Consultant, Writer, Senior Fellow with The Campaign for America’s Future
The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have broad powers to root out and punish financial fraud. The Interagency Financial Fraud Task Force, formed last November, is an Obama-era innovation that enhances the government’s ability to track down financial criminals. As we look back on the last two years’ revelations about Wall Street misbehavior, then, it seems reasonable to ask the question:
What’s a banker gotta do to get arrested in this town?
We’re not talking about the “show up with your attorney and we’ll work out a settlement” kind of arrest, either. We mean the pull-them-from-the-boardroom, handcuff-wearing, hands-on-the-police-car perp walk sort of arrest. Enforcement actions seem few and far between, and when they do come around the settlement is usually far too small to deter future crime.
Headlines last week announced the arrest of software entrepreneurs the Wylie Brothers who, according to the SEC, netted more than $550 million through various forms of securities fraud. General Electric was charged with “bringing good things to life” for some Iraqi officials in the form of fat bribes. Stories say that Office Depot may be close to settling with the SEC on a variety of charges. Dell and its senior executives were charged with failing to disclose material facts to investors. (Write your own “Dude, you’re getting a Dell” joke; I’m too busy.)
But a review of 49 charges brought this year by the SEC shows that the majority of their targets were “ABB” — “anybody but bankers” — and that only eight charges were directly related to the fraud that trashed the economy. Most of those eight charges involved bit players, and penalties for the two major fraudsters involved were so light that they gave would-be malefactors no good reason to change their evil ways.
Here’s a sampling of SEC charges filed this year: A father/son accounting team was charged with insider trading. Italian and Dutch companies bribed some Nigerians and a telecommunications company slipped a mordida or two to Chinese officials. Some Canadians fraudulently touted penny stocks on Facebook and Twitter. A Florida retirement benefits firm skimmed some funds. Some guys were busted for an affinity fraud and Ponzi scheme targeting African American and Caribbean investors in New York City.
The SEC even charged a psychic with fraud after he claimed he could predict what would happen in the stock market. (Of course he was a fraud! A real psychic would’ve known they were investigating him and left town.)
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