The ancient Athenian philosopher Anacharsis is said to have once noted that laws are no different than a spider’s web in that “They’ll restrain anyone weak and insignificant who gets caught in them, but they’ll be torn to shreds by people with power and wealth.” It would be difficult to provide a stronger example proving Anacharsis’ thesis regarding the dynamic between law and wealth than the example of JPMorgan and its CEO, Jamie Dimon. Such an example is particularly worth noting now that Mr. Dimon has reportedly breached the great elite wealth barrier of our time and become a billionaire.
Under Dimon’s leadership – he was and is chairman, president and CEO – JPMorgan Chase went on one of the most successful corporate crime sprees in the history of American business raking in billions of revenue from clients and US taxpayers alike. The amount of wealth snatched by Dimon’s JPMorgan was almost as impressive as the firm’s ability to evade substantive legal recourse from the Department of Justice over and over again.
The litany of known offenses committed under the reign of Jamie Dimon is simply breathtaking. In many cases JPMorgan went so far as to pay large fines but did not outright admit wrongdoing:
- JPMorgan paid out a $13 billion settlement for fraudulent activities in the mortgage securities market that led to the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis and resulting recession hollowed out the wealth of the American middle class and threw millions out of work.
- A $500 million settlement for role JPMorgan-acquired Bear Stearns played in the mortgage market.
- The bank paid out over $600 million to settle charges of manipulating currency markets in collusion with other banks and made a mostly symbolic criminal guilty plea.
- Not only did JPMorgan cause the housing crisis, it fraudulently foreclosed on homeowners with faulty paperwork during the crisis and paid $50 million to settle those charges.
- While JPMorgan lobbyists flooded Washington DC to stop regulations that would attempt to prevent reckless trading – a trader in JPMorgan’s London office known as the “London Whale” was busy recklessly trading and violating securities laws charges for which JPMorgan paid over $900 million to settle.
- A cartel of banks including JPMorgan were involved in rigging an international interest rate known as the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) which has already led to JPMorgan paying over $100 million in fines.
It was a hell of a run and is far from over as JPMorgan could be facing charges related to political corruption in China where the megabank is suspected of hiring children of the Chinese Communist Party elite in order to curry favor with the Chinese government. Bribery almost seems quaint compared to the other crimes JPMorgan has been engaging in on Jamie Dimon’s watch.
The fines, settlements, and guilty plea have been mostly irrelevant to JPMorgan’s bottom line. In fact, once a settlement is announced JPMorgan’s stock has generally gone up as investors are usually pleased with how much loot JPMorgan was able to ultimately keep from its criminal activities.
Not surprisingly, Dimon’s JPMorgan had many enablers within the government including former lead officials at the Justice Department – Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer – that were knee-deep in conflicts of interest related to the housing crisis. Breuer, the head of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division during part of JPMorgan’s crime spree, essentially admitted in an interview with Frontline that he was more concerned with the economic consequences of bringing criminal prosecutions against the Wall Street banks than trying to deter the banks from committing future crimes.
The light touch policy at the Justice Department corresponded with unprecedented subsidies and support going to JPMorgan and other banks from Congress in the form of bailout funds known as the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) as well as loans – overt and secret – from the Federal Reserve. Dimon’s JPMorgan was apparently both Too Big To Fail and Too Big To Jail which makes his new status as a billionaire seem practically inevitable upon reflection. How could Jamie Dimon not become a billionaire under such conditions? Couldn’t anyone?
Anacharsis’ comparison of the law with spider webs reportedly came during a discussion with another Athenian philosopher and jurist, Solon. It was Solon who said “Wealth I desire to have; but wrongfully to get it, I do not wish. Justice, even if slow, is sure.” Decide which assessment of how law and wealth work you agree with after pondering the fortunes of Jamie Dimon, billionaire.
Image from Steve Jurveston under Creative Commons license.