Untouchability is the social-religious practice of ostracizing a minority group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal mandate. The excluded group could be one that did not accept the norms of the excluding group and historically included foreigners, house workers, nomadic tribes, law-breakers and criminals and those suffering from a contagious disease such as leprosy. This exclusion was a method of punishing law-breakers and also protected traditional societies against contagion from strangers and the infected. A member of the excluded group is known as an Untouchable.

Fallout from ‘Untouchables’ Documentary: Another Wall Street Whistleblower Gets Reamed

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

POSTED: March 4, 2:31 PM ET

A great many people around the county were rightfully shocked and horrified by the recent excellent and hard-hitting PBS documentary, The Untouchables, which looked at the problem of high-ranking Wall Street crooks going unpunished in the wake of the financial crisis. The PBS piece certainly rattled some cages, particularly in Washington, in a way that few media efforts succeed in doing.

There are people out there still willing to argue that the government somehow “forced the banks to lend” to unworthy applicants. In reality, it was unscrupulous companies like Countrywide that were cranking out loans en masse, knowing that these loans would be unloaded down the line, first to banks and then to sucker investors like pension funds and foreign trade unions, almost as soon as they were created.

Winston was a witness to all of this. Eventually, he would be asked by the firm to present false information to the Moody’s ratings agency, which was about to give Countrywide a negative rating because of some trouble the company was having in working a smooth succession from one set of company leaders to another.

When Winston refused, he was essentially stripped of his normal responsibilities and had his corporate budget slashed. When Bank of America took over the company, Winston’s job was terminated. He sued, and in one of the few positive outcomes for any white-collar whistleblower anywhere in the post-financial-crisis universe, won a $3.8 million wrongful termination suit against Bank of America last February.

Well, just weeks after the PBS documentary aired, the Court of Appeals in the state of California suddenly took an interest in Winston’s case. Normally, a court of appeals can only overturn a jury verdict in a case like this if there is a legal error. It’s not supposed to relitigate the factual evidence.

Yet this is exactly what happened: The court decided that the evidence that Winston was wrongfully terminated was insufficient, and then from there determined that the “legal error” in the original Winston suit against Bank of America and Countrywide was that the judge in the case failed to throw out the jury’s verdict.

A number of people in positions of power wanted to know just what “experts” people like Breuer had consulted with before deciding not to press charges in certain cases. Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, specifically, sent Attorney General Eric Holder a letter asking a number of questions.

Among other things, the two Senators wanted to know if certain companies had been designated “Too Big to Jail.”

Well, at the end of last week, on February 27th, the Department of Justice sent Brown and Grassley a letter in return. The letter is, to describe it very generously, not terribly informative.

On those questions, the DOJ would say only that “it is entirely appropriate for prosecutors to hear from subject matter experts at relevant regulatory authorities”.

That is one hell of a slippery piece of language. It’s great that the Department of Justice is not paying, say, HSBC to consult with them on the question of whether or not HSBC should be prosecuted. What a relief! But that doesn’t mean they’re not paying someone else for that kind of advice.

The DOJ similarly blew off naming any individual experts and they refused absolutely to turn over information about any compensation they may have paid out to whomever it is who is whispering in their prosecutorial ears.

The Department of Justice is now saying that it misunderstood the two Senators, that it didn’t know that they were asking for the actual names of those experts. Moreover, the Department claims it is working on answers to those queries.

In the meantime, Eric Holder is appearing before the Judiciary Committee this Wednesday, and it will be interesting to see how he handles questioning from Senator Grassley. It may get ugly before the answers actually come out, but it seems that someone is finally determined to get some real information.

1 comment

  1. ek hornbeck

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