You’re relieved. After a long investigation concerning some troubling conduct throughout the Pacific Northwest that may have led to the United States being defrauded by one of its contractors, you’ve brought this stressful period to a close. You’ve entered a Non-Prosecution Agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington. Perhaps the agreement even includes a civil settlement as well, resolving several parallel investigations.
But not two weeks later, an Assistant U.S. Attorney (“AUSA”) for the District of Oregon informs you that you’re the target of a criminal probe concerning the exact same conduct. How is this possible? As unfair as it seems, it has long been the position of federal agencies and DOJ components that other DOJ components are not bound by an agreement unless the agreement provides as much.
Consider the case of Prime Partners, a Swiss asset management firm accused of aiding U.S. taxpayers in New York and elsewhere of evading their federal income taxes. In August, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York entered a Non-Prosecution Agreement with Prime Partners in exchange for extraordinary cooperation with the Office’s investigation and the firm’s institution of substantial changes to its practices. The agreement states:
It is further understood that this Agreement does not bind any other federal, state, or local prosecuting authorities other than this Office and the [DOJ] Tax Division. If requested by Prime Partners, this Office and the Tax Division will, however, bring the cooperation of Prime Partners to the attention of such other prosecuting offices or regulatory agencies.
Parties caught up in such a situation should consider a few things:
- Beware of the kind of limiting language in the Prime Partners agreement, which is common in government settlements.
- Insist on language in any plea or other settlement agreement that to the effect that it binds other federal agencies, or at least all other components of the Department of Justice.
- If you find yourself caught up in the kind of bind I describe at the beginning, consider an appellate challenge.