Sunday, April 1, 2018

Laws for Some of Us but Not All, Proving Again that Law Is Not Justice

Pardon me while I try to control my anger.

Bank of America paid its way out of criminal activity a week ago…and we din’t even bother to rise off our sofas in outrage. Essentially, we as a nation don’t give a damn and so the Banksters just smile their way to the next quarter’s earnings reports. Donald Trump seems to have sucked all the oxygen out of indignation.

This Reuters article (Jonathan Stempel, March 23, 2018) is just a bit over a week old today, but it slipped by almost overnight as ‘yesterday’s news.’

Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) will pay a $42 million fine and admitted wrongdoing to settle claims by New York’s attorney general that it fraudulently routed clients’ stock trades to outside firms…He (NY Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman) said the bank told clients it was processing the trades in-house, even going so far as to alter trade confirmations, as part of an effort to make its electronic trading services appear safer and more sophisticated than they were.

Interesting that, in the devolution of language, fraud is now downgraded to the far more soothing and agreeable term wrongdoing—something you might accuse your child of when he is found-out skipping a class to sneak off into the woods.

The bank also admitted to having told traders in its “dark pool,” a private venue where they expected protection from high-speed traders, that up to 30 percent of orders came from retail traders, when the percentage was closer to 5 percent.
“Bank of America Merrill Lynch went to astonishing lengths to defraud its own institutional clients about who was seeing and filling their orders, who was trading in its dark pool, and the capabilities of its electronic trading services,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

A minor misunderstanding no doubt, yet all that dark pool stuff sounds like you and I (as small-timers) may not own the proper swim-suit for a splash in that pool. A rather bad smell, that. Perhaps a turd floating near the bottom.

The Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank also admitted that its masking activity violated New York’s powerful securities fraud law, the Martin Act.

An admission that Bank of America violated a powerful securities fraud law begs the question of just how much power the law has when it comes to banks. I suspect that if you or I had violated a powerful fraud law, we might have been sent off to the pokey for a spell. But, what the hell, maybe that’s just my naivety.

Schneiderman never even blushed as he announced the settlement, even though the slap-on-the-wrist financial settlement amounted to a mere one hour of the bank’s gross profit. No more than an hour’s irritation pays the fine for more than five years of fraud, affecting more than 16 million trade orders and 4 billion shares.

And no one went to jail.

Of course not. Bankers are now not only too big to fail, they are now too big to jail as well and have been for some time.

The tag-end of the Reuters article notes that in 2016, Barclays Plc (BARC.L), Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN.S) and Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE) settled separate electronic and high-speed trading probes by Schneiderman’s office for a respective $35 million, $30 million and $18.5 million. They also reached related settlements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Poor old Bernie Madoff is serving a 150-year prison term for running a huge Ponzi scheme involving his investment advisory business. No such sweet deal for Bernie and I’ll bet he’d have been more than delighted to slip his prosecutor an hour’s gross earnings to get off the hook.

Lessons learned: there is the law for us and the law for them. In case you missed the point, it’s far better to be them.

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