If you didn’t catch the Frontline special, The Untouchables, on PBS last week, you should really check it out.
It’s another “What the heck is going on here?” investigation of the massive mortgage mania meltdown that begs the question: How have all of the big fish on Wall Street escaped the Justice Department’s hooks?
Lanny Breuer is the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, and he’s the star of the The Untouchables. He shows the public that, basically, crime pays.
Lanny wasn’t cornered, or set up by Frontline like some Internet creep walking into a sting. He was interviewed of his own accord.
He said, “Federal criminal cases are hard to bring – I have to prove that you had the specific intent to defraud… If we cannot establish that, then we can’t bring a criminal case.”
Make that tried, not trying. The day after the show aired, the Washington Post said the “division chief is stepping down.”
I haven’t seen any confirmation of that, but I did notice that some of the slickest six-figure (that’s per week) job postings at Wall Street’s biggest firms were taken down after the special aired.
Maybe those two things are connected. Maybe the common denominator is that crime does pay and that going after criminals and then not bringing criminal charges doesn’t pay – that is, until you switch sides.
We’ll just wait and see who drafts Lanny Breuer in the next episode of the Washington-to-Wall Street Lottery.
Then I got to thinking. No, I wasn’t thinking about getting one of those six-figure (per week) jobs.
I started thinking that Lanny has a point…
How do you prove intent?
If I approve you for a mortgage on a million-dollar McMansion, and you’re living in a refrigerator box, am I guilty of intending anything? Are you?
If I package your mortgage with a bunch of other similar, meticulously un-documented, thoroughly un-verified rags-to-riches loans, am I guilty of intending anything?
If I then sell those ticking time bombs to investors as AAA-rated securities – because the rating agency I paid rated it like the battery in my penlight – am I intending anything? Are the rating agencies?
You just don’t know. You can’t read my mind, or anyone else’s – including your own, for that matter.
Besides, I wasn’t the only one doing all those things. These activities were actually in job descriptions for a lot of those six-figure (per week) jobs on Wall Street. Nobody intended to blow themselves up, let alone the whole world.
It reminds me of that old Tower of Power song, It’s Not the Crime:
“It’s not the crime, and it’s not the thought. It’s not the deed, it’s if you get caught.”
These guys can’t get caught because there was no intent on their part – at least no intent that can be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. I get that. It’s a law thing.
So, here’s the thing. We need new laws. We need laws that say, “If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, then it’s a duck.” And there’s no ducking out.
Maybe you can’t put people in jail for being ducks, but if they duck up, even if they didn’t intend to quack up anybody else, or the economy, or the world, to feather their own nests, then there should at least be laws that strip them of their ill-gotten gains.
After all, we should be able to prove they intended to make all that money.
As far as Wall Street goes, it sounds okay the way Tower of Power puts it:
“Ya know, the more things change, the more they stay the same…”