As long as the crime is big enough, you don’t have to worry about doing time

Since the financial collapse of 2008 a Jean Rostand quote keeps coming to mind (the quote was also used in the song “Captive Honour” by Megadeth, which is where I first heard it):

“Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god.”

In terms of what Wall Street has been doing, it might now be re-worded as:

“Rob one man, and your a criminal. Rob millions of people, you’re a success. Rob them all, and you’re a big bank.” (maybe robbing them all makes you Goldman Sachs)

Last year the federal government, 49 state attorneys general, and the banking and mortgage industry struck a $26 billion settlement on charges of mortgage and foreclosure fraud.  The banks who signed onto the deal are Bank of America, JPMOrgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc, and Ally Financial Inc. The agreement protected banks and lenders from criminal prosecution, meaning once again no one on Wall Street would spend a day in prison. If you smoke a joint in the vast majority of the country, you will do time if caught. Rob millions of people, including taxpayers through bailouts, you won’t even be indicted.

But this week it got worse. The minuscule checks sent to some victims, part of a measly $3.6 billion in restitution, bounced. Yep, you read that right, they bounced. From the New York Times:

Many struggling homeowners got exactly that this week when they lined up to take their cut of a $3.6 billion settlement with the nation’s largest banks — lenders accused of wrongful evictions and other abuses.

Ronnie Edward, whose home was sold in a foreclosure auction, waited three years for his $3,000 check. When it arrived on Tuesday, he raced to his local bank in Tennessee, only to learn that the funds “were not available.”

Mr. Edward, 38, was taken aback. “Is this for real?” he asked.

It is unclear how many of the 1.4 million homeowners who were mailed the first round of payments covered under the foreclosure settlement have had problems with their checks. But housing advocates from California to New York and even regulators say that in recent days frustrated homeowners have bombarded them with complaints and questions.

This is in addition to the many reports of banks not abiding by rules and consumer protections laid out in the settlement. The Los Angeles Times reported two weeks ago that:

Banks aren’t living up to pledges they made as part of a $26-billion settlement of government investigations into mortgage servicing and foreclosure abuses, according to an advocacy group’s survey of California housing counselors and lawyers.

The survey, the ninth in a series conducted by the California Reinvestment Coalition, also found that providers of mortgage customer service are violating consumer-protection provisions in the California Homeowner Bill of Rights, the package of foreclosure-prevention laws sponsored last year by state Atty. Gen.Kamala Harris.

To top it all off you have the incredible scene of Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, nailing federal regulators, getting them to admit that they are hiding information from victims, and the public, that describes the criminal behavior of banks:

Only a few members of Congress are asking the right questions and seeking to make information public on what is going on. Members and their staff are hearing it from lobbyists, on a daily basis, that efforts to more strictly regulate or hold them accountable will devastate the financial markets, destroy thousands of jobs, and wreck the economy.

We have to change this paradigm and the best way is to free elected officials from ever having to raise a dime. That would be something.

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