The Halliburton Plea Bargain: Why We Have To Start Sending Corporate Executives To Jail

"BAD company! BAD! Now go feel sorry while you count your money."

“BAD company! BAD! Now go feel sorry while you count your money.”

The news media and pundits were too entranced by Anthony Weiner’s package, the royal baby, whatever it was, and President Obama’s  third or fourth promise to make the economy his primary focus every waking hour between fundraisers and expensive junkets to notice that the old villain of the Left, Halliburton, once again got away with corporate villainy of the worst kind. You see, Halliburton executives engaged in ethics accounting, essentially balancing the possible penalties that might arise from illegal and unethical conduct against the benefits, and decided, sure, let’s destroy evidence that shows that Halliburton had more to do with the deadly and ecologically devastating Deepwater Horizon explosion that created the Gulf oil spill than regulators and the courts currently know.

The company’s crime—remember, Scooter Libby was sent to jail for obstructing justice regarding the investigation of a crime that didn’t exist—was discovered, so it made a sweet deal with the Justice Department: it agreed to pay the maximum allowable fine of $200,000 ( perspective: this would be considered a joke of a fine for steroid use by a major league baseball star) and will be subject to a three year probation; the company continue its cooperation with the government’s criminal investigation (which is its duty anyway), and to really show its contrition and yummy goodness, Halliburton made a voluntary contribution of $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to clean off those oil-covered sea birds and otters, and that kind of thing.


Disgraceful and outrageous. This is why white collar crime continues, and why Americans don’t know what, if any, corporations to trust. The 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill  killed 11 people and poured nearly 5 million barrels of oil offshore, ruining the economy of a region, destroying wildlife, and devastating the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Americans. Halliburton confesses that employees twice erased computer simulations that proved the company’s claims about the causes of the disaster (“It was all Transocean’s and BP’s fault!”) were false. The grand penalties for the same kind of conduct that led the Bush Justice Department to put Arthur Andersen out of business were:

  • A  $200,000 fine, or just under four minutes’ revenue for the company.
  • A $55 million charitable, tax-deductible contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that the company should have made anyway.

And that’s it. Meanwhile, the Halliburton manager who instructed two colleagues to destroy computer simulations that would have been evidence in the oil spill investigation  hasn’t been identified by the company and is still employed. He probably got a bonus.

The Washington Post interviewed J. Kelly Strader, a law professor at Southwestern Law School, who correctly pointed out that destruction of evidence often leads to multiple felony counts,  including obstruction of justice, as it did in the case of Enron. “Given the scale of the harm caused by the oil spill, it seems surprising that the government would accept a plea to a relatively minor charge,” he said. Surprising? Watch where Halliburton’s next round of campaign contributions go.
Halliburton said Justice agreed to not pursue any charges beyond the misdemeanor in return for “cooperation.” Not to be cynical, but this is Eric Holder’s Justice Department we are talking about.

Last week, Halliburton’s stock closed at $45.98, up 3.7 percent.

The government can’t put corporations in prison, so it makes these kinds of corrupt deals that essentially allow companies to make paying criminal fines a cost of doing business.  It could indict individual executives, but seldom does. Halliburton spokeswoman Susie McMichael said, when asked about whether anyone in the management chain was in jeopardy, “We have no reason to believe that the DOJ intends prosecution of any of them.”

If upper level corporate management knew that the laws would hold them responsible for crimes committed by those under their supervision and whose ethical training and conduct they were ultimately responsible for overseeing and enforcing, and that they would be forced to exchange their thousand dollar tailored suits for orange ones, you can bet that there would be a serious, concerted, no-tolerance approach to business ethics rather than what is now too often a check box, wink-wink, “We at [Fill in the blank] make ethics, integrity, good corpoate citizenship and accountability our highest priorities” sham.*

Until that is how the Justice Department and law enforcement deals with Halliburton and the rest, the corporate America will continue to be inherently untrustworthy…and dangerous.

*Of course, the current government itself rejects that principle: the Chief Executive refuses to acknowledge responsibility for criminal misconduct done for his benefit by a powerful agency in the executive branch.


Facts: New York Times, Washington Post

Graphic: This is AFL


11 thoughts on “The Halliburton Plea Bargain: Why We Have To Start Sending Corporate Executives To Jail

    • Boy, when you disagree with me I get 2000 words, and when you agree with me I get two.

      By the way, I had been planning on thsi being the O’s-Sox series for me to pay off our election bet, but I was opening the same-sex “I Do! I Do!” last week, and had a lot of catching up to do. We may have to catch a non-Sox game, which is fine with me—but I’m checking the next Sox-O’s series. As interest, I’ll offer you and a guest two comp seats to my show, if you ever take in such things.

  1. So you can destroy evidence and obstruct justice in a federal criminal investigation if you’re an employee of a corporation and the obstruction occurs in the course of your discharging your duties? I guess I missed that Crim law class. Maybe it’s in the Nutshell.

  2. What is more prevalent, corporate immunity to criminal activities or corporate corruption of our tax laws? Ethics are laughable when you discuss criminal justice and big business.

    Haliburton’s fingers are deep into our government, regardless of who is in the White House….Besides to America we have already nailed the bad guys, the conveniently huge foreign corporation BP.. They didn’t serve time either, did they?

    Ever think about how many fewer prisoners we would have in this country if corporate talented lawyers represented the average drug abusing defendant. We lead the world in prisoners, to the benefit of ….. large corporations?

  3. Corporations should not be able to pretend to avoid penalties for general a-holery. Another example of the same too-successful deniability when the woman lost her possessions in Ohio. I was visiting a survey site, and while they should be taken with a grain of salt due to selection filtering, one of their quick surveys said 62% responding said that corporations needed some kind of reining in.

  4. I feel a sense of deja vu. I posted, went out to clean up my yard, came back, and found this.

    The big problem is, where do we put all of them? I guess we could relocate the residents of Wyoming… Think about all the people guilty of fraud in the mortgage-backed securities scandal. Every loan officer who faked the incomes, every manager who encouraged it, every investment company employee who was involved with the creation of the securities, every rating agency employee involved with giving them investment-grade status… It must run into the tens of thousands. Right now, we have the sub-prime car loan fiasco going on. These car loans are being bundles into…you guessed it, subprime car-loan backed securities! I know 2 people who have gotten these liar-loans (where they lie about the borrower’s income). The number of people involved with these is astronomical, it probably numbers in the 100,000’s.

    We have let this go too far. Our courts are inadequate to handle the volume. We really have passed into a period of lawlessness when it comes to the big corporations.

  5. Of course, the current government itself rejects that principle: the Chief Executive refuses to acknowledge responsibility for criminal misconduct done for his benefit by a powerful agency in the executive branch.

    Maybe that explains the deal with Halliburton.

  6. Didn’t Eisenhower, essentially the last president born and raised in the generation that didn’t know of the massive tangle of government-corporation-politician-donor, warn us to be aware of the effects of this?

  7. A-Freaking-men!

    People say there are two systems of justice in this country, one for the rich and one for the poor. Between this travesty and Skilling (from Enron) who was able to pay $40 million and get 10 years cut off his sentance, we have the proof in the pudding to prove just that.

    Unfortunately the corporation has become too powerful of a shield to protect people from their unethical (and shoud be criminal) acts.

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