The Justice Department’s latest settlement with felonious big banks was announced this week, but the repercussions were limited to a few headlines and some scattered protestations.
That’s not enough. We need to understand that our financial system is not merely corrupt in practice. It is corrupt by design – and the problem is growing.
Let’s connect the dots, using news items from the past few weeks:
The Latest Sweetheart Deal
Four of the world’s biggest banks pleaded guilty to felony charges this week, agreeing to pay roughly $5.6 billion in fines for fixing the price of currencies on the foreign exchange market. Justice Department officials made much of the fact that, unlike previous sweetheart deals with Wall Street, this one required the banks’ parent companies to enter a guilty plea.
That’s an improvement over previous deals. But it’s not as significant as it might have been, since the settlement wasn’t finalized until the banks were able to strike side agreements with regulators to ensure they’d be able to keep doing business as usual.
One of the institutions involved in this deal was Citigroup. That’s the bank whose self-written and self-serving “Citigroup amendment” passed Congress last December, a move which made it the target of an epic Elizabeth Warren takedown.
Another was J.P. Morgan Chase. Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was lionized for far too long by politicians and members of the mainstream media, many of whom insisted that Dimon was smarter and more ethical than his peers. There is now a considerable body of evidence to contradict that assertion – and it keeps on growing.
All four of these banks are repeat offenders with long records of serial fraud, as even this outdated graphic shows.
In A Related Development …
A fifth bank, UBS, was forced to give up a deferred prosecution deal as a result of its involvement in currency exchange fraud. In “deferred prosecution” agreements the Justice Department agrees not to prosecute a bank for crimes it has committed if it keeps a promise not to commit those crimes again. It was not clear whether this would lead to any real-world consequences for the bank, however.
In yet another related development, Bank of New York Mellon Corporation agreed this week to pay $180 million to settle a foreign exchange-related class-action lawsuit. This followed a $714 million settlement for writing pension funds and other institutional clients by overcharging them for currency transactions.
J.P. Morgan Chase – Again
This one seemed to slip through under the public’s radar. In a development that will trigger severe déjà vu for anyone who’s been following the big banks’ foreclosure scandals, the serially criminal J.P. Morgan Chase agreed on March 3 to pay more than $50 million over “robo-signed” documents – that is, documents that the bank fraudulently submitted to courts in mortgage-related hearings.
From the Wall Street Journal:
” … Bank officials admitted to filing more than 50,000 payment-change notices that were improperly signed, under penalty of perjury, by persons who hadn’t reviewed the accuracy of the notices, according to Justice Department officials.”
Telling a court you’ve reviewed a document when you haven’t? That’s perjury.
The Journal also noted that the Justice Department found that “more than 25,000 notices were signed in the names of former employees or of employees who had nothing to do with reviewing the accuracy of the filings.”
Many people lost their homes unjustly as a result of this mass-produced fraud. The practice was so widespread at J.P. Morgan Chase that it required the hiring of untrained college-aged temps – referred to within the organization as “Burger King kids” – to generate all the fraudulent paperwork.
This is where we’re obliged to insert a sentence that has long been superfluous when reporting on deals of this kind:
The Justice Department did not announce the indictment of any individual bankers for the crimes that led to this settlement.
Corrupt, And Getting Worse (more…)