How come bandits who steal get shot and bankers who steal get rich?
By Jim Kempton
“In this life you ramble, you meet some funny men
Some rob you with a six gun, and some with a fountain pen.”
—Woody Guthrie, “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd the Outlaw”
Robbing banks is an American pastime.
One of my favorite quotes was the one robber Willie Sutton gave in 1901 when he was asked why he robbed banks: “Because that’s where the money is.”
Bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd was a hero to many during the Great Depression because he would destroy bank deeds during his hold-ups, freeing many a starving farmer from losing his home. He was, of course, shot dead.
Over the last few months a group of bank traders called the “Cartel,” working with large investment banks, altered the price of foreign currencies, the largest, least regulated market in the world. The aim was to drive up the price of currency before selling them to clients at an inflated price.
It worked magnificently. When Federal financial investigators finally figured out the colossally complex currency conspiracy, the various bankers had pocketed tens of millions of dollars without even being noticed. Put bluntly, the world’s most prestigious banks had brazenly and systematically ripped off their clients. The final penalty? Banks will have to pay fines. Although over a hundred laws had been broken not one person was charged with a crime.
James Watson, meanwhile, decided to rob Citibank in Westport, Connecticut, after he found himself neck deep in medical bills and needing money for his children’s Christmas gifts. He walked out with $972. For the effort he earned 10 years in prison.
While robbing a Citibank branch can earn individual citizens a decade of incarceration, the Department of Justice is allowing corporate giant Citigroup executives to avoid criminal charges for the bank’s role in the financial collapse that caused thousands of Americans to lose millions of dollars.
Citigroup executives admitted to the charges against the bank but they aren’t facing any criminal charges—a very different fate from the individuals arrested for robbing their banks. The FBI says about 1,200 bank robberies are committed annually, netting some $30 million dollars. Most robbers are put jail, many are shot. Somehow though, when it comes to the bankers stealing, the penalty is nothing. Often a single banker has stolen more than all the hold-up men for the whole year put together.
Like I said earlier, robbing banks is an American pastime. Lincoln Savings and Loan defrauded Americans in 1989, at a cost of over $3 billion. Some 23,000 Lincoln bondholders and many investors lost their life savings. In the last decade, World Com, Enron, Bernie Madoff and hundreds of other financial execs have stolen billions from the American public.
Top law enforcement officials continue to collect (mostly tax-deductible) fines for criminal activity by banks. But they remain unable to find even one actual banker who committed all those criminal acts. It makes you wonder.
Jim Kempton lives and banks in south Orange County with honest local bankers. Never-the-less he believes returning to those simple rules and regulations put in place by our grandparents after the Great Depression might not be such a bad idea after all.