July 31, 2013

Write a cookbook, go to jail?

David Dayen points out the absurdity and hypocrisy behind the Obama/Holder Justice Department's decision to indict two stars of The Real Housewives of New Jersey on charges of mortgage fraud while Wall Street's crooked bankers still go unpunished.

Dayen points out that Wall Street bankers illegally foreclosed on 244,000 customers, for a total he estimates at $48 billion, and provides more detail on the scope of bankers' foreclosures crimes.

But that's barely scratching the surface. Bankers also defrauded mortgage investors, manipulated energy prices, and fraudulently tampered with lending rates, at a total cost that may well run into the trillions.Does the Obama/Holder DoJ indictment count reflect the magnitude of criminality committed by the respective parties? Let's look at the record.

Indictments for reality TV stars who accused of defrauding banks in order to obtain approximately $2.4 million in loans:2.

Indictments of bankers who falsified millions of loan documents, defrauded homeowners and investors, evaded local property sales taxes, and committed multiple other frauds large and small:0.

Wifely duties.
In 2010 I said that, the way things were going on Wall Street, Obama and Holder were going to have to indict Martha Stewart again.

That just shows how culturally out of touch I've been. Sure, they still need scapegoats they can indict instead of Wall Street executives. But America doesn't want to see television's too-good-to-be-true housewife take the fall anymore -- not when it can get a caricaturishly bad one instead. Enter Teresa and Joe Guidice, our newest celebrity defendants.

From Martha Stewart to Real Housewives: Now that's change you can believe in. And guess what? Martha and Teresa have both written cookbooks.

Meanwhile, the "Real House Thieves of New Jersey," and of the nation -- America's big banks -- continue to enjoy the fruits of government assistance. That aid's moved from direct bailouts to indirect subsidies like the implicit market advantage that comes with being "too big to fail"; immunity from prosecution; low tax rates as corporations and as individuals; and a string of cushy settlement deals.

Those deals allow crooked bankers to "pay" for their actions with other people's money - namely the shareholders. Break the law, and pay for your crime with other people's money if you get caught? With deals like that, why would criminals would ever stop breaking the law?

Answer: They don't.

Sweetheart deals.
In fact, one of those deals was announced on the very same day that the Real Housewivescrime couple was indicted. JPMorgan Chase just settled charges of rigging energy prices and will pay a $410 million fine.

Let's state that a little more accurately:JPMorgan Chase executives settled charges that they and/or their employees rigged energy prices and their shareholders, not they or their employees will pay a $410 million fine.

As with most such agreements, the bank was allowed to cut this deal "without admitting or denying wrongdoing."

The fraud which JPMorgan Chase perpetrated upon energy-consuming households is roughly 200 times the magnitude of that committed by the Giudices. Similar energy-manipulation crimes at Enron led to indictments, convictions, and jail time for its executives. But these days shareholders pay the fine, executives keep their bonuses and bailout benefits, and defrauded energy consumers (that's you and me) keep holding the short end of the stick.As we were saying: Change you can believe in.

Honey don't.
All the major banks have a pattern of repeated criminal wrongdoing. JPMorgan Chase's includes:

  • Foreclosure fraud, which according to available information includes perjury, forgery, and tax evasion, using a group of untrained college students and other young people (known in the firm as "Burger King Kids") to prepare and submit the papers.
  • Bribery of public officials in Jefferson County, Ala., leading to that county's bankruptcy
  • The "London Whale" incident, which involved multiple illegal actions. (CEO Jamie Dimon called the incident a "tempest in a teapot," reportedly after already knowing losses ran into the billions. If true that would appear to be investor fraud, since he was on a shareholder call when he said it.)
  • Reportedly taking MF Global's customers' money as that firm was collapsing under the weight of its own fraud;
  • Closing the bank account and freezing the credit card of a hedge fund manager because he criticized its handling of MF Global on television;
  • Bribing officials in Jefferson County, Alabama, which subsequently went bankrupt;

There's more, but you get the gist.

When we wrote about JPMorgan Chase's "Price of Evil" last year, the total cost of settling out its various frauds came to $16 billion. That total just went up by nearly half a billion.

First wives' club.
And JPMorgan Chase is just one bank. As a new paper rather conclusively demonstrates, there was system-wide deception implication all the major banks in a pattern of deceiving investors about the actual value of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS).

Among the investors who were grievously deceived in this manner were pension funds -- like those which stand accused of "bankrupting" Detroit and other cities.And the city of Philadelphia just sued a number of banks, including Chase, citing fraudulent misreporting of "LIBOR" rates which might have cost the city $100 million or more. The total cost of LIBOR fraud is difficult to calculate, but the Inspector General for the FHFAestimates that it cost government home lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac more than $3 billion. That cost is now being borne by the American taxpayer.

A quick reminder about those indictment statistics:Real Housewives of New Jersey stars: 2.
Wall Street bankers: 0.

Here comes the bride defendant
Nobody's suggesting that borrowers who commit fraud shouldn't be punished. Of course they should. But this indictment follows the cynical pattern laid down by Holder and his team, which goes as far back as Holder's phony "task force" operation of 2010 -- something that was cynically called "Blind Trust." (Or were they trying to tell us something? There's more at the Columbia Journalism Review.)

But the beat goes on. The president proclaims his support for immigration reform, but his Justice Department has been far more aggressive in its pursuit of undocumented immigrants than of the bankers who wrecked the economy. Now we can add "illegal Real Housewives" to the list of targets the DoJ considers worth pursuing.

I'm told that Real Housewives of New Jersey was a very successful show. The Guidices are apparently big stars,really big stars. But unlike JPMorgan Chase and other Wall Street banks, they're not too big to fail.

Meanwhile, the revelations of Wall Street criminality just keep coming. At this rate they'll need more celebrity indictments, and soon, to distract us from the people they not indicting. They seem to prefer the kind of high-profile wives or mothers who inspire either jealousy, judgement, or a slight sexual frisson.

Watch your back, Kim Kardashian -- and whatever you do, don't publish a cookbook.

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