Bankers gone wild! Let’s tally some of their crimes:
JPMorgan Chase engaged in massive, systematic fraud to foreclose without cause or due process on innocent homeowners, tossing thousands of families into the streets.
Goldman Sachs profited by marketing an investment package that was designed to fail, collecting fat fees on each sale to unsuspecting investors who lost millions, while the bank also collected millions more from a side bet it made that, sure enough, its package would be a loser.
For years, HSBC has been butt-deep in a swamp of despicable, illegal money-laundering schemes, willingly processing billions of dirty dollars for vicious drug cartels and peddlers of arms to terrorist forces at war with America.
Many more examples abound. These are not poor saps desperately robbing a bank branch for a few hundred dollars, but criminal enterprises run by multimillionaire Wall Streeters who run in the finest social circles, are celebrated by the media and hobnob with the nation’s political elite.
Their corruption is complete; their crimes are documented. Yet, unlike sad-sack bank robbers, none of these Robbing Bankers have even been prosecuted, much less jailed. In fact, as revealed on PBS’s Frontline program earlier this year, frustrated prosecutors who served in the Justice Department’s criminal division two years ago report that “when it came to Wall Street, there were no investigations going on. There were no subpoenas, no document reviews, no wiretaps.”
Why is that? Where are the cops on the Wall Street beat?
Up in the suites, coddling the culprits, whom they know on a first-name basis. That’s because Attorney General Eric Holder and the chief of his criminal division, Lanny Breuer, have previously enjoyed lucrative careers as lawyers defending the very barons they’re now supposed to be prosecuting. Holder and Breuer both hail from the same Washington law firm, Covington & Burling, that specializes in representing corporate clients with legal issues at the Justice Department.
The moral here is clear: When engaged in high crimes, it literally pays to have friends in the highest places.
To transport them there, a secret cosmic door connects the parallel universes of Washington and Wall Street. It’s not the proverbial revolving door, but a wide-open passageway for easy flow back and forth — reserved for those in the know.
Lanny Breuer is one definitely in the know, passing with impunity from the job of defending Wall Street wrongdoers in cases before the Justice Department to being the department’s chief prosecutor of Wall Street wrongdoing.
Four years ago, he left Covington & Burling, where he represented Wall Street clients, to head the criminal division of Justice. Dismissing criticism that his long service to Wall Street banksters created an inherent conflict of interest with his new duty to the public, Breuer insisted that he’d be a better prosecutor “because of my deep experience in the private sector.”
That claim would’ve proven more convincing had he brought even a single case against the Wall Street executives who’ve been publicly exposed as self-enriching perpetrators of widespread fraud and other destructive financial crimes. But, no, not one.
Why? Call me cynical, but perhaps because he was using his four years at Justice to pad his résumé and enhance his value to Wall Street. Protecting bankers from prosecution could be a good career move.
No surprise, then, that Breuer headed back through that cosmic door, rejoining Covington in a specially created position to expand its role in defending corporate clients charged with foreign bribery, money laundering, securities fraud and such. “I’m a zealous advocate,” said the guy who studiously refrained from being a zealous prosecutor. “I look forward to being a zealous advocate for our clients again,” he added.
Sheesh, couldn’t he at least pretend to have some ethics? Instead, Lanny was relieved to be back on Wall Street’s side: “It’s my professional home,” he confessed.” Oh, did I mention that his starting salary at Covington will be $4 million a year?
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, April 10, 2013
Wall Street is a beast.
And proud of it! In fact, a pair of animals are the stock market’s longtime symbols: One is a snorting bull, representing surging stock prices; the other is a bear, representing a down market devouring stock value.
But I recently received a letter from a creative fellow named Charles saying that we need a third animal to depict the true nature of the Wall Street beast: a hog.
Yes! And we could name it “Jamie.” Jamie Dimon — I mean the multimillionaire, silver-haired, golden-tongued CEO of JPMorgan Chase, America’s biggest bank.
For years, Dimon has wallowed in the warm glow of America’s financial, political and media limelight, hailed as a paragon of sound management and banker ethics. He’s been publicly lauded by President Obama, celebrated by The New York Times and courted by leaders of both parties.
But, suddenly last summer, a big “oink” erupted from Chase, and Jamie’s inner hoggishness was revealed. It started when one of Chase’s investment arms went awry and lost $2 billion. At first, Dimon haughtily dismissed this as “a tempest in a teapot.” But the loss of investors’ money soon grew to a staggering $6 billion. Criminal probes began, investors squirmed, media coverage grew testy, and then came the revelation that took all the glitter off of Dimon.
On March 14, a U.S. Senate committee issued a scathing 300-page report documenting that the loss was not a mere “trade blunder” by Chase underlings, but the product of a systemic corporate culture of recklessness, greed and deception. An internal email from Jamie himself, with the words “I approve,” traced the stench all the way to the top. Not only did Dimon know what was going on, he enabled it.
JPMorgan’s mess stems from the same dangerous combo that rocked America’s financial system in 2007 and crashed our economy: ethical rot in executive suites, sycophantic politicians and reporters and willfully blind regulators. Meanwhile, Jamie is still Boss Hog at the giant bank and still drawing millions of dollars in annual pay and perks. Also, only one week after the Senate report came out, he was even given a media award for best 2012 performance by a CEO facing a corporate crisis. E-I-E-I-O!
For a better performance on containing banker narcissism, our lawmakers might look to Europe. I know that it’s considered un-American to like anything those “namby-pamby” European nations do, but still: Let’s hear it for the Swiss!
In a March 3 referendum, the mild-mannered, pacifist-minded Swiss people rose up and hammered their corporate executives who’ve been grabbing ripoff pay packages, despite having made massive financial messes.
Two-thirds of voters emphatically shouted “yes” to a maverick ballot proposal requiring that shareholders be given the binding say on executive pay. Violators of the new rules would sacrifice up to six years of salary and face three years in jail. That’s hardly namby-pamby.
Indeed, America’s lawmakers and regulators are the ones who’ve been squishy-soft on banksterism. Jamie is not the only one being coddled — none of the Wall Street titans whose greed wrecked our economy have even been pursued by the law, much less put in jail.
It’s no surprise, then, that those bankers have gone right back to scamming — and gleefully enriching themselves. Hardly a week goes by without another revelation of big-bank fraud, yet the banks simply pay an inconsequential fine and the culprits skate free.
Forget about too big to fail, banks have become “too big to jail.” Our nation’s top prosecutor, Attorney General Eric Holder, recently conceded that finagling financial giants are being given a pass: “It does become difficult for us to prosecute them,” he told a Senate subcommittee, “when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute — if we do bring a criminal charge — it will have a negative impact on the national economy.”
Meanwhile, just four giants — Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo — put nearly $20 million into last year’s elections, mostly to back Republicans promising to weaken the few feeble restraints we now have on banker thievery. With such Keystone Kops overseeing them, why would any Wall Streeter even think of going straight? Nothing will change until officials gut it up, go after lawless bankers and bust up the banks that are too big to exist.
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, April 3, 2013
Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown announced today that he’s joining the government affairs department of a giant multinational law firm with major Wall Street clients.
“Brown will focus his practice on business and governmental affairs as they relate to the financial services industry as well as on commercial real estate matters,” the firm, Nixon Peabody LLC, said in a press release. Brown will not be a lobbyist, the firm said, but whether he meets the specific legal requirements to be a registered lobbyist or not, it’s clear that he will draw on his contacts and status to help advance clients’ agenda in government. “He can offer many types of legal services to his broad network of contacts,” the firm said.
The head of the Nixon Peabody’s Government Relations practice is ex-New York congressman Tom Reynolds, who now lobbies for Goldman Sachs on “[f]inancial services regulatory and tax issues.” According to the firm, Brown will also work with fellow Massachusettsian Jim Vallee, who abruptly left his job as majority leader of the state House of Representatives last year after getting hired by the firm.
Nixon Peabody contributed $2,500 to a PAC associated with Brown’s reelection campaign last year, the most it gave to any candidate in the country (tied only with a Democratic House member).
Brown was a reliable ally of the financial services industry in the Senate, where he helped water down the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and influence other bills of interest to banks. It was no surprise, considering how much money they threw at his campaigns. The Securities and Investment sector was the top industry donor to Brown’s 2012 campaign, giving him $3.2 million, on top of the millions he received from the insurance, real estate and finance industries, according to Open Secrets.
The move, however, is a blow to Massachusetts Republicans, who see Brown as their best — and possibly only — hope of retaking a Senate seat or winning the governor’s mansion. Perhaps Brown didn’t think he could win or perhaps he was more interested in cashing in.
It’s notable that Massachusetts voters have replaced Brown, who is now almost literally a Wall Street lobbyist, with Elizabeth Warren, one of the most outspoken critics of the finance industry in the country.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, March 11, 2013
“Disclosure For Thee But Not For Me”: Romney Using Ethics Exception To Limit Disclosure Of Bain Holdings
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, whose wealth has become a central issue in the 2012 campaign, has taken advantage of an obscure exception in federal ethics laws to avoid disclosing the nature and extent of his holdings.
By offering a limited description of his assets, Romney has made it difficult to know precisely where his money is invested, whether it is offshore or in controversial companies, or whether those holdings could affect his policies or present any conflicts of interest.
In 48 accounts from Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded in Boston, Romney declined on his financial disclosure forms to identify the underlying assets, including his holdings in a company that moved U.S. jobs to China and a California firm once owned by Bain that filed for bankruptcy years ago and laid off more than 1,000 workers.
Those are known only because Bain publicly disclosed them in government filings and on the Internet. But most of the underlying assets — the specific investments of Bain funds— are not known because Romney is covered by a confidentiality agreement with the company.
Several of Romney’s assets — including a large family trust valued at roughly $100 million, nine overseas holdings and 12 partnership interests— were not named initially on his disclosure forms, emerging months later when he agreed to release his tax returns.
There is no indication that Romney is violating any rules, and his advisers note that his reports have been certified by the Office of Government Ethics, which reviews the disclosures required of presidential candidates.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the disclosure “completely and accurately describes Governor Romney’s assets as required by the law.” She said Romney does not know the details of his investments since he turned them over to a trustee to manage, and that ethics officials confirmed that “everything … was reported correctly” and completely.
Several outside experts across the political spectrum, however, say Romney’s disclosure is the most opaque they have encountered, with some suggesting the filing effectively defeats the spirit of disclosure requirements.
“His approach turns the whole purpose of the ethics statute on its ear,” said Cleta Mitchell, a Republican lawyer who has represented dozens of candidates and officials in the disclosure process, including Romney’s leading challenger for the GOP nomination, Rick Santorum.
Romney’s fortune and his association with Bain are frequent topics in the presidential campaign, with opponents charging that the way he accumulated much of his wealth — through leveraged buyouts that in some cases ended in bankruptcy and layoffs — is at odds with the interests of working-class Americans.
The ties to Bain, a private firm known for its reticence, put Romney in a rare category exempting him from the transparency rules that apply to most candidates.
Like all nominees for federal office, Romney is covered by the statute that mandates disclosure of assets. But since the 2004 campaign — when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry declined to disclose some of his wife’s holdings — the Office of Government Ethics has permitted nominees and presidential candidates to postpone revealing underlying assets in investment accounts that have a legally binding confidentiality agreement.
Bain routinely asks its investors to sign such agreements.
But after a nominee is in office, the ethics agency requires that any undisclosed assets be sold as a way to meet conflict-of-interest requirements.
The implications for Romney, if elected, are uncertain because sitting presidents are not subject to the conflict-of-interest sections of the ethics law. Although still subject to the disclosure requirements, a president cannot be compelled by OGE to sell undisclosed assets, according to an OGE official. Romney’s would be the first presidency to face this circumstance, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic in an election year.
Romney does disclose underlying assets in his accounts held by financial firms other than Bain, such as Goldman Sachs. But his advisers say Bain holdings, the source of most of his wealth, are kept confidential at the request of Bain management for proprietary business reasons. Romney’s attorneys asked Bain officials to release information about the funds, but the request was denied, according to Saul.
When he talks about Bain, Romney promotes the image of a jobs generator spawning megastores such as Staples and Sports Authority , which serve as emblems of Bain’s extraordinary financial success.
But some other Bain-affiliated companies have a history of controversy. Romney is invested, for example, in DDI, a company in California once owned by Bain that filed for bankruptcy in 2003 and laid off more than 1,000 workers.
Company chief executive Mikel Williams said the firm has returned to profitability and is expanding, in part because of recent support from Bain and others.
Romney also has holdings in Sensata Technologies, a high-tech sensor control firm that has moved U.S. manufacturing jobs to China. A Sensata spokesman declined to comment.
Most of Romney’s holdings in Bain accounts are impossible to identify because of the confidentiality rules imposed by Bain, but his investments in Sensata and DDI were revealed through Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
Saul said it is unfair to link the candidate to such firms because “Governor Romney has not had any role at Bain Capital since he left over a decade ago,” and has turned over “control and overall management” of his investments to a trustee.
Ethics office’s ‘double standard’
Under pressure, Romney recently released hundreds of pages of tax returns for 2010 and estimated returns for 2011. A comparison of those returns with his federal and state “personal financial disclosure” reports and corporate filings at the SEC revealed dozens of discrepancies – and provided a window into what might emerge if Romney revealed the assets he holds in Bain accounts.
“I don’t know what legal authority exists for the federal ethics office to allow Mitt Romney not to disclose these assets,” said Mitchell, the Republican campaign lawyer. “The statute intends for presidential candidates to publicly disclose underlying assets.”
She said she views the OGE’s exception as a “double standard” that allows very wealthy candidates to avoid disclosure because they are more likely to have their assets in accounts covered by a confidentiality agreement.
By comparison, she said, her congressional clients are required to report every asset unless they qualify for one of the few exceptions described in the law.
One indication of the lack of specificity in Romney’s disclosures is the size of his report. In 2011, it ran 27 pages, compared with 123 pages filed by Ross Perot before he announced his presidential bid in 1992 and 51 pages filed by Henry Paulson, former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, when he was nominated as Treasury secretary in 2006.
Steve Pagliuca, a current Bain managing director who sought election to the U.S. Senate in 2009, and filed a 94-page disclosure. He too was denied permission to release underlying assets in Bain accounts, according to a source familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the topic.
Romney is not the first presidential candidate to say he is unable to list underlying holdings in a private equity account. But he is the first to do so for such a large portion of his overall assets.
“I have never seen anything like this,” said Joe Sandler, a Democratic Party lawyer who has shepherded candidates and nominees through the disclosure process for 26 years. “Romney’s approach frustrates the very purpose of the ethics and disclosure laws,” he said. Sandler served as general counsel to the Democratic National Committee when Kerry ran for president.
As a senator, Kerry continues to say he cannot list assets in a Bain account held by his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, which his staff says is in compliance with Senate rules.
When he was running for president, Kerry did not list assets in Bain and half a dozen other private equity and hedge fund accounts — some valued over $1 million. A Kerry aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not part of the presidential campaign, said, “In this case, Senator Kerry wasn’t a beneficiary of Heinz family trusts, had no role in their management, and preexisting confidentiality agreements governing proprietary information were a unique issue.”
New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) does not list underlying investments in several private equity accounts his wife owns — and he provided no explanation with his disclosure report. His chief of staff, Dan Katz, said information on accounts owned by trusts connected to Lautenberg’s wife have proved unobtainable so far, but the senator has been told he is in compliance with Senate rules.
Senate Ethics Committee officials said they could not comment on individual members.
When he ran for the Senate from New Jersey in 2000, Jon Corzine, a former chief executive at Goldman, initially declined to release tax returns, citing confidentiality obligations to his firm. William Canfield III, a former Republican counsel to the Senate Ethics Committee, said at the time that the New Jersey millionaire had a special obligation to disclose, in part because of his extraordinary wealth.
“Mr. Corzine has to understand, while he retains some privacy rights, he has given up a substantial number of them in holding himself out for public office,” Canfield said at the time. Canfield has gone on to private practice and advised federal candidates, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
A spokesman for Corzine, who ultimately released his tax returns, declined to comment.
The purpose of disclosure
The 1978 Ethics in Government Act requires candidates to publicly disclose their wealth in broad ranges and to list the assets in most partnerships, trusts and pooled investment funds.
The purpose is to allow the public to identify potential conflicts of interest and the personal economic priorities of candidates and elected officials, said Fred Wertheimer, the longtime advocate who worked to enact the measure in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.
Mitchell and several other Washington campaign lawyers say they advise candidates to reveal underlying assets, divest them if they cannot be disclosed or choose not to seek public office.
“My clients have had fund managers squawk about their ‘proprietary information’ and I’ve always been told, ‘There is no choice — the law requires disclosure,’ ” Mitchell said.
Canfield, the former Senate ethics lawyer, will not comment on Romney’s assets. But, he said, “I always counsel my clients to err on the side of disclosure” and to note on ethics forms “the same description of assets they would disclose to the IRS.” Doing so, he said, is in keeping with the spirit of the law and prevents embarrassing questions about discrepancies.
Romney’s tax forms showed holdings in a Swiss bank account, a real estate trust and nine offshore accounts not named on the public disclosure reports. In addition, 12 Bain accounts described as “fund” investments on the disclosure were identified as “partner” investments to the IRS.
Romney’s attorneys subsequently amended the disclosure to acknowledge the Swiss bank and the real estate accounts. The other assets, Romney aides said, were too small to report or had been listed, under other names, on the public disclosure. The general explanations were accepted by government ethics reviewers as were the amendments.
“Any document with this level of complexity and detail is bound to have a few trivial inadvertent issues,” Saul said at the time.
In his disclosure reports, Romney’s lawyers noted that he retired from Bain in 1999, is now a “passive investor” and “has not had any active role with any Bain entity.”
Romney’s tax returns indicate that he and his wife received “carried interest,” a controversial form of compensation that provides a share of profits to Bain managers and is taxed at the lower capital gains rate.
Romney’s compensation from ongoing Bain deals results from a retirement agreement when he left the company in 1999 allowing him a stake in Bain’s new investment funds for a decade after.
By: Tom Hamburger, The Washington Post, April 5, 2012
Answering critics who are gleefully calling him the the Etch A Sketch candidate, Mitt Romney stood fast on one of his long-held positions Wednesday, defending George W. Bush’s financial bailout of Wall Street in 2008. That might be considered a rather gutsy stand, considering that Bush has been persona non grata among Republicans in this campaign, the conservative base despises the policy and Romney’s chief rival for the presidential nomination, Rick Santorum, has condemned the bailout as unnecessary and “injurious to capitalism.”
And what Romney said is at least partly true: almost every mainstream economist agrees that had there not been a bailout, the entire U.S. financial system would have collapsed and the nation would very likely be in the middle of a second Great Depression right now.
But in his remarks in Maryland, Romney also ignored–or etched out–much of the financial history that led to the bailout. “I keep hearing the president say that he’s responsible for keeping America from going into a Great Depression,” Romney said. “No, no, no. That was President George W. Bush and [then Treasury Secretary] Hank Paulson that stepped in and kept that from happening.”
Umm, yeah, they did, but only after Paulson, as head of Goldman Sachs, lobbied to raise leverage limits that fueled Wall Street’s untrammeled risk-taking machine and after Bush, for eight years, sponsored low-income housing and deregulatory policies that promoted the illusory idea of a self-stabilizing Wall Street, gutted the financial regulatory system and set the stage for the disaster.
It is little remembered today that President Bush was so completely flummoxed by the financial collapse that, according to his own former speechwriter, Matt Latimer, he didn’t seem to comprehend at first what had happened, nor that the Treasury was planning to pay more for Wall Street’s toxic securities than they were really worth in order to sustain the reckless banks. “Why did I sign on to this proposal if I don’t understand what it does?” he told Latimer plaintively. Just before the crash, Bush had hoped to deliver a series of “legacy speeches” touting his accomplishments, including a robust economy.
Romney, in his remarks, may have been just sketching out how he plans to run in the fall–as well as conveniently reminding voters of the story he hoped would dominate the news yesterday, that George W. Bush’s prominent brother, Jeb, had just endorsed him. But that’s no excuse for etching out the real story of what happened.
By: Michael Hirsh, National Journal, March 22, 2012