Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Wachovia fines encourage drug trafficking

Jerry Stratton, April 3, 2011

In March 2010, Wachovia Bank settled with federal authorities to avoid prosecution for money laundering. It’s pretty clear that the bank knew money laundering was happening, but the money itself was so huge that it was worth it to look the other way as billions made its way through their offices.

The settlement included paying $110 million in forfeiture to the Justice Department, and $50 million to the United States Treasury.

But the settlement leaves a sour taste in many mouths—and certainly in Woods’s. The deferred prosecution is part of this “cop-out all round”, he says. “The regulatory authorities do not have to spend any more time on it, and they don’t have to push it as far as a criminal trial. They just issue criminal proceedings, and settle. The law enforcement people do what they are supposed to do, but what’s the point? All those people dealing with all that money from drug-trafficking and murder, and no one goes to jail?”

If they actually put bank executives in jail, future bank executives would make sure the bank never had to pay those fines, and the authorities would be multiple future fines poorer for it. Who would want to change this system? A hundred and sixty million dollars shared between two cabinet-level departments. With the two major law enforcement departments—Justice and Treasury—gaining tens of millions from just this one incident alone, who is going to want to end the fines by putting the people who pay them in jail?

This is legalized bribery. The bank gets off, the authorities are paid, and the trafficking continues to generate more bribery in the future.

Mazur warns: “If you look at the career ladders of law enforcement, there’s no incentive to go after the big money. People move every two to three years. The DEA is focused on drug trafficking rather than money laundering. You get a quicker result that way—they want to get the traffickers and seize their assets. But this is like treating a sick plant by cutting off a few branches—it just grows new ones. Going after the big money is cutting down the plant—it’s a harder door to knock on, it’s a longer haul, and it won’t get you the short-term riches.”

There’s another way of reading that than how Mazur puts it: the DEA has no incentive to stop drug trafficking and stop money laundering, because they want assets to seize. That’s where the money is in prohibition enforcement. Under the current system, there is no profit in winning the drug war.

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