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Big banks, small fines

By David McMillin · Bankrate.com
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Posted: 7 am ET

Why haven't banking executives gone to jail for their role in the subprime mortgage crisis?

A PBS investigative documentary called "The Untouchables" aimed to answer this question, digging into how Wall Street executives at the country's biggest banks have evaded prosecution for their role in what paved the way to the meltdown of the housing market.

The documentary starts with interviews of low-level underwriters who were paid to quickly review and approve loans for new homes. While these former employees make it clear that they were aware of potentially illegal behavior, the documentary goes much higher in the ranks, including an interview with a former senior vice president at Citi who called attention to the bad loans on the bank's balance sheet.

The documentary points to criminal behavior by banks, but big banks were only forced to pay fines for their behavior. Say what you will about what went on at the banks; the documentary takes a look at who's responsible for the lack of prosecution -- the U.S. Department of Justice. Featuring interviews with leaders at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department, the documentary makes a strong case for everyday account holders to question why no senior-level banking executives have wound up behind bars.

I wasn't the only one watching the documentary when it initially aired. Camden R. Fine, president and CEO of the  Independent Community Bankers of America, voiced his disgust with the "too-big-to-jail" mentality.

"These financial firms are so large and so interconnected that they not only have access to lower-cost funding and to a seemingly limitless taxpayer backstop, but they are also immune from criminal prosecution," Fine said in a statement after the documentary first aired.

"These individuals wrecked our financial system and have been allowed to walk away, bonus checks in hand, like nothing happened, leaving community banks to pick up the pieces under the weight of crushing laws and regulations enacted to halt such reprehensible behavior," Fine said.

What do you think? Why haven't any senior-level banking executives served any time in jail for wrongdoing during the financial crisis?

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