Clemency for Wall Street Criminals, Prison for the Powerless

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“Who the hell are these people?”

“I don’t know. I used to say they were the same ones we’ve always had to deal with. Same ones my granddaddy had to deal with. Back then they was russlin’ cattle. Now they’re running dope. I ain’t sure we’ve seen these people before. Their kind. I don’t know what to do about ‘em even. If you killed ‘em all they’d have to build an annex on to hell.”

Sheriff Bell ponders the bloody handiwork of a high-echelon criminal syndicate in Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men.

Johnny Gaskins of Raleigh, North Carolina faces a 30-year prison term — an effective life sentence — for the supposed crime of depositing $450,000 in his own bank account. The corporate leaders of Wachovia Bank, a criminal syndicate once headquartered in the same state, won’t face prosecution despite admissions that they laundered hundreds of billions of dollars on behalf of Mexican narcotics cartels.

Wachovia was deemed “too big to fail,” and thus too important to prosecute. In our system, mercy is reserved exclusively for the powerful and corrupt, and Johnny Gaskins — a criminal defense attorney — was neither.

Gaskins had earned his money legitimately. As a dutiful tax victim, he reported his income to the criminal predators running the IRS. His purported offense was to make numerous deposits in amounts just under the $10,000 threshold at which banks are required to report to the IRS under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970.

Displaying the proprietary blend of depraved creativity and utter dishonesty that typify their caste, federal prosecutors insisted that these innocuous acts constituted the alleged crime of “money structuring.”

Dr. William Anderson, an economics professor at Maryland’s Frostburg State University, notes that “money structuring” was defined as “an `ancillary crime’ to give prosecutors leverage in cases where people had amassed huge amounts of cash via drug sales or other illegal activities and were trying to avoid detection as well as avoid paying taxes on their money.”

In Gaskins’s case, there was no predicate offense. The money was honestly earned and duly reported. Yet according to Pecksniffian federal prosecutor Randall Galyon, “The point of the law is to make sure we don’t have people trying to fool the bank. The fact that he was trying is against the law.”

Gaskins was trying to “fool” the bank about innocent conduct. His violations of technical statutes constituted an offense of a severity comparable to ripping the tag from a mattress.

Yet the sacred majesty of the law requires that Gaskins suffer exemplary, conspicuous punishment.

As Dr. Anderson observes, there was an unambiguous element of payback behind this vindictive prosecution: “Gaskins had success representing people accused of crimes, and the police and prosecutors paid him back with what can only be a trumped-up charge. Remember, Gaskins was convicted of depositing money in a bank. He did not evade taxes, he did not gain his cash through illegal means, he just put the money in the bank.”

For reasons unstated yet deafening in their obviousness, the same corps of federal prosecutors who went after Gaskins hammer and tongs last year displayed little of the same zeal in pursuing Wachovia Bank on charges that involve both deliberate fraud and financial collaboration with Mexican narco-criminal syndicates.

Wachovia’s corporate headquarters are in Charlotte, North Carolina — just a three-hour drive from Raleigh. Perhaps the heroes who brought Johnny Gaskins to book were simply too exhausted from that Herculean task to grapple with Wachovia, which was absorbed by Wells Fargo in a federally engineered takeover. The details are predictably opaque, but Wells Fargo — which initially resisted string-laden TARP subsidies — was given $25 billion by the Feds after it bought out Wachovia, which was collapsing under the accumulated weight of its rotten debts.

Although it proudly called itself “the nation’s fourth-largest bank,” Wachovia was actually a federally chartered criminal enterprise.

Granted, this can accurately be said of the entire fractional-reserve banking system. Wachovia distinguished itself by becoming a full-service institution to swindlers and criminals of many kinds.

In February 2008 it was revealed that Wachovia’s corporate leadership “solicited business from companies it knew had been accused of telemarketing crimes,” reported the New York Times. “Internal Wachovia e-mail messages, for example, show that high-ranking employees … frequently warned colleagues about telemarketing frauds routed through its accounts.”

Wachovia had been given specific warnings from investigators and from other banks regarding the scams, yet “it continued to provide banking services to multiple companies that helped steal as much as $400 million from unsuspecting victims.”

A federal lawsuit against Wachovia accused the bank of accepting “fraudulent, unsigned checks that withdrew funds from the accounts of victims, often elderly,” continues the Times. “Wachovia forwarded those checks to other banks that were unaware of the frauds, which in turn sent money to the swindlers.”

One Wachovia executive warned in 2005 that one account being used by swindlers had received 4,500 complaints in the space of two months. “There is more,” she wrote, “but nothing more that I want to put in a note.”

Despite that warning and others, Wachovia continued to process the fraudulent transactions “partly because the bank charged fraud artists a large fee every time a victim spotted a bogus transaction and demanded their money back,” the Times points out. “One company alone paid Wachovia about $1.5 million over 11 months….”

“We are making a ton of money from them,” admitted Wachovia executive Linda Pera in 2005, referring to a company later accused of stealing $142 million through fraud.

Rather than doing what it could to stop the swindle, Wachovia profited from it as long as it could. The bank’s role in that scam — as well as mortgage fraud, embezzlement, and other crimes — was known by federal regulators and prosecutors no later than February 2008. Nobody at Wachovia faced criminal prosecution. Instead, the bank was permitted to buy its way out of trouble through a $144 million settlement — and taxpayers were forced to make good on that amount and much more a few months later in the federally subsidized merger with Wells Fargo.

Last March, federal prosecutors offered an even more generous deal to the Wachovia cabal in the form of a "deferred prosecution agreement” regarding charges of laundering an estimated $300 billion for Mexican narcotics syndicates. In lieu of prosecution, Wachovia agreed to the criminal forfeiture of $110 million and a $50,000,000 fine; it also promised to “demonstrate its future good conduct and compliance in all material aspects with the Bank Secrecy Act….”

The Bank Secrecy Act, recall, is the same law Johnny Gaskins “violated” by making small bank deposits of his own honestly-earned, fully reported money. Gaskins wasn’t offered a deal in which he would “forfeit” an amount equivalent to pennies on the dollar and be spared additional punishment in exchange for the promise of future “good conduct.”

According to the stipulations in the federal “Factual Statement” Wachovia endorsed last March, a Miami branch maintained “correspondent bank accounts” for Mexican currency exchange houses (casas de cambio, or CDCs).

“On numerous occasions, monies were deposited into a CDC by a drug trafficking organization,” recounts the “Factual Statement.” “Using false identities, the CDC then wired that money through its Wachovia correspondent bank accounts for the purchase of airplanes for drug trafficking organizations.”

Among the offenses to which Wachovia stipulated are “Structured Wire Transactions” intended to launder drug proceeds. Once again, Gaskins was convicted of “money structuring” despite the fact that there was no underlying criminal act. Wachovia, on the other hand, was deliberately washing drug proceeds and facilitating the purchase of aircraft that were used to smuggle at least 22 tons of cocaine.

In 2006, Martin Woods, a Wachovia compliance officer in London, became suspicious when his branch started to receive a large quantity of traveler’s checks issued by Mexican CDCs. The checks — written for large denominations — were sequentially numbered and improperly endorsed.

Recognizing this as evidence of money laundering, Woods reported his findings to Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency. A year later, Mexican investigators traced those checks to a CDC used by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Martin’s reward for breaking the case, observed the March 9, 2009 issue of Barron’s, was to be bullied and demoted by his superiors at Wachovia, who also threw out his reports of similar suspicious activities in Eastern Europe. As was the case with the telemarketing fraud, the dirty dealings Martin had uncovered were much too profitable to stop — and in this case, they were being overseen by people who make Anton Chigurh look like Mr. Rogers.

In September 2007, a U.S.-registered Gulfstream II jet carrying 3.3 tons of cocaine crashed in the Yucatan Peninsula. The plane was one of several purchased through a Mexican CDC with “correspondent accounts” held by Wachovia. This particular private jet — tail number N987SA was also an important link between the CIA-abetted international narcotics trade and the CIA’s global torture network.

Until a few weeks before the crash, the plane’s registered owner was a Florida-based pilot (and alleged CIA asset) named Greg Smith, who was reportedly involved in a series of federal operations targeting Columbian drug networks from 1997—2000.

Only those so ingenuous as to make Candide look worldly would be surprised to learn that the same individual, and the same aircraft, were involved in smuggling drugs into the United States, or that the CIA found even more repellent uses for the same vehicle.

Mr. “Smith” was the Gulfstream’s owner of record between 2003 and 2005, when the plane was used by the CIA for at least three trips between the east coast of the U.S. and the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

The same plane was part of the CIA’s fleet of “torture taxis” used to ferry detainees to foreign dungeons, reported The Independent of London last January.

“In 2004, another torture taxi crashed in a field in Nicaragua with a ton of cocaine aboard,” the Independent recalls. “It had been identified by Britain and the European Parliament’s temporary committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners as a frequent visitor in 2004 and 2005 to British, Cypriot, Czech, German, Greek, Hungarian, Spanish and other European cities with its cargo of captives for secret imprisonment and torture in Iraq, Jordan and Azerbaijan.”

The gentle treatment given to Wachovia testifies of its value as a pass-through to fund criminal syndicates used by the CIA to conduct the business of perpetual war — whether it’s designated the “war on drugs” or the “war on terror.”

To cite Bastiat’s invaluable formula yet again, both of those “wars” are exercises in creating the poison and the antidote in the same laboratory.

The “war on drugs” — which is an exercise in corrupt, murderous foolishness greater, by several orders of magnitude, than Prohibition — will not end as long as it is profitable to the criminal elite in Washington, their allies in the banking industry, and their largely interchangeable and thoroughly disposable minions in the underworld.

As Hugh O’Shaughnessy of The Independent puts it, decriminalization of drug use would impoverish “the traffickers, large and small, and those who have been making good money building and running the new prisons that help to bankrupt governments — in the US in particular, where drug offenders — principally small retailers and seldom the rich and important wholesalers — have helped to push the prison population to 1,600,000.”

That population will soon include Johnnie Gaskins, a principled but powerless man who committed no crime. The majesty of the law requires nothing less. None of the criminals in Wachovia’s corporate leadership will be joining him behind bars, of course, since clemency is a gift the Regime bestows exclusively on its valued accomplices in official crime.

William Norman Grigg [send him mail] publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.

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