March 1, 2011
In the three years since the Financial Crisis broke, few of the known white-collared criminals, if any, have been prosecuted or arrested for the crimes that bilked investors out of billions of dollars and caused an incalculable amount of collateral damage.
The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was supposed to be able satiate what Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner called the “deep desire for Old Testament justice.” It may take some time for the impotent FCIC’s reported violations to filter through the landscape of asleep-at-the-wheel financial regulators. In short—don’t hold your breath for any big convictions. We may never see a major conviction as a result of Wall Street’s massive fraud perpetrated on investors. With language like this, it’s hard to see any fire and brimstone series of arrests coming down:
“As a nation, we must also accept responsibility for what we permitted to occur. Collectively, but certainly not unanimously, we acquiesced to or embraced a system that…gave rise to our present predicament.”
As it stands today, Bernard L. Madoff serves as the poster-boy for the excesses of the overgrown financial services industry—a self-made billionaire and Ponzi kingpin now rots in a Butner, North Carolina, Federal Correctional Institution. His scheme was fairly standard by Ponzi standards—he took investors’ money, promising massive returns. But instead of investing for the 15% annual returns he claimed, Madoff invested in Treasuries (which returned just 2%) and paid off old investors with cash from brand-new investors.
What was not standard about Madoff’s operation was the size of the scheme, which accounted for $65 billion in losses when you include the gains that Madoff fabricated. In this week’s issue of New York Magazine, Madoff is interviewed via a collect call from prison. He speaks as a man who has already lost everything—a grim reminder of the avarice that financial success can breed and the sad effects that happen once it is taken away. His wife and surviving son don’t speak to him; he has lost his firm, his financial assets, and his life (with a 150-year sentence), and his other son committed suicide in 2010.
“He sees himself at this stage as a kind of truth-teller. He has disdain not only for the industry but for the regulators. ‘The SEC,’ he says, ‘looks terrible in this thing.’ And he doesn’t see himself as the only guilty party on Wall Street. ‘It’s unbelievable, Goldman … no one has any criminal convictions. The whole new regulatory reform is a joke. The whole government is a Ponzi scheme.’”
It’s hard to believe a man who cheated everyone, including those closest to him, but, at the same time, it’s impossible to ignore the glimmer of truth in his words.
Despite all the incriminating evidence of lying to shareholders, marking assets to made-up values, and the millions in unearned bonuses, Madoff remains the only Wall Street executive to land any jail time. It is a truly sad state of affairs when the government can attempt to influence what we eat and what we do with our earnings, when it can’t even perform its most crucial function—which is to enforce the law. Sure, there is still a Ponzi game on Wall Street, but this time it’s backed by the Ponzi scheme that is the U.S. government.
This article was posted: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 5:34 am