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Senators question U.S. penalties against Wall Street banks as too lenient

"A bipartisan pair of lawmakers on Tuesday questioned the Justice Department’s prosecution of large financial institutions, raising concerns that recent settlements have fallen short of holding Wall Street accountable for wrongdoing.

"Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asking for a detailed explanation of the department’s procedures for going after financial crime. Penalties in settlements have been disproportionately low relative to company profits and the costs imposed on consumers, investors and the market, they said.

"“The nature of these settlements has fostered concerns that ‘too big to fail’ Wall Street banks enjoy a favored status, in statute and in enforcement policy,” the senators wrote in the letter. “This perception undermines the public’s confidence in our institutions and in the [principle] that the law is applied equally in all cases.”

"The letter is part of a broader public outcry against the government’s treatment of Wall Street firms. Critics say multimillion-dollar fines imposed on mega­banks are tantamount to a slap on the wrist as long as no senior executives are behind bars. Prosecutors, however, contend that they must be prudent in doling out justice so as not to cripple institutions whose failure could jeopardize the stability of the financial markets."

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