Khue Bui for The New York TimesBy
“We have never hesitated to investigate and prosecute any individual, institution or organization that attempted to exploit our markets and take advantage of the American people,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. proclaimed this month when the Justice Department announced that Standard & Poor’s, the ratings agency, had agreed to pay $1.375 billion to settle civil charges that it inflated ratings on mortgage-backed securities at the heart of the financial crisis.
And this week, he pledged a renewed effort to bring cases against individuals responsible for financial fraud, calling on federal prosecutors to “try to develop cases against individuals and to report back in 90 days.”
Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath.
Yet almost all of these are low-level employees with little or no name recognition. Hardly any top executives at the same financial institutions paying multimillion- and billion-dollar-plus fines for engaging in criminal behavior have been charged or convicted. (One exception is Lee B. Farkas, former chairman of the mortgage firm Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, who is serving a 30-year prison term.)
Now, thanks to Brandon L. Garrett, a specialist in corporate prosecution at the University of Virginia law school and author of the recent book “Too Big to Jail,” we know the notion that the government has been lax on individual corporate wrongdoers isn’t just folk wisdom.