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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Corzine Becomes A Criminal

Embattled MF Global Chief Executive Officer Jon Corzine placed his freedom in great jeopardy today by testifying before the House Agriculture Committee this afternoon.

Corzine is a highly recognizable public figure as the former Goldman Sachs CEO, Senator and Governor of New Jersey. Adding his present notoriety to that profile automatically makes him a "name" target for investigators and prosecutors looking to make a name for themselves. In short, career ambition -- resume-building -- puts Corzine in grave danger before he said one word.

The presumed government predisposition to prosecute Corzine will not need any testimony from him to fuel an investigation. Rest assured, efforts are already underway to see how he can be held criminally liable. But his testimony -- regardless of its content and honesty -- will add to the fire by providing the federal government with a series of statements that will be scrutinized to see if any "false statement" can be established as provable "beyond a reasonable doubt." (Note that this is different from the objective of investigating the who, what, when, where and how questions as to what really happened.)

Remember that any discrepancy between the most honest "I don't know" from Corzine and any conflicting account (or mis-recollection) from any other witness involved in MF Global becomes the basis for a criminal investigation -- and likely prosecution -- for perjury.

Corzine's testimony provides a paper trail and video record of his statements. It will be presumptive Government's Exhibit 1. Had he asserted the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, he would at least avoid providing his adversaries with that material with which to work.

Without testifying, the government would have to prove criminal intent regarding wrongdoing, e.g., he either did something illegal and knew about it, or consciously avoided doing something about an act which he knew was illegal (the doctrine of "conscious avoidance").  By testifying, the government can get Corzine convicted of a crime merely by parsing his testimony and finding someone else to give a contrary account of what happened, in order to prove Corzine lied to Congress. 

Clearly, the second avenue is much easier to prove.  

Regardless of the content of his statements or the genuineness in his heart, Jon Corzine made himself much more likely to be prosecuted for false statements (Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1001), if not for a substantive financial crime like commodities fraud.


In this climate, Jon Corzine chose to speak. Incredible hubris.  Incredible mistake.
Eric Dixon is a New York attorney who counsels people under investigation, prosecution or awaiting sentencing on how to handle the stress of these life-altering situations.

Eric Dixon
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