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Corporate Fraud, Corruption, and Financial Malfeasance  

Harland Prechel

Corporate failures and financial crisis in the early 21st century generated an increased awareness of the pervasiveness of corporate corruption, fraud, and financial malfeasance. In addition to the tremendous financial costs to society and the loss of public confidence in corporations and social institutions, corporate wrongdoing adversely effects corporations by undermining profits, morale, and trust. Understanding contemporary corporate corruption, fraud, and financial malfeasance requires an examination of the extent to which historical variation in organizational, political-legal, and ideology arrangements affect opportunities for managers to engage in these behaviors. These components of the social structure are not mutually exclusive but are part of a dynamic system that consists of many interconnected component parts. As a whole, the literature examined here suggests that the components of the formal and informal structure create incentives, motivations, and opportunities to engage in corruption, fraud, and malfeasance. The emphasis on social structure is critical to advance our understanding of how corporate political embeddedness, the social organization of markets, and corporate characteristics all affect wrongdoing. The main findings include the following. 1.Contemporary research confirms and extends Sutherland’s initial insight that differential social structure creates variation in opportunities to engage in corporate crime. Corporate characteristics, including structure, size, vertical integration, prestige, cognitive assumptions, corporate norms, dependence on institutional investors, bounded rationality, opportunities, and political embeddedness, are associated with corporate corruption, fraud, and financial malfeasance. 2.Corporations in the United States engaged in political behavior to re-regulate multiple spheres of corporations’ political embeddedness that permitted management to enter existing markets, create new markets, and engage in high-risk behaviors in them. 3.Corporate culture and ethics interact with markets and other dimensions of the social structure to create normative conditions conducive to corporate corruption and fraud. 4.Individual characteristics, including chief executive officer’s (CEO’s) age and the networks among top management and corporate boards, affect corporate corruption, fraud, and malfeasance. 5.Given that few policy changes were implement in the 2008 post-crisis era, the political embeddedness and characteristics of corporations continue to provide opportunities for corporations and their agents to engage in corruption, fraud, and malfeasance.