Sunday, October 20, 2013

Crime Pays

JP Morgan was a 19th century robber baron born to a great banking fortune and, by hook and crook, leveraged it to become the “King of American Finance.” During the Gilded Age, Morgan cornered U.S. financial markets, gained monopoly ownership of railroads, amassed a vast supply of the nation’s gold and used his investment power to create U.S. Steel and take control of that market.  Morgan was a hustler who often traded on the shady side. In the Civil War, for example, his family bought his way out of military duty, but he saw another way to serve. Himself, that is. Morgan bought defective rifles for $3.50 each and sold them to a general in the Union Army for $22 each. The rifles blew off soldiers’ thumbs, but Morgan pleaded ignorance, and government investigators graciously absolved the young, wealthy, well-connected financier of any fault. He had a lifetime of anti-trust violations, union busting and  profiteering practices. He drew numerous official charges—but of course, he never did any jail time.

The banking giant JPMorgan Chase bears his name.  It too has committed multiple illegalities and walked away scot-free, except for a few fines. Not a single one of the top bankers who committed gross wrongdoing were charged or even fired—much less sent to jail. Fining banks is not a crime-stopper, for banks don’t commit crimes. Bankers do. And they won’t ever stop if they don’t have to pay for their crimes.

Regulators say it’s easier to get bankers to settle a case if they can hand the fine to shareholders, who don’t even get a say in the decision. But going after the bankers, they claim, would require a jury trial—and jurors might not convict. Wouldn’t every criminal just love to have such defenders of justice in charge.

PMorgan has agreed a provisional deal with the US government to pay $14 billion to settle investigations into bad mortgage loans the bank sold to investors before the financial crisis.
Under the agreement, the bank will pay $9 billion in fines to the US government and $4 billion for relief for struggling homeowners. JPMorgan disclosed it had stockpiled $23 billion in reserves for settlements and other legal expenses to help cover the myriad investigations into its conduct before and after the financial crisis.

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