U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Preet Bharara, in announcing the settlement, said that “No institution should rest easy in the belief that it is too big to jail.” He called the fine “steep but fair,” and “commensurate with the breadth and duration of the charged criminal conduct,” according to a report in The New York Times.
Investor and SAC Capital owner Steven A. Cohen has personally escaped criminal prosecution so far, but officials say the U.S. Attorney’s office continues to look at trading records and seeks help from informants for possible criminal prosecution of Cohen. The plea agreement specifically states that no individual has immunity from further prosecution.
Not since the prosecution of junk bond promoter Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert more 20 years ago have Wall Street firms been held accountable for their misdeeds. Many have paid fines to the SEC over the years with the caveat of not admitting guilt.
Even that appears to be changing. The SEC filed a separate civil case against SAC that says Cohen looked the other way on misconduct of those who worked with him and is seeking to bar Cohen from ever being allowed to manage money that is not his own, according to the Times report.
Experts told the Times the criminal prosecutions like that of SAC are rare and suggest the Justice Department is no longer worried about economic consequences that occurred when Enron’s accounting firm Arthur Anderson was indicted and eventually shutdown, causing 28,000 jobs to be lost.
The SAC case represented a more serious approach to financial crime fighting when it began nearly a decade ago. Prosecutors and investigators began using techniques like wire-tapping and pressuring others to be informants, according to the Times report. Those tactics were typically used in drug or organized crime cases.
Now, it’s all too clear, financial crimes are organized and carry as much damage as drug, environmental and anti-trust cases.
It’s high time we got serious about these crimes again. Congress should support these efforts and make sure prosecutors have all the tools to make sure no one believes they are too big to jail.