Billionaire Charles Koch says one of his company's run-ins with the federal government prompted his current push for fairness in the criminal justice system.
In an interview published Saturday in The Wichita Eagle
, Koch's chief counsel, Mark Holden, said a 1995 case against Koch Industries left an indelible mark on the CEO.
In that case, a federal grand jury indicted the company on 97 felonies for alleged environmental crimes at a Corpus Christi, Texas oil refinery. All but one of the charges eventually were dropped, but not before Koch Petroleum Group spent tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and settled the final charge for $10 million.
Holden told the newspaper the experience left Koch wondering "how the little guy who doesn’t have Koch’s resources deals with prosecutions like that."
Koch looked into the matter and determined that state and federal justice systems have become "over-criminalized" with too many laws and prosecutions of nonviolent offenders, Holden said.
That has led to his contributions over the past decade to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and other equal justice efforts, a project Koch plans to continue into 2015.
"Over the next year, we are going to be pushing the issues key to this, which need a lot of work in this country," Koch said. "And that would be freedom of speech, cronyism and how that relates to opportunities for the disadvantaged."
Politicians eager to appear tough on crime have passed unneeded laws, Koch says, that have tripled the incarceration rate since the 1980s and taken away the rights of the poor to adequate legal representation since public defenders' offices have had their funding cut.
Koch said the actions have fueled the recent protests against police in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City.
Koch and his brother David are seen primarily as mega-donors to conservatives, but the brothers cut their political teeth with the Libertarian Party. David Koch was the party's vice-presidential nominee in 1980.
David Koch said in a recent interview with Barbara Walters
that he is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. He funds Republicans, he explained, because he fears a collapse of American society if the economy and dollar fail.
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