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August 08, 2012

Justice collects record fines for fraud


Acting U.S. Associate Attorney General Tony West. (UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg)

WASHINGTON (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Justice says it has stepped up charges of defrauding the government and will collect $8 billion in penalties this year.

The surge in penalties, from pharmaceutical companies, military contractors, banks and other businesses, comes from resolution of longstanding actions and lawsuits against mortgage lenders after the financial crisis but also reflects a renewed government emphasis on corporate fraud, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

"We are putting more resources into these cases and better using the resources we have," said Tony West, acting U.S. associate attorney general.

The collections have included $8.6 billion over the last three years and double that amount this year but they highlight the relative lack of charges against executives at companies receiving the stiff penalties, the newspaper noted.

"A lot of people on the street, they're wondering how a company can commit serious violations of securities laws and yet no individuals seem to be involved and n individual responsibility was assessed," said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chairman of a securities regulation committee.

The Justice Department says its prosecutors routinely assess strength of evidence in deciding whether to charge individuals.

"To the extent you do not see many individuals being held accountable, that's not because of a lack of will on the part of the Department of Justice," said West. "There is a lot of behavior that makes us angry but which is not necessarily illegal. If the evidence is there we won't hesitate to bring those cases."

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