Matt Taibbi: Senior SEC investigators order routine destruction of records, promote "self policing," take jobs with the companies they "investigate"

As always, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi is incandescent on the subject of high financial fraud and misdoings, and the government complicity in the vast criminal ripoffs engineered by the finance industry. In his latest feature, he looks at the way that the SEC, America's financial regulator, has combined "self-policing" of criminal finance firms with a policy of destroying all records of previous investigations to produce an world in which no one has been punished for the vast financial crimes that brought the world to its knees.

The circular nature of the case illustrates the revolving-door dynamic that has become pervasive at the SEC. A recent study by the Project on Government Oversight found that over the past five years, former SEC personnel filed 789 notices disclosing their intent to represent outside companies before the agency – sometimes within days of their having left the SEC. More than half of the disclosures came from the agency's enforcement division, who went to bat for the financial industry four times more often than ex-staffers from other wings of the SEC.

Even a cursory glance at a list of the agency's most recent enforcement directors makes it clear that the SEC's top policemen almost always wind up jumping straight to jobs representing the banks they were supposed to regulate. Lynch, who represented Deutsche in the Flynn case, served as the agency's enforcement chief from 1985 to 1989, before moving to the firm of Davis Polk, which boasts many top Wall Street clients. He was succeeded by William McLucas, who left the SEC in 1998 to work for WilmerHale, a Wall Street defense firm so notorious for snatching up top agency veterans that it is sometimes referred to as "SEC West." McLucas was followed by Dick Walker, who defected to Deutsche in 2001, and he was in turn followed by Stephen Cutler, who now serves as general counsel for JP Morgan Chase. Next came Linda Chatman Thomsen, who stepped down to join Davis Polk, only to be succeeded in 2009 by Khuzami, Walker's former protégé at Deutsche Bank.

This merry-go-round of current and former enforcement directors has repeatedly led to accusations of improprieties. In 2008, in a case cited by the SEC inspector general, Thomsen went out of her way to pass along valuable information to Cutler, the former enforcement director who had gone to work for JP Morgan. According to the inspector general, Thomsen signaled Cutler that the SEC was unlikely to take action that would hamper JP Morgan's move to buy up Bear Stearns. In another case, the inspector general found, an assistant director of enforcement was instrumental in slowing down an investigation into the $7 billion Ponzi scheme allegedly run by Texas con artist R. Allen Stanford – and then left the SEC to work for Stanford, despite explicitly being denied permission to do so by the agency's ethics office. "Every lawyer in Texas and beyond is going to get rich on this case, OK?" the official later explained. "I hated being on the sidelines."

...[E]ven if SEC officials manage to dodge criminal charges, it won't change what happened: The nation's top financial police destroyed more than a decade's worth of intelligence they had gathered on some of Wall Street's most egregious offenders. "The SEC not keeping the MUIs – you can see why this would be bad," says Markopolos, the fraud examiner famous for breaking the Madoff case. "The reason you would want to keep them is to build a pattern. That way, if you get five MUIs over a period of 20 years on something similar involving the same company, you should be able to connect five dots and say, 'You know, I've had five MUIs – they're probably doing something. Let's go tear the place apart.'" Destroy the MUIs, and Wall Street banks can commit the exact same crime over and over, without anyone ever knowing."

Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes?

(via Tim O'Reilly)

(Image: Shredded Paper, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from mistermoss's photostream)

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    1. Could be solved with greater transparency – where everyone could watch everyone else, with no need for dedicated ‘watchers’…

  1. there has long been creeping corruption in america’s higher echelons but I think a more or less growing economy has always let it fester away in peace. when folks have decent jobs they seem to not care less what goes on behind the curtain. the question now is – just how raped and cheated will we let ourselves be as their self-serving, incompetent house of cards finally runs out of gas and collapses (on us). add in a nation-wide inferior and shallow education system and when shit hits the fan at least half the population is not in possession of the tools to rationally analyse the situation…ergo….cry havoc and let slip the tea party etc

    1. there has long been creeping corruption in america’s higher echelons

      Where do you draw the line between “creeping” and “endemic?”

  2. OooErMissus “Mundus vult decipi” and WE’RE the suckers.

    Drabula, we are going to do what we Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have always done; rush headlong into the jaws of death denying it ’till our last breath.

  3. I love Matt Taibbi like I love ham for breakfast. This guy has the most precisely calibrated outrage gland of any journalist extant.

    1. He wrote the most truthful line in contemporary journalism in his comment that Goldman Sachs is “a vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, ramming its blood-funnel into anything that smells like money.”

  4. Amazing. Outrageous. If we trace the global financial crisis back to sub-prime mortgages and the associated debt securities fraud, hell, we can blame a lot of this on SEC incompetence. And MAN, are they incompetent. 

    Free-market capitalists will always tell you that the market fares better with less regulation. You need look no further than this article to see that America’s financial regulators have not only been asleep at the switch, they’ve been corrupted by the very culture they’re charged with reining in.

    1.  we can blame a lot of this on SEC incompetence

      Sure, there are a few idiots at the SEC like anywhere else, but this is not about “incompetence,” it’s about the systematic destruction of the regulatory apparatus in this country, so that people who believe they deserve their privileged lifestyles can continue the rampant looting of the public trust, while we all sit around massaging our iPads in a terminal state of chronic indifference. Face it, people, as Buffett told The New York Times two years before the 2008 crash, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

      But who cares, right, as long as we’ve got our toys to play with in an onanistic reverie.

  5. The market is regulating itself, just like everyone in the SEC wanted.

    When crime happens, they “regulate” public outcry to keep culpability unclear, and “regulate” the evidence to keep it from ever turning up in a hearing.

    (Oh by the way, the link to the article is to the printable version which is stripped of a lot of formatting. If you remove the ?print=true from the end of the URL it’s a lot more comfortable to read in a browser)

  6. I heard a report on NPR yesterday referencing this article. My first thought was, “Why is a music magazine providing some of the most on-the-spot, well documented reporting” and then “Please don’t tell me anymore because it makes me want to cry.”

    These people have bent us over the barrel and didn’t even favor us with a kiss.

    1. Rolling Stone has always been as much about culture and politics as it is about music. When the magazine was first published, a great deal of music was politics, remember. I’ve used Rolling Stone articles as secondary sources in research papers with subjects reaching as far back as the Vietnam war and I feel like it’s pretty much always been a place where you could find very good commentary on America in general.

  7. I dealt with trying to report on a shady ass company called IPIX around 10 years ago.  The guy at the SEC was very forthcoming about the fact that they are corrupt, didn’t give a shit and I couldn’t do anything about it anyway.

    I hope this article finally gets the attention they deserve and they burn for their treasonous actions against the American public.  I’m sure they are already scattering like cockroaches.  Hopefully we can smash a few.

  8. I just spent a week with cousins I had not seen in over 15 years. They are, in large, well educated, well employed and extremely well off. They are also largely fundamental Christian Right Wing Republicans, so I listened to endless Obama-bashing, concerns about how atheists and Muslims are trying to destroy this country, but the real kicker was that they insisted THERE WAS NO FINANCIAL CRISIS NOR ANY WRONGDOING ON THE PART OF WALL STREET. They also blamed Barney Frank and Chris Dodd for the housing market bust, and opined how great a Perry/Bachman or Bachman/Perry ticket would be. I fear for the soul of this country.

    1. Unfortunately, this is what counts as political discourse in the world today. Blame the Others for everything, listen to the enemies of your enemies, reject any rational argument to your beliefs. Confirmation bias and thinly-veiled prejudice against anyone who doesn’t at least appear to be like you will do the rest.

      I’d love to see Fox News be held accountable for their role in distorting fundamental aspects of reality, but I’ll wait for Obama to surf a shark through the heart of NYC first.

      Re: Bachmann on the ticket… well, I’m a firm believer in being careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

  9. I’d like to set up a collection for Taibbi’s blood pressure medication, since it must be through the roof. Every time this man posts something related to the finance sector, he’s enraged to some degree of firey luminescence (and justifiably so). We need people like him around to keep shedding light on this bs.

    (Note: Any sentiments expressed regarding Matt Taibbi’s health is purely tongue-in-cheek. Everything else is more or less straight.)

  10. The bait and switch here is that the articles of conservative faith of free market competition and lack of regulation are only applicable to the average working stiff while the wealthy enjoy socialization of their risks, privatized profits and a regulatory framework to keep the arrangement in place.  This is classic rent seeking, where the powerful acquire the apparatus of the state and rig the game to ensure their continued dominance.  This works fine until it no longer does, at which time equilibrium is punctuated.

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