Economy

JPMorgan Chase In Hot Seat With Criminal Probes, But Will Anybody Do Time?

Executives of too-big-to-fail-banks still hold a get-out-of-jail card.

JPMorgan Chase has been much in the news this week, and not for reasons that give its slick, silver-haired chief Jamie Dimon anything to smile about. But he’s probably going to get the last laugh — one that will take him all the way to the bank, as they say.

The feds are attempting to level civil charges against America's largest bank, which played derivatives casino games that made over $6 billion go up in smoke — poof! — in the infamous London Whale fiasco. At issue is whether the bank dodged regulators and deliberately duped investors. A Senate committee led by Carl Levin issued a massive 301-page report that charged the bank with these maneuvers, and the findings were sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice last April.

It seems that the regulators are going to be very hard-core this time, people! They are seeking an unusual admission of wrongdoing from the megabank, and it looks like they will get it. Not from executives, mind you, but from some of the lower-rung folks involved in the trades. Scary!

Jamie Dimon admits nothing, naturally. He got a pay cut (while simultaneously his octogenerian dad, who works for the bank, got a ginormous raise), but he has held onto his chairmanship in spite of his grossly incompetent management. Earlier this year Mr. Dimon was seen singing his own praises on CNBC and waxing poetic about his bank being in the “forefront of positive social change.”

The admission bit is supposed to be a Big Deal, because in the past banks could just dodge owning up to crime by neither admitting nor denying it. (Note: This will never work for stealing a loaf of bread). If some folks at JPMorgan have to say “Yeah, we did it,” such a spectacular event will set a precedent for the SEC to make some more financial predators admit that they did terrible things like defrauding investors, ripping off taxpayers, money laundering for drug cartels, etc. etc. The idea is that shareholders could maybe get stirred up to issue lawsuits.

Ben Protesss and Jessica Silver-Greenberg further report on Dealbook that “the bank is also bracing to pay a fine to a financial regulator in Britain.” OMG! As Richard Eskow has pointed out, JPMorgan Chase has already shelled out $16 billion in fines, litigation expenses, and settlements in the last four years. That dough is paid by the bank’s shareholders, so no biggie for the executives, whose personal banks accounts are safe and secure.

The FBI and federal prosecutors are also doing a criminal probe, looking at emails and whatnot to investigate practices within the bank.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, JPMorgan Chase revealed that is facing criminal and civil investigations into whether it sold crap mortgage securities to investors prior to the financial meltdown of 2007-'08. As reported on Dealbook, the U.S attorney’s office for the Eastern District of California evidently believes that JPMorgan got on the wrong side of federal laws with this deal. A parallel criminal inquiry is said to be in the beginning stages. Federal prosecutors in Philadelphia are checking into whether JPMorgan misled investors into buying troubled mortgage securities that later went belly up.

JPMorgan is in the hot seat, and that’s a good thing. But let us not forget the immortal wisdom of Attorney General Eric Holder, who told Congress earlier this year that some financial institutions are just really too big to prosecute, because of the damage to the U.S. and world economy that could follow. And let’s not forget that the statutes of limitations expire and watch closely to see if all this works in a timely fashion.

Bottom line: Probably nobody at JPMorgan or any other big bank is going to jail because they essentially have a kind of immunity for financial crimes. Jamie Dimon still has plenty of friends in Washington, and he will continue to lobby for deregulation. Until the monstrosity of too-big-to-fail is really dealt with, banksters like Dimon have little to fear.

A potent irony was recently pointed out on the LibertyBlitzkreig blog: To date, 8,000 Occupy Wall Street protesters have been arrested for speaking out against financial criminals. Not a single banker has been prosecuted for the actions that drove the global financial crisis. 

That’s 21st-century American justice for you.

Lynn Parramore is contributing editor at AlterNet. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU, and she serves on the editorial board of Lapham's Quarterly. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore. 

 

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