If the Justice Department's antitrust division were a corporation, its stock might be a good buy.

That's not the main lesson intended by the folks who released a report on the "Top 100 Corporate Criminals of the 1990s" yesterday. But they made a good case that money spent on criminal prosecution of corporations has paid high dividends.

"The antitrust division collected fines that would pay for the antitrust budget over six years," said consumer activist Ralph Nader, on hand with representatives of the Corporate Crime Reporter, the Stakeholder Alliance and Multinational Monitor magazine to talk about corporate wrongdoing.

In fact, the antitrust division has experienced a huge run-up in the amount of fines collected for criminal violations of antitrust law such as price fixing. In 1987, the division brought in about $17 million in fines. In 1995 it was $41 million; in fiscal 1998 it was $266 million; and so far in fiscal 1999 it has collected $955 million.

The money goes not to fund the division's budget--a requested $114 million this year--but into a fund for the victims of crime.

Nader and Russell Mokhiber, editor of the law weekly Corporate Crime Reporter, called on the Justice Department to put out yearly reports on corporate crime, just as it reports on street crime. The publication's report listed 100 companies that its authors said had pleaded guilty or no contest to crimes and were required to pay criminal fines, ranked by the size of the fines.

At the top of the list was the Swiss pharmaceutical company F. Hoffmann-LaRoche Ltd., which earlier this year pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a $500 million fine for participation in a global conspiracy to fix prices and allocate market share for certain vitamins.

Mokhiber said that federal prosecutors face defendants that "have the resources to defend themselves in courts of law and in the court of public opinion." For instance, he noted that two federal prosecutors in the case of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which was found criminally responsible for polluting the oceans, faced a defense team that included two former heads of the Justice Department's environmental crimes section, a former attorney general and two former federal prosecutors, and brought in as experts in its defense another former attorney general, former State Department officials and four retired senior admirals.

Nader said that Congress is indifferent at best, and he acknowledged that there is "very little public debate about corporate crime." But he said he hopes that will change. "I think people, when they are powerless, turn cynical," he said.