Corporations: The Great Conspiracy

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In a tense and packed Philadelphia courtroom last week, a drama took place that U.S. business will long remember—to its shame. The cases before him, said Federal District Judge J. Cullen Ganey, were "a shocking indictment of a vast section of our economy." They were more than that. They showed clearly that the executives of a mighty industry, publicly devoted to the concept of competition, had privately conspired to rig prices to the detriment of their customers on a scale so vast that it embraced everything from the Tennessee Valley Authority to the private utilities that supply the nation's light and power.

Up for sentencing were 29 electrical-equipment companies, headed by the industry's two "competitive" giants, General Electric and Westinghouse, and 44 of their executives. Long ago, faced with incontrovertible evidence gathered by the Eisenhower Administration's relentless trustbusters, the companies and individuals had pleaded guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) to charges that they conspired over the past seven years to fix prices and rig bids in the sale of some $7 billion worth of heavy electrical equipment (TIME, Feb. 29, 1960, et seq.). Now the moment of reckoning had come. First before the court came the lawyer for John H. Chiles Jr., 57, a vice president of Westinghouse, to plead for mercy. His client, said the lawyer, while Chiles bowed his head, was a vestryman of St. John's Episcopal Church in Sharon, Pa. and a benefactor of charities for crippled children and cancer victims. "These men," the lawyer pleaded, "are not grasping, greedy, cutthroat competitors."

In antitrust cases, executives may be fined but are rarely jailed. Judge Ganey sentenced Chiles to 30 days in jail. Chiles began automatically to return to his seat, but was startled to be seized by two armed deputy U.S. marshals and hustled off to the marshal's office to be fingerprinted.

Behind the Door. One by one, as the sentencing went on, lawyers rose to describe their clients as pillars of the community. William S. Ginn, 45, vice president of General Electric, was the director of a boys' club in Schenectady, N.Y. and the chairman of a campaign to build a new Jesuit seminary in Lenox, Mass. His lawyer pleaded that Ginn not be put "behind bars with common criminals who have been convicted of embezzlement and other serious crimes." Judge Ganey thought the company appropriate, gave Ginn 30 days in jail. The lawyer for Charles I. Mauntel, Westinghouse division sales manager and a man prominent in charitable and community affairs in Drexel Hill, Pa., asked: "What difference does it make if the Government recommends 30 days or 60 days or more? What matters is crossing the prison door at all." Judge Ganey recommended 30 days behind the door.

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