Friday, April 15, 2011

White Collar Crime, Problems of Proof, and the Meat We Eat!

                                                           [Photo from]

An article in today's New York Post illustrates an interesting problem in white collar crime prosecutions. The article deals with the problem of the presence of drug-resistant staph bacteria reportably being found in nearly one-half of sampled meats found in grocery stores.  Laying aside the merits of this story, the issue which this situation illustrates, for me, as a former federal prosecutor, is that, often, it is difficult, in many white collar crime cases, to know who to go after and who to try to prosecute when fraud or corruption occur. 
For instance, in this type of case, assuming that misconduct appears to exist, involving allegedly tainted meat, who would you investigate or try to lock up?  The rancher?  The meat processor?  The butcher?  Someone else in the food distribution chain?  Or, none of the above, because it would be too difficult, if not impossible, to hold any particular party responsible, criminally, for harm done to consumers.  In some criminal cases, it takes a whistleblower, such as a meatpacking plant employee, to come forward and "blow the whistle" on alleged improper practices, in order to jump start a criminal investigation. 
Of course, other potential problems also exist in developing such cases, too.  For example, generally, the government would be required to prove that the tainted product caused the harm, or injury.  Also, in many cases, just as in environmental pollution cases, the harm to consumers might not be discovered until many months, or even years, later.  By then, the "bad guys," and the proof, are long gone!
Again, let me emphasize that no one has suggested any criminal wrongdoing on anyone's part in this particular story.  It is offered here only as an illustration.  But I hope that you can see some of the difficulties inherent in proving some white collar crime cases.  Unlike homicides or robberies, which are releatively easy to prove, in contrast, white collar crime can often be difficult to ferret out.
Hamburger, anyone!?

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