Outside editorial: One Wall Street swindler down

Posted: Sunday, March 15, 2009

Taking down the biggest crook was easy. He confessed. On Thursday, Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty to a $65 billion pyramid scam. It may be cold comfort to those who lost life savings, but Madoff, 70, will spend the rest of his life in a small cell without a view.

One down and many more to go. Americans bailing out big banks deserve the satisfaction of seeing those whose deliberate actions contributed to the financial debacle either put behind bars or pressured to give back ill-gotten gains: CEOs who guided subprime mortgage schemes; brokers who made predatory loans; analysts who cooked ratings of mortgage packages sold on Wall Street; bank executives who handed out bonuses as their firms went south.

After Sept. 11, the FBI transferred 2,000 agents to anti-terror duties. Many are back doing white-collar crime. The Justice Department reports pursuing 530 cases of possible corporate crimes, including investigations into Fannie Mae, now-defunct Countrywide Financial and AIG.

States are doing their own prosecutions. Last month, California Attorney General Jerry Brown filed 73 charges against a Nevada County real estate broker, alleging a massive mortgage fraud.

Federal sentencing guidelines link the size of the public's financial loss to the length of a prison term. With so many billions swindled, prosecutors have plenty of leverage to squeeze out guilty pleas, offering the public a pleasant diversion from reading 401(k) statements.



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