The New York State Attorney General's Office is reportedly investigating a global nutrition products company over allegations that it defrauds employees and operates as a pyramid scheme. For any investigation, including this one, to be fair, it should be independent.
However, the company under investigation, Herbalife Ltd., has been waging an aggressive lobbying campaign specifically targeting states' attorneys general. One of those states' attorneys general being aggressively lobbied is New York's, Eric Schneiderman.
As Progress Queens has reported, there appear to be many conflicts of interest in Attorney General Schneiderman's office, specifically regarding its investigation of Herbalife, which need explaining :
"Now, Attorney General Schneiderman is reportedly investigating Herbalife at the same time when Herbalife is lobbying states' attorneys general in an effort to quietly end criminal investigations at the same time when the consulting firm that employs Attorney General Schneiderman's ex-wife, Jennifer Cunningham, has been retained by Herbalife to do consulting work at the same time when the Attorney General Schneiderman has refused to publicly release all e-mail communications between Ms. Cunningham and the State Attorney General's Office." (See New York's Latino leaders caught in duplicitous position regarding Herbalife, 12 November 2014)
Ms. Cunningham still advises her ex-husband, Attorney General Schneiderman. Through its teams of lobbyists, public relations firms, and consultants, Herbalife has appeared to breach the inner circle of the state's Attorney General's Office, although Herbalife claims that Ms. Cunningham's firm was not retained to lobby in respect of the criminal investigation into its business practices.
Nonetheless, when conflicts of interest such as these converge, perhaps intentionally, into a Charlie Foxtrot, New Yorkers depending on a fair and just investigation into Herbalife have a right to question the independence of the state's Attorney General's Office.
To counter-act growing worries that criminal investigations can be gamed by lobbyists and consultants, Attorney General Schneiderman should provide an update to New Yorkers about his reported investigation into Herbalife's questionable business practices, publicly asserting his office's independence.
Otherwise, Attorney General Schneiderman risks setting a horrible ethical standard, one in which corporations targeted for criminal investigations can hire relatives or their employers of prosecutors or investigators in a blatant influence peddling scheme to receive preferential treatment from New York State's prosecutors or investigators.
It would also help to promote greater government transparency and independence if the Attorney General's Office would publicly release all e-mail communications between Ms. Cunningham and the State Attorney General's Office.
-- Progress Queens