strategy has since changed, rarely concentrating on single players and instead preferring not prosecution but settlement, a strategy that, writes the author, “corrodes the rule of law” and encourages criminal behavior. Eisinger identifies a few figures who have balked at going along to get along, such as a New York circuit judge who “broke with zombified judicial tradition…[and] refused to sign off on a settlement that he regarded as a sham,” a radicalization produced by the very financial crisis that other courts were trying to sweep under the rug. A few other players come in for damnation with faint praise, such as recently fired U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, who “might castigate corporate culture in a speech, but…was busting insider traders at hedge funds, a different beast altogether.” Eisinger’s overarching message is that a toothless regulatory and judicial regime cannot but produce—well, chickenshit results, such as the sentencing of a West Virginia mining CEO to a single year in prison for negligence that resulted in the deaths of 29 miners.
Good fuel for the fire for those who decry the rise of corporate power, a rise unlikely to be altered by the current administration.