How many FBI agents does it take to bust one Wall Street crook?
This isn’t the beginning of a joke. It’s one way to measure how serious the Obama’s administration latest highly touted financial fraud task force is about tackling its beat.
The task force is staffed with 10 FBI agents, according to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
You can get some idea of whether that’s an adequate number by comparing it to the law enforcement effort in the wake of the Savings and Loan crisis in the 1980s, a major but vastly smaller financial collapse.
It only cost the taxpayers a mere $150 billion in bailout money, compared to the 2008 banking collapse, which cost us trillions.
Bill Black, a former S&L regulator turned white-collar criminal law expert and law professor at University of Missouri at Kansas City, has been one of the sharpest critics of the administration’s sharpest critics.
Black makes the point that regulators investigating S&L fraud two decades ago made thousands of criminal referrals, and the FBI assigned 1,000 agents to follow up on those referrals. Black says the referrals led to more than 1,000 felony convictions, including the executives of the S&Ls.
Black is just one of many who have noticed that President Obama’s heart has not really been into the task of putting top bank executives in jail.
As recently as December 11, the president told 60 Minutes in an interview: “I can tell you, just from 40,000 feet, that some of the most damaging behavior on Wall Street, in some cases, some of the least ethical behavior on Wall Street, wasn't illegal.”
Black points out that this at best a non-answer; at worst it’s double-talk. The president says that “some of the most damaging behavior on Wall Street, in some cases some of the least ethical behavior on Wall Street, wasn’t illegal.”
So the reasonable follow-up question would be: where are the prosecutions, over the past 3 years, of the rest of the behavior, the part that was illegal?
The other aspect of Obama’s answer that I find worrisome is the president’s perspective – he acknowledges that he’s making a judgment based on a view from 40,000 feet.
That’s a distance of 7.5 miles. The president isn’t predicting the weather here; he’s talking about whether crimes were committed in the process of the worst financial disaster in almost a century.
Good prosecutors and FBI agents don’t investigate from 7.5 miles away. They get in a suspect’s face, and into their history, find out who their friends and associates are. They dig into their family lives if they need to.
That’s how they operate when their hearts are in it if they want to make the case.
But even when their hearts are in it, good law enforcement people can’t do their jobs without resources.
And that’s a decision the president can make. He doesn’t have to ask Congress.
Call the president today and let him know that we won’t be fooled by faux enforcement efforts, and the we know the difference between what 10 FBI agents can do and what 1,000 can do – even from seven miles away.