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William Black: Key Component In Financial Crisis - Fraud - Is Not Being Addressed

From Bill Moyers Journal William K. Black on Fraud: On Thursday, April 22, President Barack Obama made the case for increased regulation of the finan
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From Bill Moyers Journal William K. Black on Fraud:

On Thursday, April 22, President Barack Obama made the case for increased regulation of the financial industry in a televised speech at Cooper Union in New York City. It was widely billed as President Obama's chance to harness the momentum behind reforming Wall Street and move forward the bills being considered in the House and Senate. Those measures face stiff opposition from most of the Republican Party and an army of lobbyists from Wall Street who have the ear of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

William K. Black thinks President Obama didn't acknowledge a key component in the financial crisis that the bills before Congress won't address — fraud. A former regulator who helped crack down on massive fraud during the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s, Black tells Bill Moyers on THE JOURNAL that, despite evidence of fraud at the top banks, prosecutions seem far away. "If you go back to the savings and loan debacle, we got more than a thousand felony convictions of the elite. These are not, you know, tellers or something. We today have zero convictions, zero indictments, zero arrests of any of the elite, non-prime lenders that, through their fraud, drove this crisis."

Bill Moyers last broadcast is going to be next week. You'll be sorely missed Bill. Transcript of the clip below and you can watch the entire interview here.

BILL MOYERS: What did you think of the President's speech late this week?

WILLIAM K. BLACK It's a good speech. He's a very good spokesman for his causes. I don't think substantively the measures are going to prevent a future crisis. And I was disappointed that he wasn't willing to be blunt. He used a number of euphemisms, but he was unwilling to use the F word.

BILL MOYERS: The F word?

WILLIAM K. BLACK The F word's fraud in this. And it's the word that explains why we have these recurrent, intensifying crisis.

BILL MOYERS: How is that? What do you mean when you say fraud is at the center of it?

WILLIAM K. BLACK Well, first, when you deregulate or never regulate, mortgage bankers were never regulated, you effectively have decriminalized that industry, because only the regulators can serve as the sherpas, that the FBI and the prosecutors need to be able to understand and prosecute these kind of complex frauds. They can do one or two or maybe three on their own, but when an entire industry is beset by wide scale fraud, you have to have the regulators. And the regulators were the problem. They became a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, because they, President Bush appointed people who hated regulation. I call them the anti-regulators. And that's what they were.

BILL MOYERS: This hearing that, where you testified this week, looking into the bankruptcy at Lehman Brothers, had something on this.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER: And tragically, when we saw firms manage themselves to the edge of failure, the government had exceptionally limited authority to step in and to protect the economy from those failures.

BEN BERNANKE: In September 2008, no government agency had sufficient authority to compel Lehman to operate in a safe and sound manner and in a way that did not pose dangers to the broader financial system.

ANTON VALUKAS: What is clear is that the regulators were not fully engaged and did not direct Lehman to alter the conduct which we now know in retrospect led to Lehman's ruin.

BILL MOYERS: The regulators were not fully engaged. I mean, this is an old story. We all know about regulatory capture where the regulated take control of the regulators.

WILLIAM K. BLACK Yeah, but this one is far worse. That's not very candid testimony on anybody's part there. The Fed had unique authority. And it had it since 1994 to regulate every single mortgage lender in America. And you might think the Fed would use that authority.

And you might especially think that, if you knew that Gramlich, one of the Fed members, went personally to Alan Greenspan and said, there's a housing bubble. And there's a terrible crisis in non-prime. We need to send the examiners in. We need to use our regulatory authority. And Greenspan refused. Lehman was brought down primarily by selling liar's loans. It was the biggest seller of liar's loans in the world.

And when we look at these liar's loans, we find 90 percent fraud. 90 percent. And we find that most of the frauds are not induced by the borrower, but they're overwhelmingly done by the loan brokers.

BILL MOYERS: And liar's loans are?

WILLIAM K. BLACK A liar's loan is we don't get any verified information from you about your income, your employment, your job history or your assets.

BILL MOYERS: You give me a loan, no questions asked?

WILLIAM K. BLACK No real questions asked. Certainly no answers checked. In fact, we just had hearings last week about WaMu, which is also a huge player--

BILL MOYERS: Washington Mutual--

WILLIAM K. BLACK --in these frauds. Washington Mutual, which used to make, run all those ads making fun of bankers who, because they were stuffy and looked at loan quality before they made a loan. Well, WaMu didn't do any of that stuff. And of course, WaMu had just massive failures. And who got in trouble at WaMu? Who got in trouble at Lehman? You got in trouble if you told the truth. They fired the people who found the problems. They promoted the people that caused the problem, and they gave them massive bonuses.

BILL MOYERS: I watched the testimony where you were present the other day in the Lehman hearings. And there was a very moving moment with a former vice-president of Lehman Brothers who had gone and tried to blow the whistle, who tried to get people to pay attention to what was going on. Take a look.

MATTHEW LEE: I hand-delivered my letter to the four addressees and I'll give a quick timeline of what happened, May 16th was a Friday, on the Monday I sat down with the chief risk officer and discussed the letter, on the Wednesday I sat down with the general counsel and the head of internal audit, discussed the letter. On the Thursday I was on a conference call to Brazil. Somebody came into my office, pulled me out, and fired me on the spot with out any notification. I stayed, sorry.

BILL MOYERS: Matthew Lee, vice-president of Lehman Brothers, fired because he tried to blow the whistle. What does that say to you?

WILLIAM K. BLACK Well, it tells me that they were covering up the frauds, that they knew about the frauds and that they were desperate to prevent other people from learning.

BILL MOYERS: Matthew Lee told the accounting firm Ernst & Young what was going on. Isn't the accounting firm supposed to report this, once they learn from somebody like him that there's fraud going on?

WILLIAM K. BLACK Yes, they're supposed to be the most important gatekeeper. They're supposed to be independent. They're supposed to be ultra-professional. But they have an enormous problem, and it's compensation. And that is, the way you rise to power within one of these big four accounting firms is by being a rainmaker, bringing in the big clients.

And so, every single one of these major frauds we call control frauds in the financial sphere has been-- their weapon of choice has been accounting. And every single one, for many years, was able to get what we call clean opinions from one of the most prestigious audit firms in the world, while they were massively fraudulent and deeply insolvent.

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