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Northampton Law Professor Details Corruption, Fraud In 'Big Dirty Money'

Unchecked crime and corruption, weak laws and ineffective enforcement are at the heart of a new release from Jennifer Taub.  

The Northampton, Massachusetts, author and law professor says white-collar crime is on the rise in the book “Big Dirty Money: the Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime.”

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Can you define what white-collar crime is, or is not?

Jennifer Taub, author: No one can actually define white-collar crime, and that's really part of the problem. There are many different types of white-collar crime offenses. The term was coined back in 1939.

The term was meant to emphasize the status of the offender. So a white-collar criminal and white-collar crime was an offense committed by someone of high respectability and social status during the course of their occupation.

Over time, we have begun to categorize white-collar crime as certain types of offenses — things that are economic in nature, but not tied to vice crimes, like drugs or prostitution. So when people think of white-collar crime today, they think of fraud or money laundering, insider trading and those types of offenses.

You write in the book that this is kind of an unquantifiable offense. There is no government agency that measures and reports on white-collar crime statistics. What could this be running annually? Who is this costing?

It's a great question. Experts who try to track this, if they just look at two types of white-collar crime, like various frauds and embezzlements, that could cost as much as $300 billion to $800 billion a year. And to put that into perspective, the FBI's measure of street property crimes, like robbery and burglary, comes to about $16 billion a year.

Wow.

To me, this is about more than money. I mean, how do you put a dollar value on the life of a beloved family member who dies of an opioid overdose as a result of getting hooked, let's say, on Purdue Pharma's OxyContin? How do you put a price on that?

I mean, you can put a price on that — because the Sackler family who owned that company had become billionaires. So the price is real.

The value of harming others through white-collar crime can be measured. But it's immeasurable to think of the devastation when more than 200,000 people died of opioid overdoses over a decade as a result of prescription opioids, including, but not only, OxyContin.

Does it really come down to who you know? And that's how we've gotten to where we are today?

I've been thinking a lot about this. When you say who you know — as we all know, the president of the United States can pardon anybody for any activity that gave rise to a crime, and prior to the pardon, as long as we're talking about federal crime — he doesn't have the reach at the state level.

But ever since he went into the hospital, I've been wondering if there had been a lot of nervous people who had been lobbying for a pardon from him — or even worse, been doing illegal things that he believes they will forgive, and wondering if he'll make it out, with the ability to take care of them.

He calls himself the law-and-order president. Does that have some special irony in your mind?

It has great irony for me, because it reminds me of Leona Helmsley. You might remember she ultimately did go to jail for tax fraud, but her view of things was that taxes were for the little people. Law and order under the Trump administration is for the little people.

You know, he often talks about how dangerous it is to defund the police, but under his administration, he has defunded the IRS. Is it any wonder that someone who is perpetually being investigated, or accused of criminal tax fraud at the federal and state level would want the IRS defunded? If that’s not defunding the police, I don’t know what is.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.