One of the excuses that the Obama administration and its Department of Justice have given for the lenient way that they have treated the corporate sector and its top executives despite the clear evidence of fraud is that prosecuting them is hard and has a low chance of success.
Of course the more likely reason is the cozy relationship between the Obama administration and the corporate sector. Former Attorney General Eric Holder came from, and immediately returned to, the law and lobbying firm Covington and Burling that has as its clients many of the big banks and other entities. Current Attorney General Loretta Lynch was also noted for her lenient treatment of corporate criminality in her previous positions and no doubt will be well rewarded when she leaves office.
But David Dayen writes that a group of whistleblowers has laid out a blueprint for how it can be done.
A new group called Bank Whistleblowers United have just pushed out a comprehensive plan they think would put the executive branch back in the business of enthusiastically identifying, indicting, and convicting financial fraudsters — restoring accountability while protecting the public.
The cumulative credibility of the group’s four founders is extremely strong. Richard Bowen is the Citigroup whistleblower who unsuccessfully warned top management about the rotten condition of loans inside mortgage-backed securities. Michael Winston spoke out about similarly corrupt practices at non-bank mortgage originator Countrywide. Gary Aguirre, a Securities and Exchange Commission attorney, was fired for refusing to let a Wall Street banker out of an insider trading investigation.
And their ringleader is William Black, an outspoken fraud-fighter and longtime white-collar criminologist who was a two-fisted bank regulator during the savings and loan crisis and now teaches at the University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC).
“The common theme,” Black said with characteristic bluntness, “is the unbelievably pathetic job of the Department of Justice and the FBI.”
One of the first steps the group proposes – echoing the recommendations Senator Elizabeth Warren made last week – involves appointing aggressive leadership at federal agencies with no conflicts of interest with the entities they regulate, and hiring enough staff trained in criminology and financial fraud to attack the problem.
“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Black. “The Justice Department forgot there was a wheel.”
The template for the plan is the saving and loan crisis of the late 1980s, when just one federal agency, the now-defunct Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) issued over 30,000 criminal referrals and over 1,000 major bank executives went to prison.
By comparison, in the 2008 financial crisis, OTS and their bank regulator counterparts made zero outside criminal referrals on financial crimes. And more recently, the rate of corporate prosecutions has been pathetic.
Frankly, I cannot see anyone other than Bernie Sanders implementing such reforms as president. All the others, including Hillary Clinton, will continue business as usual.