In its first 100 days, the Trump Administration gained considerable attention for its focus on issues such as unlawful immigration and street crime. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asserted that the Department of Justice will also continue a commitment to prosecutions in fraud and other white collar criminal cases.
In a speech last week at the Ethics and Compliance Initiative Annual Conference, Sessions acknowledged the Department’s early emphasis on other areas. However, he also vowed that the Department would “continue to investigate and prosecute corporate fraud and misconduct”—including specifically health care fraud.
Sessions singled out two principles of federal fraud enforcement under his leadership:
1. Corporate Responsibility
Sessions highlighted that the Department would, in deciding which criminal cases to pursue, continue to focus on corporate commitment to compliance. He stated that the Department would “continue to take into account whether companies have good compliance programs”; “whether they cooperate” in Department investigations “and self-disclose their wrongdoing”; and “whether they take suitable steps to remediate problems.”
2. Individual Responsibility
Sessions stated that the Department would “continue to emphasize the importance of holding individuals accountable for corporate misconduct.” “It is not merely companies,” Sessions asserted, “but specific individuals, who break the law.”
As Sessions admitted, neither is a new federal justice initiative. His citation to the second, however, is particularly notable. The Department’s defining statement of scrutiny of individual responsibility was a hallmark of the Obama Administration—the 2015 “Yates Memorandum,” named for author and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, whom the Trump Administration famously fired earlier this year.
Sessions’ speech thus did not break new ground. On the contrary, its purpose appeared to be precisely the opposite: to affirm that little, if anything, will change in corporate enforcement policy.
Still, in the world of limited government resources, priorities—not policies—often define practices. Whether fraud in health care and other areas becomes more than a paper priority will depend on how much time, energy, and money the Department devotes to those cases. In other words, determining the realities of the Department’s commitment to fraud enforcement will require a significant amount of wait-and-see.