The fines that are being levied against banks and companies for investment fraud, fraudulent advertising, money laundering and the like are large but come nowhere near the cost to tax payers and investors. Since these fines are but a fraction of the profits that these criminals reap, the fines won’t deter them from repeating the offense. Nor does it help that as part of the settlement the company and its employees are let off the hook for criminal wrongdoing.
In the largest settlement involving a pharmaceutical company, the British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $3 billion in fines for promoting its best-selling antidepressants for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about a top diabetes drug, federal prosecutors announced Monday. The agreement also includes civil penalties for improper marketing of a half-dozen other drugs. [..]
Part of the civil settlement also includes claims that the company overcharged the government for drugs. Glaxo did not admit any wrongdoing in the civil settlement.
Despite the large amount, $3 billion represents only a portion of what Glaxo made on the drugs. Avandia, for example, racked up $10.4 billion in sales, Paxil brought in $11.6 billion, and Wellbutrin sales were $5.9 billion during the years covered by the settlement, according to IMS Health, a data group that consults for drugmakers.
In the New York Times article, Patrick Burns, spokesman for the whistle-blower advocacy group Taxpayers Against Fraud, stated, “So a $3 billion settlement for half a dozen drugs over 10 years can be rationalized as the cost of doing business.” Also, Eliot Spitzer, former New York State Attorney General who sued GlaxoSmithKline in 2004 over allegations about the drug Paxil, was quoted as saying that “What we’re learning is that money doesn’t deter corporate malfeasance, The only thing that will work in my view is C.E.O.’s and officials being forced to resign and individual culpability being enforced.”
In another case, Morgan Stanley, an international investment firm, has agreed to pay a fine of $4.8 million with no admission of wrongdoing for electricity price-fixing said to cost consumers $300 million. Justice department officials said that it sends a message to the banking industry. What message would that be?
The government said the arrangement allowed KeySpan to withhold substantial electricity generating capacity from the market, driving prices higher for consumers, and generated $21.6 million of net revenue for Morgan Stanley.
U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan said he shared the concerns of state officials and the AARP, a nonprofit serving people 50 and older, that any settlement should have reflected the harm to consumers and forced Morgan Stanley to give up the $21.6 million.
“Given the government’s stark allegations of manipulative conduct against Morgan Stanley, disgorgement of $4.8 million is a relatively mild sanction,” Pauley wrote. “There is a risk that a large financial services firm like Morgan Stanley could view such a modest penalty as merely a cost of doing business.
“But despite this court’s misgivings, the government’s decision to settle for less than full damages is entitled to judicial deference, particularly in view of the novelty of the government’s theory.”
The judge also rejected the AARP argument that the $4.8 million be returned to consumers, in part because sending it instead to the U.S. Treasury served the public interest.
So the consumers are left holding the bag, particularly the financially stressed elderly and poor, while the Morgan Stanley and Keyspan continue business as usual concocting new ways to break the law.
If whistleblowers can reveal it, why can’t the government prosecute it? The claim by the Obama administration that it’s too hard to find the evidence to pin on an individual just rings too hollow. It may be hard but it is possible with subpoenas and little more effort. It is well past time we held the criminals responsible for breaking the laws and stop prosecuting those who expose it.