By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: February 23, 2017
On September 8, 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) fined Wells Fargo $185 million following an investigation that found that its employees had engaged in a widespread practice of “secretly opening unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts” in order to meet sales quotas or qualify for bonuses. An estimated 2 million accounts were involved. One month later, the Chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumpf, was gone.
Consider that swift action to acknowledge and punish egregious abuse of clients with how the Boards of Directors of JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup have responded to criminal felony charges and seemingly endless regulatory fines for abusing clients’ trust. The Boards have kept their CEOs in place, paid the monster fines and moved on to the next settlement.
Jamie Dimon became the CEO of JPMorgan Chase on January 1, 2006. At that point, the bank was more than a century old and had never been charged with a criminal felony. In 2014, the Justice Department charged JPMorgan Chase with two felony counts in connection with their role in facilitating the Madoff Ponzi scheme. The bank was given a two-year deferred prosecution agreement.
The very next year, in May 2015, JPMorgan Chase was hit with a new felony count for its role in rigging foreign currency markets as part of a banking cartel. That’s three felony counts in two years and yet Jamie Dimon kept his job. Before the felony counts there was a $13 billion settlement with the Justice Department and Federal and State regulators in 2013 for JPMorgan Chase’s role in selling toxic mortgage investments to investors as worthwhile products when the bank had good reason to believe they would blow up.
In 2012, Dimon himself was hauled before Congress to explain why his bank was making speculative bets with depositors’ money in high risk derivatives in London. The bank eventually owned up to losing $6.2 billion in the wild trades. The scandal became infamously known as the London Whale. In 2013, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a damning 307-page report on the London Whale matter. The same year, the regulator of national banks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), released the following statement regarding the London Whale trades:
“The credit derivatives trading activity constituted recklessly unsafe and unsound practices, was part of a pattern of misconduct and resulted in more than minimal loss, all within the meaning of 12 U.S.C. § 1818(i)(2)(B)”; and “The Bank failed to ensure that significant information related to the credit derivatives trading strategy and deficiencies identified in risk management systems and controls was provided in a timely and appropriate manner to OCC examiners.”
Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations at the time, said that the bank “piled on risk, hid losses, disregarded risk limits, manipulated risk models, dodged oversight, and misinformed the public.” And, unbelievably, Jamie Dimon continued his tenure as Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase.
The crime spree at JPMorgan Chase became so surreal that two trial lawyers, Helen Davis Chaitman and Lance Gotthoffer, published a breathtaking book on the subject, comparing the bank to the Gambino crime family. In addition to the settlements noted above, the authors add more details as to what has occurred on Dimon’s watch, such as:
“In April 2011, JPMC agreed to pay $35 million to settle claims that it overcharged members of the military service on their mortgages in violation of the Service Members Civil Relief Act and the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.
“In March 2012, JPMC paid the government $659 million to settle charges that it charged veterans hidden fees in mortgage refinancing transactions.
“In October 2012, JPMC paid $1.2 billion to settle claims that it, along with other banks, conspired to set the price of credit and debit card interchange fees.
“On January 7, 2013, JPMC announced that it had agreed to a settlement with the Office of the Controller of the Currency (‘OCC’) and the Federal Reserve Bank of charges that it had engaged in improper foreclosure practices.
“In September 2013, JPMC agreed to pay $80 million in fines and $309 million in refunds to customers whom the bank billed for credit monitoring services that the bank never provided.
“On December 13, 2013, JPMC agreed to pay 79.9 million Euros to settle claims of the European Commission relating to illegal rigging of benchmark interest rates.
“In February 2012, JPMC agreed to pay $110 million to settle claims that it overcharged customers for overdraft fees.
“In November 2012, JPMC paid $296,900,000 to the SEC to settle claims that it misstated information about the delinquency status of its mortgage portfolio.
“In July 2013, JPMC paid $410 million to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to settle claims of bidding manipulation of California and Midwest electricity markets.
“In December 2013, JPMC paid $22.1 million to settle claims that the bank imposed expensive and unnecessary flood insurance on homeowners whose mortgages the bank serviced.”
Michael Corbat has been CEO of Citigroup since October 2012. Below is just a sampling of the regulatory charges against the bank under Corbat’s reign, including a guilty plea to a felony count in May 2015 which covered conduct that continued after Corbat took the helm.
July 1, 2013: Citigroup agrees to pay Fannie Mae $968 million for selling it toxic mortgage loans.
September 25, 2013: Citigroup agrees to pay Freddie Mac $395 million to settle claims it sold it toxic mortgages.
December 4, 2013: Citigroup admits to participating in the Yen Libor financial derivatives cartel to the European Commission and accepts a fine of $95 million.
July 14, 2014: The U.S. Department of Justice announces a $7 billion settlement with Citigroup for selling toxic mortgages to investors. Attorney General Eric Holder called the bank’s conduct “egregious,” adding, “As a result of their assurances that toxic financial products were sound, Citigroup was able to expand its market share and increase profits.”
November 2014: Citigroup pays more than $1 billion to settle civil allegations with regulators that it manipulated foreign currency markets. Other global banks settled at the same time.
May 20, 2015: Citicorp, a unit of Citigroup becomes an admitted felon by pleading guilty to a felony charge in the matter of rigging foreign currency trading, paying a fine of $925 million to the Justice Department and $342 million to the Federal Reserve for a total of $1.267 billion.
May 25, 2016: Citigroup agrees to pay $425 million to resolve claims brought by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission that it had rigged interest-rate benchmarks, including ISDAfix, from 2007 to 2012.
July 12, 2016: The Securities and Exchange Commission fined Citigroup Global Markets Inc. $7 million for failure to provide accurate trading records over a period of 15 years.
President Donald Trump’s naïve (or willfully blind) notion that Wall Street will work better at raising capital if it is unleashed from strident Federal regulation is unhinged from the facts on the ground. Those facts, as illustrated above, are that the Boards of two of the largest banks in the U.S. are utterly spineless when it comes to holding their CEOs and employees accountable in the face of a tsunami of crimes.