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Why aren’t more bankers in jail?

By David McMillin ·
Friday, July 11, 2014
Posted: 4 pm ET

Recent headlines have not been kind to the banking industry. Some of the notable highlights include money laundering, manipulating interest rates, working with countries tied to terrorist operations and attempting to defraud the Internal Revenue Service.

These are very serious offenses. However, Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit citizen advocacy group, points out that they all share another important similarity: The U.S. Department of Justice has failed to pursue criminal charges against any of the alleged institutions.

© sundatoon/

Rather than attempt to compile evidence to convict banking executives of crimes and send them to jail, the DOJ aims for deferred prosecution agreements and non-prosecution agreements.

These agreements allow defendants to avoid serving jail time in exchange for fulfilling a list of requirements. For banks, those requirements tend to include some big fines. In fact, BNP Paribas, one of the biggest banks in the world, recently agreed to pay an almost $9 billion fine for moving money for clients in Sudan, Cuba and Iran through the U.S. financial system.

Just how often does the DOJ use DPAs and NPAs? From 2000 and 2004, data from global law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, LLP, show that it entered into an average of around four each year. Since then, the number has soared to an average of 28 agreements each year. If that many financial institutions are committing crimes, Public Citizen is asking a question that many other organizations have pondered over the past few years: Why isn't anyone behind bars?

According to Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, the answer seems simple. These banks are too big.

"Not prosecuting big banks that have engaged in criminal activity has given rise to the perception these financial institutions are 'too big to jail,'" Gilbert said in a statement. "These softball prosecutions further highlight the real need to increase transparency on DOJ processes and decision-making when it comes to large financial institutions."

What do other experts think about the current size of banks? Find out in "Should The Big Banks Be Downsized?"

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January 27, 2015 at 1:55 am

Someone ought to do some actual research before publishing knee-jerk remarks like Lisa Gilbert's. The BNP Paribas employees who were responsible for processing transactions for clients in Sudan, Cuba and Iran were European nationals working in Europe. And the transactions were illegal under U.S. law but not under European law. How could the U.S. have possibly brought any criminal charges against the wrongdoers and made them stick? The only leverage the U.S. regulators had was to threaten BNP Paribas that it would no longer be allowed to do business in the U.S. unless it paid the fines. "Too big to jail" had absolutely nothing to do with it.

October 11, 2014 at 10:28 am

Republicans? Its the Republicans that are the leaders in all this? someone needs to get their head out the sand. Who has Barry Obola been getting funding from campaigns from? Try Wallstreet...not to mention the Hollywood left. The same crooks that put us where we are fact you might find his cabinet occupied by some of these sleeze bags. Do your your eyes.

Jason Miller
July 15, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Of course big business has had the protection of Republican conservatives for year. Republicans always protect the rich and try so hard to keep them out of jail and to not pay taxes.

July 15, 2014 at 11:08 pm

The looters don't want to prosecute anyone, nor do they want banks to obey the law, there's no money in that; it's much easier to just demand the money in fines, and there's no burden of proof to contend with. If you're being shaken down by the government, of course you're gonna pay. What we're really seeing is daylight robbery, by sanction of law. At 28 agreements a year, it looks like a growth industry.

James R.Delaney Jr.
July 15, 2014 at 10:57 pm

those who reject the laws of love. the last is lust in my sixty years I have seen the results. One third the angels where placed on this rock, t0 prepare it. They rebelled and war started
that left the earth destroyed with the earth under miles of water
and a dense layer of clouds that let no light through. In this modern world what does this have to do with it. The Bible is of no private interpretation it interprets itself. the fallen angels
seek high places. The god of this world has swayed all of us. You can't see nor detect the fallen but you can see their foot print (turn on the news). The far corners of the universe have been swept clean of the fallen and cast to the earth. Why for the time of judgement. These bankers are guilty and they will answer. people died from their actions. there is so much more
happening on the world stage. I could write a book but its already been wrote. James R. Delaney An idea for a magazine WAKE UP!

July 15, 2014 at 10:34 pm

this is America , home of the corrupt , the four party system the republicons party , the democrat party , the tea party and the united states supreme court , all corrupt . what more do you want ???

July 15, 2014 at 10:16 pm

If you want to fix something as of right now, I say we put our
government in prison for treason. Start at the TOP!

karen eckman
July 15, 2014 at 10:05 pm

just goes to show you, the government is crooked. poor people go to jail, and their lives are ruined. people are people and should all be treated equal. doesn't that sound like something we as americans have read in the declaration of independence.

Paul gg
July 15, 2014 at 9:58 pm

It is the reason Democracy doesn't work,.In Roman times they had to go to Dictatorship eventually because Democracy became so corrupt,.But people think that Republicans and Democrats are on different sides so people tend to think that Democracy "works" for them,.Well let me tell you,.I was NEVER fooled,.I don't VOTE and I never will,.It's ALL CORRUPT and you people think it is LEGIT,.It's soo funny,.You're ALL IDIOTS!

July 15, 2014 at 8:59 pm

What does the house say when you gmble? THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.