Larry E. Ribstein is the Richard & Marie Corman Professor of Law University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign. Professor Ribstein runs an interesting business law blog called Ideoblog, and yesterday he posted this timely item about a CLE program that he was attending in which the criminal case of former Dynegy executive Jamie Olis (previously discussed here, here and here) was being discussed. The entire post is well worth reading, and here is a sampling of his observations:
[David U. Gourevitch, defense attorney and former SEC enforcement attorney] notes that there has been a “new wave” of white collar prosecutions, with sentences “going through the roof.” The latest guidelines will lead to treason — or drug-type life sentences — for first time corporate defrauders.
[Michael Clark, a Houston litigator] re Jamie Olis: he notes that Olis had no prior record, no personal benefit. This was a standard “cookie jar reserve” case where Dynergy had structured earnings to meet Wall Street expectations. An expert witness contested the government’s damage-causation theory. He also notes that this 20-plus year sentence was without the enhancement that will be imposed in future cases under SARBOX.
Gourevitch points out that a few years ago such a case didn’t even merit an injunction. The recent prosecutions all involve common and pervasive practices. Conduct that was considered common and close to the line is now viewed by prosecutors as “way over the line.” An example is what happened with the mutual fund sentences [more on mutual funds in a later post]. Some critical differences from the past include parallel investigations, very speedy, with investigations and prosecutions unfolding in just a few months. So just as business has gotten faster, so has criminal investigation of business.