Note: This oral testimony was delivered on February 5, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland before the Oireachtas’ Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis. These are my prepared remarks. My actual oral testimony differed considerably. A transcript is available from the Inquiry, as is complete video.
To: Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis From: William K. Black Date: February 3, 2015
Oral Testimony of William K. Black
Thank you for the invitation to assist Ireland as you face among the most important questions Ireland and many other nations must answer correctly if we are to put a stop to our recurrent, intensifying financial crises. I am William K. Black and I come to you wearing four disciplinary and three institutional “hats.” My primary appointment is in economics with a joint appointment in law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I am a white-collar criminologist and a former senior financial regulator. My research specialties include elite white-collar crime and corruption, regulation, and financial crises. I am the Distinguished Scholar in Residence for Financial Regulation at the University of Minnesota’s Law School. I am a professor at the Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales es la Universidad de Posgrado del Estado in Quito, Ecuador. My testimony, of course, is solely my personal views rather than the official position of any of these universities.
President Obama called no emergency meeting when he learned that JPMorgan and 15 other of the world’s largest banks had rigged LIBOR for years – distorting the prices on over $300 trillion in transactions. He called no emergency meeting when he learned that JPMorgan and over 20 other huge lenders fraudulently sold Fannie and Freddie hundreds of billions of dollars in toxic mortgages. Same non-result when JPMorgan and a dozen huge banks rigged bids on the issuance of municipal debt to rip off hundreds of government entities. Same non-result when the big banks filed hundreds of thousands of fraudulent affidavits in order to foreclose on homeowners illegally. Same nothing when he learned that over 20 huge lenders made the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC) list as the “worst of the worst” lenders and that Attorney General Eric Holder refused to prosecute any of their senior bank officers who led the frauds. Same nothing when he learned that our home mortgage lenders had created “an open invitation to fraud” through making millions of fraudulent liar’s loans. Another big nothing when Obama learned that the same banks controlled by fraudulent officers had deliberately created a “Gresham’s” dynamic by blacklisting honest appraisers who refused to inflate appraisals.
The Wall Street Journal is deeply upset that almost none of the banks and none of the banksters that became wealthy by leading the three epidemics of mortgage fraud that drove the financial crisis are being subjected even to prosecution-lite cases. The WSJ wants us all to know that “almost none” and “prosecution-lite” are both excessive. The WSJ rant demands that we bestow the thanks of a grateful nation to the banks and banksters that committed the frauds. This financial crisis is the first Virgin Crisis – conceived without sin in the C-Suites. This second column in my series on the WSJ rant responds to the WSJ’s claim that mortgage frauds that are “only” $9 billion in magnitude do not warrant even civil sanctions.
I wrote this column in Bogota, Colombia where I was presenting five talks at the Universidad Central’s economics conference, so I was struck by the title of a choleric rant by the Wall Street Journal entitled “Banking in a Time of Cholera.”
The WSJ’s title is a play on words on the title of a novel, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Colombia’s greatest writer, Gabriel García Márquez (“Gabo”). The novel is set in a city that appears to be based on Cartagena, the city famous for being looted repeatedly by pirates. In this first of several columns responding to the WSJ rant I discuss its failed literary allusions and tie these failures to some of the WSJ’s analytical and factual errors that render their rant risible.
One of the great lies of the financial industry is that it is the engine of Main Street’s growth. Giving the finance industry an enormous share of total business profits was supposed to super charge Main Street’s growth. It has never delivered on this promise. The truth is the opposite. The efficiency condition for a middleman like finance is that its size and profits should be minimized. Finance’s fraud epidemics blew up the world economy and devastated Main Street. Finance is a parasite that saps Main Street. The latest example of this comes in a New York Times article about European bank’s bad loans.
Here’s another story in the continuing saga of Bankster fraud.
As I’ve argued since 2008, it is likely that all—or nearly all–of the residential mortgage backed securities (RMBSs) are fraudulent. The Banksters engaged in fraud at every link in the RMBS food chain.
They defrauded the borrowers. They forced the appraisers to commit fraud (pressured them to overvalue property). They conspired with ratings agencies to overvalue the RMBSs. They created MERS to destroy property records and to cheat local governments out of recording fees. They separated the promissory notes from the deed of trust, invalidating the lien. They hired BurgerKing Robo-signers to create forged documents. They lie in court, committing perjury. They steal homes from owners who don’t even have mortgages. And on, and on, and on. Their depravity knows no bounds.
By now you’ve heard that Citigroup admits—yet again—that it engaged in fraud. Heck, it was the business model under Bob Rubin. If you want to blame three individuals for the Global Financial Crisis, only Larry Summers and Alan Greenspan deserve more credit than Rubin.
Together they “softened-up” Congress so that it would free the Banksters, and then he ran Citi into the ground as he sucked gazillions of dollars of executive compensation out of the bank. Like all the CEOs of the biggest banks, he oversaw fraud on a scale never imagined—let alone seen—in the history of the globe.
James M. Cirona died January 4, 2014. I doubt that many readers know of Jim’s work even if they follow finance. That is a shame for Jim was one of the most important reasons the savings and loan debacle did not cause a financial crisis and a Great Recession. The reason Jim was so effective was that he understood that the factor driving the debacle was a surging epidemic of accounting control fraud and he had the leadership abilities and the courage to expand and focus the resources of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco (FHLBSF) to stop that epidemic.
Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) has a post giving kudos to William Black for his performance on CNBC’s Closing Bell. The episode’s topic was whether or not Goldman Sachs should or could be prosecuted on fraud charges for their part in the financial crisis.