The immunity of the rich bankers

Elizabeth Warren continues to doggedly pursue the wealthy banksters who got off scot-free after pretty much destroying the lives of so many people and threatening to wreck the global economy. She has asked the director of the FBI and its inspector general to explain why there was no action taken against the 14 individuals specifically criminally referred to them by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) that was set up to examine the causes of the financial meltdown.

The FCIC’s criminal referrals, which were sent to the Justice Department in October 2010, have never been made public. But Warren’s staff reviewed thousands of other documents released in March by the National Archives, including hearings and testimony, witness interviews, internal deliberations and memoranda, and found descriptions and records of them.

They detail potential violations of securities laws by 14 different financial institutions: most of America’s largest banks – Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual (now part of JPMorgan), and Merrill Lynch (now part of Bank of America) – along with foreign banking giants UBS, Credit Suisse, and Société Generale, auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers, credit rating agency Moody’s, insurance company AIG, and mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The FCIC presented DOJ with evidence that these institutions gave false representations about the loan quality inside mortgage-backed securities; misled credit ratings agencies; overstated assets and earnings in financial disclosures; failed to disclose credit downgrades, subprime exposure and the financial health of their operations to shareholders; and suffered breakdowns in internal company controls. All of these were tied to specific violations of federal law.

And the FCIC named names, specifying nine top-level executives who should be investigated on criminal charges: CEO Daniel Mudd and CFO Stephen Swad of Fannie Mae, CEO Martin Sullivan and CFO Stephen Bensinger of AIG, CEO Stan O’Neal and CFO Jeffrey Edwards of Merrill Lynch, and CEO Chuck Prince, CFO Gary Crittenden and Board Chairman Robert Rubin of Citigroup.

None of the 14 financial firms listed in the referrals were criminally indicted or brought to trial, Warren writes. Only five of the 14 even paid fines in civil settlements. None of the nine named individuals were criminally prosecuted, and only one – Crittenden, of Citigroup – had to pay so much as a personal fine, for a mere $100,000.

That is not all. This week also saw that Wells Fargo had admitted to a massive fraudulent scheme to open unauthorized accounts in their customers names and then reap in enormous amounts in fees. The bank has agreed t a $190 million settlement but, as is the case when it comes to wealthy banks and corporations, admitted no wrongdoing. While the bank says it has fired 5,300 people over the scandal, it is highly unlikely that any senior executive will be criminally prosecuted. What is worse, Carrie Tolstedt, the executive who directly oversaw this scheme, retired from the bank a couple of years ago with a $125 million golden parachute and the bank does not seem to show any inclination to try and claw back that parting largesse, although there are grounds for doing so. Indeed, it looks like the bank knew for some time what was going on and her ‘retirement’ package may have been a way to quietly reward her and buy her silence.

There is no limit to the amount of evidence that the financial sector now runs the country for its own benefit and that the top executives are the real leaders. Our elected representatives, with very few exceptions like Elizabeth Warren, have been bought by them and now serve as their agents.

UPDATE: Today comes another report that sasy that the Department of Justice is asking Deutsche Bank to settle a case about its won role in the mortgage-backed crisis by paying $14 billion. The bank is saying it won’t and is in negotiations.

As long as the banks are able to pay off fines while admitting no criminal liability, this kind of behavior will continue, with the fines being included as part of the cost of doing business. The DoJ has to criminally prosecute top executives and throw a few in prison for them to think twice.

SECOND UPDATE: Seth Meyers takes a look at the Wells Fargo case.


  1. Brother Ogvorbis, Fully Defenestrated Emperor of Steam, Fire and Absurdity says

    This is the only place in which I am in favour of the death penalty. If a company/corporation pulls this shit a certain number of times (not sure what the threshold should be — number of people defrauded, how many times they have pulled the same illegal stunts, whatever), the company should die. Sell off all assets immediately (no other company can buy more than 10%), the money goes to pay stockholders and the creditors are shit out of luck. The company is gone. Forever. Not sure if this would stop the illegalities, but it would sure make commercial lenders look much more closely at the companies borrowing money. And, hopefully, if a CEO, CFO, whateverFO, kills a corporation, no other corporation would hire them.

    While I’m wishing for rainbows, I wish knees worked properly.

  2. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Until and unless the fines become larger than the profits, this kind of behavior will continue.

    Jail time might have some real effect, but there will still be high level people making a lot of money off these schemes. Of course, if the fines get large enough to really make a difference, the CEOs will just fire the lower level people, declare bankruptcy, close up shop, and re-open a few months later after a ‘re-organization’….

  3. says

    The US has a capitalism scandal about every 20 years. 2022 is the next one. It’ll involve student loans or the vanishing land in Florida. Before the 2008 it was the 1980s junk bonds. Before that …

  4. says

    Crimson Clupediae@#2:
    Jail time probably would just result in Four Seasons jails. There should be a sentence of financial death: you forfeit all your assets, are barred from doing business in the US, and get moved into a special 100% tax rate. Live the rest of life having to beg for basic necessities.

    Who am I kidding? Society exists so these parasites can periodically fleece it. They are like wasps that lay their eggs in civilization, so they can feed on it and sprout anew for their rough feasts.

  5. says

    A grand total of one bank has been prosecuted for fraud during the 2008 economic meltdown. The Abacus Federal Savings Bank in New York is a (comparatively) tiny bank with net holdings of less than US$400 million, owned by a Chinese-American family. They were acquited, though not after massive damage to their reputations and value in the marketplace.

    PBS Frontline: Small Enough To Jail

    Excuse the unrelated topic: playwright Edward Albee died on Friday (“Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf”).

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