Bill Black: Question to Our Bank CEOs Who Are Criminals: “Have You No Sense of Decency”?

Lambert here: I couldn’t make up my mind whether there was any redundancy in the headline or not.

By Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives

The FCPA Blog, an invaluable aid to anyone involved in the effort against corruption, has just run a story that epitomizes the neo-liberal approach to “liberty.” There is a massive movement, well-funded by political contributions, to privatize our prison systems. The private jailors overwhelmingly want to deal with the lowest risk jail populations – and then claim that they are “less expensive” than other prisons owned by the State.

The “Cash for Kids” Scheme

In Pennsylvania, in a fitting illustration of the dark side of von Hayek’s praise of “spontaneous order,” this privatization movement reached its neo-liberal peak when the owner of two privatized juvenile detention facilities bribed two Pennsylvania judges to send more kids to jail and maximize the owners’ profits. The huge size of the bribes demonstrates the scale of the miscarriage of justice and the enormous profits that injustice produced for the owner of the privatized juvenile detention facility. The FCPA Blog tells the sickening tale.

“The First National Community Bank of Dunmore, Pennsylvania (FNCB) admitted that it failed to file suspicious activity reports on transactions linked to the judicial corruption scheme known as ‘cash for kids’ that spanned more than five years.

Only after one of the judges involved in the bribery and kickback scheme pleaded guilty did the bank file a report.

The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) fined the bank $1.5 million for willfully violating the Bank Secrecy Act.

Two former judges in Pennsylvania — Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella — were ultimately convicted. Conahan was sentenced to 17.5 years in prison. Ciavarella was jailed for 28 years.

Conahan was on FNCB’s board of directors. He controlled accounts at the bank through which he processed the bribes and kickbacks, FinCEN said.

Judges Conahan and Ciavarella took more than $2.2 million from the operator of two private, for-profit youth detention centers. In return, the judges sentenced thousands of juveniles to increase the number of residents in the centers.

‘Despite several red flags indicating suspicious activity, FNCB did not file a single suspicious activity report related to these accounts until after Conahan’s first guilty plea in 2009,’ FinCEN said.

Judge Conahan tried to disguise the bribes using his FNCB accounts. There were red flags that should have caused the bank to respond, FinCEN said.”

“Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last?”

That was the question that effectively ended Senator Joseph McCarthy’s career as a drunken liar eager to achieve fame through lies, power, and abuse. Joseph N. Welch, Special Counsel for the Army, asked McCarthy the question when McCarthy tried to smear a junior lawyer on Welch’s legal team. McCarthy, like most drunken bullies, was prepared for everything except someone standing up to him. He melted like a snowman in August in Washington, D.C.

The world’s top banks and bankers (i.e., HSBC) have knowingly helped fund the Sinaloa drug cartel, which is in the same league as ISIS in terms of beheading. Benjamin Lawsky, the estimable NY Superintendent of Financial Services, despite ridicule and obstruction from President Obama’s badly misnamed Department of Justice and faux financial regulators, has tried to stop Standard Chartered’s efforts to aid Iran in developing nukes. BNP Paribas officers knowingly helped fund Sudan’s genocidal regime by aiding it to escape international sanctions.

Each of these acts is more depraved and destructive than bankers helping the CEO of a private company to bribe judges to send juveniles to prison in order to enrich the CEO. But helping to fund mass murder that takes place hundreds or many thousands of miles away is easier for bankers to ignore. FNCB’s bankers were aiding bribery designed to destroy the integrity of the juvenile “justice” system – for the purpose of sending their neighbors’ kids to prison via kangaroo court trials.

So I have to ask our class of criminal bankers: “Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last?” Is there any crime so depraved that you would refuse to commit it or aid and abet its commission if it would increase your bonus?

I have two questions for our “Justice” Department. Which of FNCB’s top bankers are you going to prosecute? Just kidding – we know you will not prosecute them. You do realize, however, that my two questions are related. If you continue to refuse to prosecute senior bankers’ crimes and civil wrongs and refuse to “claw back” their compensation they will continue to see those crimes as profitable “sure things.” They care nothing about fines against the bank.

How despicable a crime do the bankers have to commit before you will prosecute them? Your kids were at far less risk of being railroaded into prison by corrupt judges because of your greater wealth and class status. We all know that you would be demanding prosecutions of the bankers if it were your kids who were railroaded into prison. Your job is to treat crimes against everybody’s kids with all the vigor you would bring to demanding prosecutions for crimes against your kids.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Carla

    Unfortunately, I’m afraid it is the American people who have no sense of decency, for we have failed to demand justice. What will it take?

    1. Praedor

      Give them some sympathy. A victim of abuse, over a long period of time, will often acquire learned helplessness. The citizenry that are capable of caring have learned helplessness and listlessly acquiesce to whatever the self-appointed Lords and Ladies do.

      Consider years of demanding action on punishing torturers and war criminals of the “War on Terrah” has led to absolutely nothing…except the prosecution of a few low-level dimwit Abu Ghraib guards. Demand justice and what you will get is justice selectively applied DOWNWARD. Legal repercussion is for little people.

  2. NotTimothyGeithner

    Spoiler alert:

    No, bankers have no sense of decency.

    The only crime that matters to Obama is embarrassing Obama. The DoJ will do nothing unless Obama needs protection. It took months for the DoJ to even find Ferguson, and their acknowledgement only came after human pit stain AL Sharpton showed up. Obama only fired Shinseki at the VA when the stench fouled the air of the West Wing, not after the revelations that Shinseki did nothing for five years.

    How a future President will handle the situation, who knows? Obama’s DoJ only cares about protecting Obama from embarrassment, not working very hard (Holder has complained white collar crime and civil rights cases are hard to prosecute), and pursuing poor people to bump their crime stats which Obama intended to use in 2012 but warehousing illegals and people with pot really doesn’t motivate anyone. A banker would have to present a direct threat to Obama’s self image.

    1. RUKidding

      Your analysis of the situation is certainly one way to look at it. I can’t argue about how Obama only cares about Obama. Sure looks that way to me. I’d only say that I think things run a little deeper than that in terms fo the protection racket run by banks. I think they’re the new “mafia” running things globally, and despite Obama’s numerous & sundry failings, I’m not sure how much any “President” can do.

      The situation is very bad, but who’s going to take them on? They’re working hand in glove with very violent criminal cartels, amongst other nasty violent groups. Who do you think the banks threaten people with?

      In no way defending Obama. Can’t stand him. Just thinking, though, that the reality goes deeper than just one person or even one or the other or both of the “two” political parties.

    2. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

      We can’t expect banks to have a sense of decency, like all corporations can only expect them to operate to benefit their shareholders. What we can expect is something called “the rule of law” which since the Magna Carta has been held to be above any man. King, President, bank CEO, the laws are on the books and are pretty clear, they simply need to be enforced. That we have an indecent administration unwilling to do so is the real failure, and the best way to understand the root cause of that is to look in a mirror.
      “Oh but corporations should have a social conscience”. No, WE need a social conscience, the right outcomes will follow, whether that is passing new laws, preventing the passage of laws that just protect the powerful and the few at the expense of everybody else, or the enforcement of the many good laws we already have. No revolution required, just regular old normal operations of a civil society.

  3. Fool

    …Standard Chartered’s efforts to aid Iran in developing nukes. BNP Paribas officers knowingly helped fund Sudan’s genocidal regime by aiding it to escape international sanctions.

    I can only imagine this kind of self-righteous nonsense being said with a Ted Cruz pouty-face. Bill, do you make that face as you lace up your Nike running shoes, which were molded by the sweat of poor 8-year-old Oluwala in West Africa? Such are the iniquities of capitalism. That having been said, I could get behind your revolution — but pick up a pitchfork and stop insulting my intelligence.

    1. Ian

      There are degrees of culpability within society. Do not confuse the societal culpabilities that are extrememly difficult if not impossible to avoid to one degreee or another, with personal, direct culpabilities that often lead to obscene profit and benefit . It doesn’t mean that we are all not culpable, the difference is within the degree. I’m really tired of this BS argument that you are endorsing, Black is bringing to light some horrific injustices and deserves nothing but respect in my mind for doing so. Mind you it is always better to reduce your degree of culpability as much as possible, but maybe he does as much as he can, don’t know.

      1. Fool

        Black’s done a lot of great work, but he whines about one conspiracy after another for its own sake, if not towards his own gratifying ends. Does he really think bank executives get together and say “How can we help eeeeevil Iran?”

        1. Ian

          you seem to be running the gambit. Now you are strawmanning him. I don’t see in anyway how you get to your conclusion. what I see is simple. Profit and power at any cost, Black is merely bringing that to light. I suspect these banks also enable and profit off of many good things to come about, but that in no way excuses the negatives that they profit and gain from.

          1. AQ

            Wasn’t one of the bank scandals in recent years about money laundering for Iran? A French bank maybe? (Sorry, after a while the scandals they blur together.)

    2. sleepy

      I wonder if anyone has additional information on Black’s allegation: “Standard Chartered’s efforts to aid Iran in developing nukes”.

      I was under the impression that the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, together with statements from Mossad, indicate that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.

      Perhaps I’m reading Black’s statement incorrectly. If not, I’m disappointed.

      1. Fool

        “I was under the impression that the most recent National Intelligence Estimate, together with statements from Mossad, indicate that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.”

        Wait…are you suggesting that Netanyahu was being hyperbolic, if not mendacious, in his speech this week?

      2. winstonsmith

        Bill Black:

        Forget for a moment your personal views on whether Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. That question is not within my areas of expertise and is not discussed here. I guarantee that Standard Chartered’s officers did not aid Iran in evading U.S. sanctions because they conducted an investigation and determined that that Iran was not actually seeking to develop nuclear weapons. The first point to keep in mind is that Standard Chartered’s officers enthusiastically aided Iran’s evasion of U.S. sanctions knowing that the U.S. believed that Iran was developing nuclear weapons and that such bank fund transers were aiding that development.

  4. Jill

    I just learned of this yesterday. For about 10 years (this excerpt is dated Dec. 1967) orphans in the Toledo area got a chance to go christmas shopping. These children lived in incredibly harsh conditions. Here’s the report: “Most of the children bought at least one gift for a friend. ‘I can’t think of anything more I want’ one girl said, “so I got Cathy a little doll’.” (Toledo Blade)

    That is decency and I wanted to honor her action by telling about it it here.

  5. Praedor

    Rhetorical question, obviously. Sociopaths do not have a “sense of decency”, only a sense of entitlement. Everything is about, and for, them. Bankers are sociopaths, ergo…

  6. sierra7

    “All the Presidents” Bankers” Nomi Prins
    Have we forgotten the story of “BCCI”?
    “Neo-Liberal” bankers know not the meaning of, “shame”!
    The killing of “trust” is the great crime of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

  7. Deloss

    This exact story–about the for-profit children’s prison–was reported on the television program AMERICAN GREED, which seems to be a pretty brave operation. I was amazed that they had a program describing how Pfizer was caught and fined for selling a drug which killed people.

  8. NOTaREALmerican

    Nobody I know thinks banks or bankers are the countries “most pressing” problem.

    How can the people dispensing debt-spice be a problem? Where would the debt happiness come from? Where would progress and prosperity come from without access to debt? How would everybody have a new car without debt? How would “Progressives” fantasize about future utopias without debt? We love debt, so we love those who give our daily debt and forgive them their trespasses. Amen.

  9. JTMcPhee

    Our very own personal bodies, thanks to millions of years of evolution and whatever other quantum forces are in play, are blessed with mechanisms that recognize the cancerous cells that spring up in us every day. Your immune system marks the bad guys, disarms and recycles them. Same with pathogenic bacteria, engulfed and disassembled and excreted or re-used.

    And our un-thought-about, taken-for-granted physiologies, when they are working right, with enough healthy sustenance, and not damaged by external forces or internal derangement, also spot viruses and de-fang and de-claw them, and put markers up for future generations of immune system cells so they can spot and deal with the bad guys if they come back.

    Makes one wonder why it doesn’t work at the macro scale we are used to perceiving things at. Regulators ought to be more like crows or magpies: As a former US EPA civil and criminal enforcement attorney (1979-1990), I can assure the rest of us that the greater-than-zero chance that a corporate executive can go to jail, especially doing “hard time,” does have a salutary effect on their behavior.

  10. different clue

    Before reading the article I will venture this answer to Bill Black’s question.

    No, they have no sense of decency. Decency is for the “little people”.

    So, okay. So . . . the bankers have no sense of decency. So . . . now what?

    1. Ian

      ideally some sort of mass purging of the sociopathic elements, with mitigation as much as humanly possible of the collateral damage.

  11. captaincrunch

    “The world’s top banks and bankers (i.e., HSBC) have knowingly helped fund the Sinaloa drug cartel, which is in the same league as ISIS in terms of beheading.”

    At long last, would not decapitate, decapitation,decapitated be a less awkward, and more powerful and precise word than , be-head, be-headed, be-heading, be-heads, be-headings etc.,

    1. Beastie Boy

      But we’re Aglophiles ’round here, not over-influenced by the sayings of those newfangled Norman invaders…

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