The human stories unfold not always in the limelight of fame and fortune, they do unfold also in the confines of a business where people interact with one another where they strive day in day out to make something of their business. There are the stories of success, of fall, and redemption. It is the fall they we hear in the pages of Justice Department and we whisper hush hush to one another “did you hear about so and so.” That page is the last step of a nightmare that unfolds within a business when someone commits an alleged act or crime that violates a rule of law. It is ugly and sad and ruinous for many people’s lives. Certainly, it demises the reputation of the company and at times it forces it to close doors.
The company usually learns that it is subject to an investigation when served with a search warrant or grand jury subpoena. A search warrant is issued, usually, by a federal or state judge upon a finding of probable cause that a crime is committed. A grand jury subpoena is usually issued as part of an investigation where a grand jury will ask persons either to appear and produce documents or both. This is no court room drama, only the reality of hundreds and thousands of companies face each year. The root of this reality are investigations on white collar crimes or other violations that require law enforcement intervention.
There are these events that most companies think it will never happen to them. Some of us still recall the fall of Enron and Anderson and other companies that made headline news, some of us have forgotten about them. The past is turned to dust and so many businesses especially small and midsize ones, not excluding the larger businesses either, go about their day unprepared how to act when law enforcement agents knock on their door serving a search warrant.
In recent years enforcement actions against companies have increased. Despite this fact, I will not be amiss to say that many businesses have no process in place to prepare for these days, many in-house counsel may not have experience how to respond to a search warrant. As a result, many businesses and their employees will find themselves in a state to shock if, and when, law enforcement agents knock on their doors. Some of you reading this may say “It will not happen to me?!” I hope that it doesn’t. Yet, think again. How prepared are you to handle the sight of law enforcement agents showing up at your doorsteps, serving a search warrant, or knocking in your house at odd hours of the day or night? How prepared are your employees if confronted with the agents?
Let us now consider a few steps you can do to prepare even if it’s the slight chance, perhaps a 0.00001 percent chance, you may face a situation where you are served with a search warrant. It is your obligation to be prepared and know how to respond. Before I continue to the steps, remember that prevention of mishaps includes ethics, compliance and internal controls; these steps therefore should be implemented with and not outside of these elements and be part of your ongoing training.
In conclusion, while enforcement actions against companies are not a routine matter their occurrence has increased. Preparation is never to be underestimated. Get in the habit of prevention by creating a robust compliance program and create procedures in place to help your company and your employees know what they need to know to handle situations where law enforcement agents appear and serve a search warrant.
(*) The title is an expert from Bob Marley’s song “Bad Boys”.
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