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Justice Department says it's shining a spotlight on corporate wrong-doing

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Prosecutions of white-collar crime have been declining for years. But the Justice Department is trying to change that. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco says there's a simple reason why she's put a spotlight on corporate wrongdoing.

LISA MONACO: If a corporation breaks a law, if their executives or their employees break the law and there isn't accountability, well, then people are going to lose faith in the justice system.

JOHNSON: Monaco brings special insight to the challenge. As a young lawyer, she worked on the Enron Task Force, prosecuting executives at the company that collapsed under scrutiny of its finances. Years later, in the private sector, she sat on several corporate boards. That experience led her to pay special attention to a company's culture.

MONACO: This is about paying now and investing in compliance and rule-following and setting that tone from the top, or paying later, when the Justice Department conducts its investigation and imposes consequences.

JOHNSON: The Justice Department has embedded a squad of FBI agents alongside prosecutors in Washington who build fraud cases. Monaco directed those investigators to consider the full range of a company's misconduct, past and present.

MONACO: We are very, very serious about imposing consequences for repeat offenders.

JOHNSON: DOJ is also requiring companies to turn over information about all of the employees who took part in fraud, and to focus on individual accountability. That makes sense to Sherine Ebadi. She spent 10 years investigating complex financial crimes for the FBI.

SHERINE EBADI: People don't understand why the CEO didn't get in trouble. And yet, the company has some mark on their record. And the CEO can just go work somewhere else.

JOHNSON: Ebadi helped build the bank fraud case against political consultant Paul Manafort before she left to join the investigations company Kroll.

EBADI: These cases take a long time because you've got to get it right. There's a lot of work to be done. It's not like in the movies where you have a search warrant and you get the information back the same day.

JOHNSON: In fact, Ebadi says, untangling complex financial schemes can take so long that they span presidential administrations, when priorities can change.

EBADI: Policy is one thing. And how that policy actually plays out is another.

JOHNSON: Jeff Hauser directs the Revolving Door Project, where he follows corporate and political corruption. He wants to see justice unleash its power to police corporate wrongdoing, the kind that hurts people every day.

JEFF HAUSER: What happens? Boeing planes don't fly. Flint Water kills. Wells Fargo cheats. This is happening across the economy, and it's bad.

JOHNSON: Hauser says that kind of accountability is long overdue.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FOREIGN EXCHANGE SONG, "RAW LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.