An Open Letter
To John Ashcroft
It's Time To Deal With Corporate Crime
by Ralph Nader And Lee Drutman, November 6, 2003
Recently, your Federal Bureau of Investigations released its annual
"Crime in the United States" report, which pulls together
comprehensive data on eight crime indexes: murder and manslaughter;
forcible rape; robbery; aggravated assault; burglary; larceny-theft;
motor vehicle theft; and arson. The report is obviously useful in empowering
law enforcement professionals and the public; it helps them to better
understand and respond to criminal trends.
Conspicuously absent from this report, however, is an assessment of
corporate crime. The report contains no statistics on the accounting,
securities, and financial services crimes that have rocked the economy
in the last two years. It does not list details on the litany of food
safety violations, product safety violations, workplace safety violations,
environmental pollution and countless other crimes that kill, injure
and sicken millions of Americans each year.
Certainly, as attorney general of the United States, you should understand
the problem of corporate crime. After all, in a September 27, 2002 address
to the Corporate Fraud/Responsibility Conference, you said that "the
malignancy of corporate corruption threatens more than the future of
a few companies -- it destroys workers' incomes, decimates families'
savings and casts a shadow on the health, integrity and good name of
business itself." You warned that "We cannot -- we will not
-- surrender freedom for all to the tyranny of greed for the few."
You told prosecutors that "with each act of justice, you send the
unmistakable message that no board room is beyond the law, no executive
is above the law."
Yet, because the FBI does not collect data on corporate crime, both
the American public and the law enforcement community lack good information
on what has become a pressing national problem - a corporate crime wave.
Comprehensive data on corporate crime would help law enforcement officials
to better analyze patterns and better direct resources. Information
is also a powerful tool for public support of strong law enforcement,
and the lack of it hampers your efforts to stay true to your tough words
on corporate crime.
Corporate crime, as you surely recognize, is no small problem. Where
the costs have been estimated, the numbers are staggering. Most credible
estimates confirm that, in the aggregate, white-collar and corporate
crimes cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars annually - far
more than conventional categories of crime such as burglary and robbery
- and cause many preventable deaths, injuries, and disease.
Using conservative numbers issued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for
instance, criminologist Jeffrey Reiman, a professor at American University,
estimated that the total cost of white-collar crime in 1997 was $338
billion. The actual cost is probably much greater. For instance, the
General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, estimates
that health-care fraud alone costs up to $100 billion each year. Another
estimate (by University of Cincinnati Criminal Justice Professor Francis
T. Cullen) suggests that the annual cost of antitrust or trade violations
is at least $250 billion. By comparison, the FBI estimated that in 2002,
the nation's total loss from robbery, burglary, larceny-theft, motor
vehicle theft and arson was less than $18 billion - less than a third
of the estimated $60 billion Enron alone cost investors, pensioners
But corporate crime isn't just about the money. It's also about people's
lives. The national murder rate has hovered around 16,000 per year in
recent years (In 2002, the FBI reported 16,204 murders). But statistics
from a respected group of occupational health and safety investigators,
led by Professor J. Paul Leigh, have estimated that in 1992 alone there
were 66,971 total job-related injury and occupational disease deaths.
These numbers do not include the thousands of annual deaths caused by
cancers linked to corporate pollution, deaths from defective products,
tainted foods, and other corporate-related causes. Though we can begin
to estimate, it is hard to know how many deaths are caused by corporate
crime, since again, we have no official numbers or annual reports.
There is now a growing consensus that corporate crime is a mammoth problem
threatening the stability of our economy and the security of millions
of Americans. But how mammoth exactly? This is what millions of Americans
would like to know through official and authoritative sources from a
government that should be acting to diminish such public dangers, not
Mr. Ashcroft, if you are indeed serious about enforcing the rule of
law fairly and justly in this country, we urge you to direct the FBI
to expand its annual "Crime in the United States Report" to
actually describe all the crime in the United States, not just street-level
criminal activity. Corporate crime is a huge problem, with far more
impact on society than street crime. The major media has recognized
this point more and more in the past three years in headlines and cover
stories and editorials. And with the help of more comprehensive data,
we could gain an even better understanding of the problem, which is
essential to solving it.
We expect you to take this matter seriously and look forward to your