Matt Taibbi has done it again. His latest article in Rolling Stone focused on the case of United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm, in which the Obama Justice Department actually prosecuted some financial crimes. The three defendants worked for GE Capital (the finance arm of General Electric) and were involved in a bid-rigging conspiracy wherein the prices paid by banks to bond issuers were reduced (to the detriment of the local governments who issued those bonds).
The broker at the center of this case was a firm known as CDR. CDR would be hired by a state or local government which was planning a bond issue. Banks would then submit bids which are interest rates paid to the issuer for holding the money until payments became due to the various contractors involved in the project which was the subject of the particular bond. The brokers would tip off a favored bank about the amounts of competing bids in return for a kickback based on the savings made by avoiding an unnecessarily high bid. In the Carollo case, the GE Capital employees were supposed to be competing with other banks who would submit bids to CDR. CDR would then inform the bidders on how to coordinate their bids so that the bid prices could be kept low and the various banks could agree among themselves as to which entity would receive a particular bond issue. Four of the banks which “competed” against GE Capital in the bidding were UBS, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Those four banks paid a total of $673 million in restitution after agreeing to cooperate in the government’s case.
The brokers would also pay-off politicians who selected their firm to handle a bond issue. Matt Taibbi gave one example of how former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson received $100,000 in campaign contributions from CDR. In return, CDR received $1.5 million in public money for services which were actually performed by another broker – at an additional cost.
Needless to say, the mainstream news media had no interest in covering this case. Matt Taibbi quoted a remark made to the jury at the outset of the case by the trial judge, Harold Baer: “It is unlikely, I think, that this will generate a lot of media publicity”. Although the judge’s remark was intended to imply that the subject matter of the case was too technical and lacking in the “sex appeal” of the usual evening news subject, it also underscored the aversion of mainstream news outlets to expose the wrongdoing of their best sponsors: the big banks.
Beyond that, this case exploded a myth – often used by the Justice Department as an excuse for not prosecuting financial crimes. As Taibbi explained at the close of the piece:
There are some who think that the government is limited in how many corruption cases it can bring against Wall Street, because juries can’t understand the complexity of the financial schemes involved. But in USA v. Carollo, that turned out not to be true. “This verdict is proof of that,” says Hausfeld, the antitrust attorney. “Juries can and do understand this material.”
One important lesson to be learned from the Carollo case is a simple fact that the mainstream news media would prefer to ignore: This is but one tiny example of the manner in which business is conducted by the big banks. As Matt Taibbi explained:
The men and women who run these corrupt banks and brokerages genuinely believe that their relentless lying and cheating, and even their anti-competitive cartelstyle scheming, are all legitimate market processes that lead to legitimate price discovery. In this lunatic worldview, the bidrigging scheme was a system that created fair returns for everyone.
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That, ultimately, is what this case was about. Capitalism is a system for determining objective value. What these Wall Street criminals have created is an opposite system of value by fiat. Prices are not objectively determined by collisions of price information from all over the market, but instead are collectively negotiated in secret, then dictated from above
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Last year, the two leading recipients of public bond business, clocking in with more than $35 billion in bond issues apiece, were Chase and Bank of America – who combined had just paid more than $365 million in fines for their role in the mass bid rigging. Get busted for welfare fraud even once in America, and good luck getting so much as a food stamp ever again. Get caught rigging interest rates in 50 states, and the government goes right on handing you billions of dollars in public contracts.
By now we are all familiar with the “revolving door” principle, wherein prosecutors eventually find themselves working for the law firms which represent the same financial institutions which those prosecutors should have dragged into court. At the Securities and Exchange Commission, the same system is in place. Worst of all is the fact that our politicians – who are responsible for enacting laws to protect the public from such criminal enterprises as what was exposed in the Carollo case – are in the business of lining their pockets with “campaign contributions” from those entities. You may have seen Jon Stewart’s coverage of Jamie Dimon’s testimony before the Senate Banking Committee. How dumb do the voters have to be to reelect those fawning sycophants?
Yet it happens . . . over and over again. From the Great Depression to the Savings and Loan scandal to the financial crisis and now this bid-rigging scheme. The culprits never do the “perp walk”. Worse yet, they continue on with “business as usual” partly because the voting public is too brain-dead to care and partly because the mainstream news media avoid these stories. Our political system is incapable of confronting this level of corruption because the politicians from both parties are bought and paid for by the banking cabal. As Paul Farrell of MarketWatch explained:
Seriously, folks, the elections are relevant. Totally. Oh, both sides pretend it matters. But it no longer matters who’s president. Or who’s in Congress. Money runs America. And when it comes to the public interest, money is not just greedy, but myopic, narcissistic and deaf. Money from Wall Street bankers, Corporate CEOs, the Super Rich and their army of 261,000 highly paid mercenary lobbyists. They hedge, place bets on both sides. Democracy is dead.
Why would anyone expect America to solve any of its most pressing problems when the officials responsible for addressing those issues have been compromised by the villains who caused those situations?