Durbin Questions DOJ Officials, Witnesses During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Ensuring Accountability for Corporate Criminals

Durbin cites the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, and the failures to hold individuals liable for unleashing the opioid epidemic

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned Department of Justice (DOJ) officials during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Cleaning Up the C-Suite: Ensuring Accountability forCorporate Criminals.”  Durbin first questioned Matthew Olsen, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, about holding individuals accountable forcorporate crime.  Durbin specifically asked about Olsen’s work successfully prosecuting Lafarge, a company that paid millions to terrorist groups including ISIS for permission to operate a cement plant in Syria.  This prosecution was the first time that the Department secured a corporate guilty plea for material support of terrorism.

I celebrate this victory with you, but I am concerned that this case reflects the increasing trend of resolving these matters against corporations without any individual liability or accountability.  Although French authorities arrested some of the executives involved, no Lafarge executives were charged in the United States.  Why is that the case?” Durbin asked.

Mr. Olsen responded that DOJ worked closely with French authorities to ensure that the prosecution covered all of the wrongdoing. 

Durbin responded, “Are you saying that because the French were acting on individuals that the United States did not?”

Mr. Olsen responded that it is a priority forDOJ to also prosecute individuals.

Durbin then asked Nicole Argentieri, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, about the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, whose products and practices substantially contributed to the opioid epidemic across the United States.  No member of the Sackler family has ever been charged with a crime.  

“Somehow, the Sackler family was trying to engineer a possibility that they would not only escape civil liability, but even criminal liability in the process.  Tell me about your reaction to that outcome,” Durbin asked.

Ms. Argentieri responded that DOJ is committed to utilizing all tools to combat the opioid crisis.  She also expanded to say that the Purdue Pharma case was the largest resolution with a pharmaceutical company and the company pled guilty to three felony counts.

“Why was no criminal action brought against the Sacklers? Durbin asked.

Ms. Argentieri responded that she cannot discuss how DOJ makes a decision to charge someone, and that the Criminal Division was not involved in the Purdue Pharma agreement.

Durbin responded, “When the Sackler family ends up with billions of dollars and walks away from the devastation it created—it’s just unacceptable.  The message is basically ‘if you have enough money, you can game the system and walk away with plenty of billions left over.’  Don't you see that?”

“That is at the heart of this hearing—is the understanding that some people found out how to game the system.  The problem that you see here is that these people are lawyered up and put themselves in a political position where the family basically escaped liability,” Durbin continued.

Video of Durbin’s questions to Mr. Olsen and Ms. Argentieri in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions to Mr. Olsen and Ms. Argentieri Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions to Mr. Olsen and Ms. Argentieri in Committee is available here.

Durbin then asked Ryan Hampton, an addiction recovery advocate and victim of Purdue Pharma’s opioid scandal, about his own experience and thoughts on the Sackler family escaping liability.

Mr. Hampton responded that there needs to be real justice for family members who have lost loved ones due to the Sackler family’s crimes.  He continued to call out the Justice Department for their failure to bring a single charge against any member of the Sackler family.

Durbin then asked Andrew Lelling, former United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, about lawyers rushing to a settlement as opposed to demanding accountability for individuals’ criminal activity.

Mr. Lelling responded, “If there is criminal wrongdoing, there should be criminal prosecution… When you have a situation where corporate executives at a pharma company have engaged in criminal wrongdoing, a civil resolution often will not seem satisfactory to the public and it will not appear that justice has been served. We should avoid those kinds of scenarios.”

Video of Durbin’s questions to Mr. Hampton and Mr. Lelling in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions to Mr. Hampton and Mr. Lelling in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions to Mr. Hampton and Mr. Lelling in Committee is available here.

The hearing follows yesterday’s reintroduction of the Corporate Crime Database Act, which would require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to collect, aggregate, analyze, and publish comprehensive data on federal corporate criminal enforcement actions, by Durbin, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and U.S. Representative Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA-05). 

Federal prosecutions of corporate crime have reached record lows under the Trump and Biden Administrations.  In 2020, DOJ prosecuted only 94 corporate crimes, and, in 2021, only 90 corporate crimes were prosecuted—that’s less than half of the average annual number of corporate crime prosecutions in the previous 25 years.

DOJ has recently acknowledged a significant decline in corporate criminal prosecutions over the last two decades and has committed to making corporate criminal enforcement a priority, including through the formation of a Corporate Crime Advisory Group and additional policy changes guiding corporate crime enforcement.

Last October, Durbin, Blumenthal, and Scanlon successfully advocated for DOJ to bolster corporate crime data collection and increase transparency about its efforts to combat corporate crime. In May, DOJ announced a new corporate crime section on its public website with a searchable corporate crime database, a promising start to implementing reforms that would be required by the Corporate Crime Database Act