Deferred prosecution agreements, non-prosecution agreements and corporate monitors are three legal terms that, until quite recently, meant nothing to non-lawyers.
That began to change late last year when word got around that former Attorney General John Ashcroft landed a lucrative position as a corporate monitor courtesy of a former employee, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie. Christie gave the job to his former boss under a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), a deal which allowed the company Christie's office was investigating for fraud to escape prosecution by agreeing to certain terms. One of those terms was paying up to $52 million to Ashcroft's consulting firm to serve as an independent overseer making sure the company behaves for a certain period of time.
Soon, Congress got involved. In January, it put the Justice Department on the hot seat, requesting documents showing how U.S. Attorneys are using these new prosecutorial tools. Two weeks ago, Justice responded with a batch of documents relating to DPAs, NPAs (non-prosecution agreements, which are like DPAs except they do not involve the filing of formal criminal charges) and corporate monitors. The documents are now posted on the House Judiciary Committee's web site.
Judging from Congress' initial reaction, the Justice Department isn't off the hook yet. The documents show 85 DPAs and NPAs that U.S. Attorney's offices around the country have entered into with companies in recent years, including some that appear in POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database: Boeing, British Petroleum, ITT and Textron. However, according to Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), he found another 12 agreements that were not included in the documents.
The documents also identify the corporate monitors who were selected in 41 of the agreements (see page 5 of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski's letter to Conyers). At least 30 of these monitors are, like Ashcroft, former prosecutors or other government officials.
The Justice Department defends its use of DPAs, NPAs and corporate monitors as a "middle ground" between not prosecuting corporate crime at all and throwing the book at companies, which often involves enormous investments of the government's time and money and risks hurting innocent employees and shareholders who had nothing to do with the misconduct. POGO and Congress, on the other hand, are still concerned about the lack of accountability and transparency.