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Utah establishes first-of-its-kind white-collar crime registry

March 27, 2016 at 3:35 PM EDT
In an attempt to combat high levels of fraud, Utah has taken inspiration from the sex offender list, becoming the first state in the US to establish a white-collar felon registry for financial crimes. The Wall Street Journal's Jean Eaglesham joins Megan Thompson to discuss.
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MEGAN THOMPSON: The state government in Utah has become the first in the nation to publish online a list of people convicted of white-collar crimes, complete with their mug shots. Anyone who’s committed a financial crime will be posted for a decade.

Reporter Jean Eaglesham is covering this issue for The Wall Street Journal, and she joins me now to discuss it.

So, can you first just tell me, why did Utah decide to implement this?

JEAN EAGLESHAM, The Wall Street Journal: Well, they say there’s two reasons.

First, they say it will help protect investors, because people can see online people with past convictions. The second reason they’re doing it is to try and encourage people to pay restitution. So, anyone who is convicted of a crime who has paid full restitution online can stay off the registry.

MEGAN THOMPSON: Can you just talk to me about the mechanics of it? I mean, how exactly does it work? Where will this be?

JEAN EAGLESHAM: What they are doing now is, they’re going all the way back to 2006, finding everyone with a relevant conviction.

And they’re putting them onto an Internet Web site. And it shows these individuals, their mug shot, as you say, also their personal details like height and weight, and the details of their conviction. So, anyone with access to the Internet can just search and look at it for their — whether their neighbors or work colleagues or anyone they know has these past convictions.

MEGAN THOMPSON: And what types of crimes are we talking about?

JEAN EAGLESHAM: So, it’s everything from people who have bilked investors of maybe quite large amounts of money.

But there’s also people who have committed, say, credit card fraud, who have stolen from their employer or their friends. There’s tax fraud. There’s insurance scams as well of a pretty small scale. So, it’s a very wide range of financial crimes they’re capturing.

MEGAN THOMPSON: When most people think about these types of registries, they think of a registry for sex offenders, but you have written that there are actually a lot of states with a lot of different types of registries.

JEAN EAGLESHAM: Exactly.

This idea of a registry for sex offenders has now proliferated to a very wide range of different offenses. So, for example, in different states, there are registries for arson, for domestic violence, for drug crimes of different types, even for animal abuse. So, Tennessee now has a registry for animal abuse, but nine other states are considering it.

And one concern is whether this could have unintended consequences. So, for example, creating a public registry that shows people convicted of manufacturing drugs could potentially be used by users who are looking for someone as a supplier.

MEGAN THOMPSON: Is there any evidence that these registries actually deter crime?

JEAN EAGLESHAM: Well, that’s the argument, is, are these effective, particularly when they’re being applied now to these other types of offenses?

So, there’s a big debate over sex offender registries, whether they actually work. But a lot of these other ones, they’re relatively recent, so there’s not much research into whether they actually are effective.

And then there’s a wider argument as well over privacy, because the approach of the states with these white-collar crimes is directly opposite to the approach of the federal agencies. So, they say, because of federal privacy laws, they can’t give out information on whether individuals have paid sanctions or not.

MEGAN THOMPSON: And is there a debate about what could be considered public shaming? I mean, if a person has done their jail time, they have paid their fines, is there a limit to how long this punishment might go on?

JEAN EAGLESHAM: Well, certainly, in the case of Utah, after a certain number of offenses, you are on there for a lifetime.

So, there is exactly this debate. There’s a concern that people have that they have served their punishment, they have maybe done the jail time, they have paid the restitution, but possibly late, and yet they are being punished all over again by the naming and shaming. So, there is a concern that this is unfair, in that sense.

MEGAN THOMPSON: Jean Eaglesham of The Wall Street Journal, thank you so much for being here.

JEAN EAGLESHAM: Pleasure.

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