Cars

Toyota case shows it’s hard to prosecute execs

Attorney General Eric Holder (right) and the US attorney in New York, Preet Bharara, discussed the $1.2 billion settlement with Toyota at a news conference last week.
Attorney General Eric Holder (right) and the US attorney in New York, Preet Bharara, discussed the $1.2 billion settlement with Toyota at a news conference last week.Susan Walsh /Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — Efforts to conceal the extent of dangerous car defects at Toyota Motor Corp. were so pervasive, prosecutors say, that an exasperated employee at one point warned that ‘‘someone will go to jail if lies are repeatedly told.’’

Yet no one has gone to jail, nor is likely to.

The Justice Department last week socked the car company with a $1.2 billion penalty but brought no criminal charges against individual executives, an unsatisfying resolution for consumer activists who say prison is the best deterrence for corporate malfeasance.

But prosecutors say they had little choice, in part because of constraints with evidence and the challenge of gathering testimony and information from witnesses outside the United States.

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