Two weeks ago brought the news of an unwanted milestone for GM: 100 deaths (and counting) linked to its faulty ignition-switch system. Now, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are reporting on the very likely possibility of criminal charges being filed against the company in connection with the defect. In the Journal's telling, federal prosecutors are "closing in"; the Times reports the Justice Department is negotiating a fine in excess of $1 billion after determining criminal wrongdoing occurred. Plenty remains TBD: For instance, whether individual employees, some of whom have been under investigation for months, would face charges. Sources tell the Journal the individuals who might be most likely to see charges are engineers. Also TBD: How the case itself might play out.
Both papers report the case and any agreement could still "fall apart." Should the DOJ go ahead it will represent the second time federal prosecutors have gone after a car maker over safety issues. The previous instance involved Toyota: It entered into a deferred-prosecution agreement that, as the name suggests, saw prosecution deferred; the charges will ultimately be dismissed so long as the company adheres to the terms set out by prosecutors. (It also paid $1.2 billion.) The Times reports it's not certain whether GM could also take part in such an agreement or if prosecutors will "force" a guilty plea, which "would carry the symbolic weight of making GM a felon." More "coulds" and "mights" from the Times: It reports prosecutors and GM haven't come to an agreement on what wrongdoing the company would admit to, and says a settlement could be reached before summer is out. (Read more faulty ignition switches stories.)