I’ve posted recently on my concerns with the Antitrust Sentencing Guidelines (2R1.1) as they relate to individual defendants (here). Other submissions have been made to the Commission by people/institutions with great insight and influence in the cartel arena. I’ve summarized a few of these below.
Mark Whitacre was the former Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) executive who blew the whistle on the international lysine price-fixing conspiracy of the early 1990’s. He is the highest ranking Fortune 500 executive to become an FBI whistleblower. Whitacre’s actions launched the age of international price-fixing prosecutions that dominate cartel enforcement to this day. Mr. Whitacre has written an essay, “When Good Leaders Lose Their Way,” 45 Loy. U. Chi. L.J. 525 (2014), that recounts how he became involved in the conspiracy; why he decided to confess to the FBI; his two year saga as an FBI uncover operative across the globe; his decision to embezzle $9.5 million from ADM (his “self-help” severance pay); his resulting ten-year prison sentence; and how he landed on his feet today as the COO of a biotech company with his family intact. Whitacre’s journey illustrates how a serious antitrust and ethics compliance program may have prevented a journey of misery for him and his company.
Whitacre got involved in the lysine cartel because of tunnel vision focus on short-term profit driven by the lure of stock options and other financial benefits and trappings of life at the top. His wife, who noticed the changes in Whitacre and his material focus, became the impetus for him to turn himself in to the FBI. For two years Whitacre reported to work as a loyal executive of ADM, all the while equipped with recording devices to “get the goods” on his superiors and co-workers. By his account, after two years of this double life he made some extraordinarily bad decisions to try secure his financial future. He embezzled almost $10 million from ADM and was caught. He compounded this mistake by turning down what his lawyer called the “deal of a lifetime” and a possible 6 month sentence, which was supported by FBI agents with whom he had worked. He ended up serving 8 years and 8 months in federal prison. Upon his release, however, he has been able to resume a successful career as the CEO of a biotech company fueled by an entirely new set of principles. Whitacre has his own web page, Website of Mark Whitacre http://www.markwhitacre.com/career.html. This web site contains, among other things, interviews of FBI agents who handled Whitacre during his two years of undercover activity. To read more about the actual workings of the lysine cartel, see: “The Fly On The Wall Has Been Bugged– Catching An International Cartel In The Act,” speech by Scott D. Hammond, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Criminal Enforcement, Antitrust Division, May 15, 2001. http://www.justice.gov/atr/public/speeches/8280.pdf. Copies of the lysine tapes and transcripts are available at no charge by mailing or faxing (202/616-4529) your request to the United States Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, Freedom of Information Act Unit, Liberty Square Building, 450 Fifth Street, NW, Suite 3200, Washington, 20530
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In an earlier post, I explained why I think the antitrust sentencing guidelines for individuals are in need of serious reform (here). The main defect in the current guidelines is that the primary driver of an individuals’ sentence is the volume of commerce of the conspiracy. As discussed in the previous post, under this formulation, the President of a successful bid-rigging scheme is likely to be found less culpable than a salesperson in an international company who is directed by his boss to attend cartel meetings and report back. Also, there is very little difference in culpability under the guidelines between the CEO who initiates and commits his company to a cartel and one of his employees who he directs to go to meetings or talk to a competitor. Both are tagged with the same volume of commerce (if their temporal participation in the cartel was the same).
Besides being unfair, or rather because of this, the individual sentencing guidelines are routinely ignored by the Courts. The guidelines have been advisory since the decision in United States v.Booker. To date, in antitrust cases, courts sentencing a defendant under the current guidelines have (I believe) always departed downward from the government’s sentencing guidelines recommendations—at least after conviction at trial. Courts have rejected the guidelines and instead focused on the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. Section 3553 (Imposition of Sentence)(Factors to be Considered in Sentencing.) This statute directs the court to impose a “sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary.” In determining the sentence, the court is directed to consider various factors including “the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant.” The sentence should “reflect the seriousness of the offense,” and “afford adequate deterrence.” Applying these factors, courts have found departure from the antitrust sentencing guidelines warranted.
The American Antitrust Institute, a Washington D.C. organization, has written a letter to the United States Sentencing Commission recommending that fines for antitrust violations be increased. The recommendation grows out of work done by Professors John Connor and Bob Lande, who have been studying whether the penalties (including fines, jail time, and civil liability) adequately deter would-be price fixers. Their study, which looks at a significant amount of data over many years, suggests that price fixing is under-deterred, and that it therefore can be a rational business decision for firms to illegally fix prices, even in the current era of large fines, big jail sentences and private treble damages cases. They specifically point out that while the Guidelines assume that price fixing raises prices by an average of 10% over what prices would be in a competitive market, there is evidence that this estimate is too low, and should be revised to 20%, if not higher.