University News

Maakestad Takes on Business in Second Book

March 21, 2007


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MACOMB, IL -- Aug. 10, 1978 began as a normal day for 18-year-old Judy Ann Ulrich, her 16-year-old sister Lyn Marie and their 18-year-old cousin Donna. It would end with all three girls dead, their Ford Pinto in flames and, a month later, the Ford Motor Company indicted on three counts of reckless homicide.

Western Illinois University Management Professor William Maakestad, along with three colleagues, have revisited the landmark Ford case in the second edition of "Corporate Crime Under Attack: The Fight to Criminalize Business Violence" (Anderson/LexisNexis). Maakestad served as a special deputy prosecutor in the Ford case.

A book-signing will be held with Maakestad from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, April 7 at New Copperfield's, 120 N. Side Square in Macomb.

"We revisited the case to see if anything has changed [in corporate crime], especially with respect to the physical and environmental cost," Maakestad said. "While some areas of corporate criminal liability haven't changed much, others have changed immensely."

The landmark Ford case began that August day when Judy was driving the girls to volleyball practice. After stopping for gas, Judy left the gas cap on the roof of her Pinto and when she realized her mistake, she made a U-turn to look for the missing cap.

Meanwhile, Robert Duggar was occupied with finding his cigarettes on the floorboard of his van. He looked toward the road too late and rear-ended the Pinto, which exploded into flames with the three girls trapped inside. Lyn and Donna died in the vehicle; Judy died a few hours later in a hospital. Following an investigation, Ford was charged with recklessly designing, manufacturing and failing to recall the Pinto.

According to Maakestad, the resulting lawsuit became the first time a company, not individual executives, was charged with homicide for a product-related death. After a heated trial, Ford was found not guilty.

"The case exemplifies many of the obstacles prosecutors face in seeking to punish wayward corporations," Maakestad said.

Although the Ford Pinto case remains the center of the second book, other more recent cases are used to explore corporate crime developments during the 25-plus years since that prosecution. One such case is Enron.

"Enron's executives received a sizable prison sentence, whereas in the past they likely would have faced civil liability alone -- if that. Today, more executives are going to jail," Maakestad explained.

Maakestad credits the increased severity of corporate crime punishment to many factors, including heightened public awareness of the costs of business crime and the highly publicized white-collar crime wave that began to be reported in 2001.

"Corporate crime is no longer an abstract idea; today almost everyone knows about bad management and crooked business deals," he said. "And today, with more people investing in the capital markets, they feel they have something at stake."

Maakestad works hard to make sure his business students understand those consequences and learn from cases like Ford. In Fall 2006, students in his graduate class spoke with two individuals closely tied to the Pinto case to learn their viewpoint.

"We conducted a speakerphone interview with the prosecutor of the case. Immediately after that, we completed an interview with a fellow who worked as the Ford recall coordinator," Maakestad said. "Many students considered this to be the most successful and memorable aspect of the class."

Another successful aspect of Maakestad's professional career is his willingness to participate in collaborative work. His current book is an interdisciplinary combination of criminology, law and sociology.

"[Not doing collaborative work is] like looking at one facet of a diamond. By working with others, you turn the diamond and can see many different facets--not just one," Maakestad said.

He concedes that working this way often leads to debate among co-authors, but it also "allows you to get off the habitual pathways" to explore other perspectives.

Because of these diverse viewpoints, "Corporate Crime Under Attack: The Fight to Criminalize Business Violence" attempts to answer such questions as: "Can a corporation intend to harm someone?"; "What strategies must be invented to prosecute corporations?"; and "How do businesses avoid being stigmatized as an offender?"

"The fundamental ethical question here is of single-minded pursuit of profit above all others," Maakestad said.

Recently, the nation's leading corporate and white-collar criminal law specialist Kathleen Brickey of the Washington University School of Law, claimed the new edition is a "must for the corporate liability shelf."

To arrange an interview, contact Maakestad at 309/298-1193 or WJ-Maakestad@wiu.edu.



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