While it may be possible to prove that corporations and those who run them engage in criminal activity, it may be hard to win a conviction. This is partially because a corporation is a separate entity from its owners and operators. It presents a structural challenge that makes it difficult to show that individuals were actually aware that they were committing a crime or should have known about any wrongdoing.
One of the major players in the 2008 financial crisis was Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. However, neither the company nor its CEO were ever charged with a crime. This is despite the fact that transactions such as Repo 105 were considered to be suspect. Repo 105 was an accounting strategy that allowed the company to borrow money without calling it a debt.
Those who study the issue say that it sits just on the edge of what may be considered legal. Since such moves generally are approved by accounting and legal experts, it can be hard to prove that an executive knew that what he or she was doing was illegal. Furthermore, it may be difficult in situations such as the 2008 fiasco to find anyone who was directly defrauded as many buyers of risky debts were other financial institutions that simply made bad choices.
Those who have been charged with fraud may face significant legal consequences if convicted. It may be possible to spend time in jail or prison as well as to be ordered to pay restitution. The loss of professional credentials may also accompany time spent behind bars. An attorney may be able to argue that the defendant did not know that what he or she did was wrong, which may result in a plea or an outright acquittal.