Corporations: The Great Conspiracy

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Despite other pleas attesting to the public usefulness and position of the defendants, the federal judge handed out the greatest number of jail terms ever in an antitrust proceeding. He gave 30-day sentences to George E. Burens, 55, G.E. vice president and division manager, Lewis J. Burger, 49, G.E. division manager—both demoted from those positions since the indictment—Edwin R. Jung, 58, vice president of Clark Controller Co., and John M. Cook, 56, vice president of Cutler-Hammer Inc. He fined the 29 electrical companies a total of $1,787,000, levied fines ranging from $1,000 to $12,500 on the individuals, and gave 21 other executives suspended 30-day jail sentences—advising some that they would also have gone to jail except for reasons of age and health.

Balmed Conscience. Judge Ganey confined jail sentences to those he felt had "ultimate responsibility for corporate conduct"—but he made it clear that he did not think that all the guilty parties were in court. Though the Government could not get enough evidence against them, he said, the "highest echelons" of each company "bear a grave responsibility." Most of the defendants, said the judge, "were torn between conscience and an approved corporate policy, with the rewarding objectives of promotion, comfortable security and large salaries—in short, the organization or company man, the conformist." Even to those whom he did not send to jail, the judge gave no verbal mercy. When the lawyer for M. A. deFerranti, a former G.E. manager, tried to defend his client, Judge Ganey snapped: "But here again is the classical company man. He balmed his conscience for a salary of $60,000 a year."

What aroused Judge Ganey's indignation was not only the conspiracy but also the efforts of almost everyone involved to justify his misdeeds as part of a prevailing business morality. "What is really at stake here," said the judge, "is the survival of the kind of economy under which America has grown to greatness, the free-enterprise system." Many of the executives pleaded through their lawyers that they were victims of corporate policy and morality. G.E., declaring that sympathy for the arrested was misplaced, denied that it had any "business policy or alleged conformity" that would lead its executives into violations of the law; it then called the defendants "nonconformists" who deliberately broke G.E.'s "Directive Policy 20.5" insisting on strict obedience to the antitrust laws. Judge Ganey said that it would be "naive" not to believe that top company officials knew what was going on in such vast and prolonged shenanigans, noted that G.E.'s rule "was honored in its breach rather than in its observance."

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