Crime and No Punishment

Jan 23 2013 - 7:28am

Frontline's terrific show last night was called the "Untouchables" and was another report on the fact that not one single Wall Street bank or executive has been criminally prosecuted for any conduct related to the largest financial collapse since the Great Crash of 1929.  Watch the show here.  

While that's bad enough, what's worse is watching the most senior so-called law enforcement officials in our country offer one pathetic excuse after another for why they have so grossly failed to do their job.  To non-lawyers or non-professionals, these excuses may seem reasonable or plausible, but frankly none of them withstand the simplest scrutiny.  That is why none of those senior officials will subject themselves to a public debate or "unfriendly" audience where real questions -- and follow up questions -- are asked and they aren't allowed to spin or squirm their way out of answering.

The show's exclusive focus was on criminal prosecution, but the track record of the SEC is even worse in some ways.  The SEC pretends to enforce the law on Wall Street with puny slap on the wrist fines (that the biggest banks get to pay with shareholders money and insurance policies) that misleads the public into believing that the SEC is doing their job, while signaling to Wall Street that they have nothing to worry about.  Indeed, the SEC has given Wall St a road map to avoid even civil liability for their senior executives.  As we have detailed, "SEC Enforcement Has Incentivized, Rewarded and Guaranteed More Wall Street Crime."

The American people are not stupid.  They see the double standard.  They know that there are two sets of laws in the country;  one for the rich, powerful and well connected of Wall Street and one for everyone else on Main Street.  In fact, a jury explicitly told the SEC just that when they rejected the attempted scapegoating of a minnow while letting the whales of Wall Street get off.

Too bad the show didn't also rip the cover off the SEC's pathetic history of repeated sweetheart settlements with their Wall Street buddies.  It would have provided even more concrete examples of repeated, knowing wrongdoing by Wall Street banks and executives and show how they were -- again -- let off the hook, as detailed here

Contrary to the smooth sounding, but ignorant comments of the head of DOJ's criminal division to Frontline's terrific producer Marty Smith, demanding such prosecutions and accountability isn't vindictive or mob-rule.  Equal justice before the law is the bedrock of democracy.  Two sets of rules is corrosive, not only of democracy and our judicial system, but also of the social glue the binds us all to the rules that are essential for our entire government and society to work.  That is what is really at stake when everyone in America gets to see that the rich, powerful, well connected of Wall Street pillage our country, crash the financial system and cause the worst economy since the Great Depression.  

As a recent report showed, Wall Street's egregious reckless and, indeed, criminal conduct will cost our country more than $12.8 trillion.  And, of course, those numbers can't count the ongoing devastating human wreckage across our country from lost jobs, homes, retirements, educations and, worst of all, dreams. 

After all that, that select handful of rich and powerful not only all walk away scot free, but they get to do so with their pockets stuffed with -- literally -- billions of dollars.  As Frontline so clearly showed, the minnows of Main Street are prosecuted and thrown in prison for years while the party on Wall Street continues.  

Making matters worse, the total failure of any accountability much less punishment will almost assuredly cause such recklessness to happen again, and probably soon.  After all, if there's no punishment and they get to keep their executive suites, billions in bonuses, mansions around the world, yachts bigger than the average American home, fleet of planes and everything else they believe are most important thing in the world, why wouldn't they do it all again.