Matt Taibbi: Bank of America Is a “Raging Hurricane of Theft and Fraud”
There are two things every American needs to know about Bank of America.
The first is that it’s corrupt. This bank has systematically defrauded almost everyone with whom it has a significant business relationship, cheating investors, insurers, homeowners, shareholders, depositors, and the state. It is a giant, raging hurricane of theft and fraud, spinning its way through America and leaving a massive trail of wiped-out retirees and foreclosed-upon families in its wake.
The second is that all of us, as taxpayers, are keeping that hurricane raging. Bank of America is not just a private company that systematically steals from American citizens: it’s a de facto ward of the state that depends heavily upon public support to stay in business. In fact, without the continued generosity of us taxpayers, and the extraordinary indulgence of our regulators and elected officials, this company long ago would have been swallowed up by scandal, mismanagement, prosecution and litigation, and gone out of business. It would have been liquidated and its component parts sold off, perhaps into a series of smaller regional businesses that would have more respect for the law, and be more responsive to their customers.
But Bank of America hasn’t gone out of business, for the simple reason that our government has decided to make it the poster child for the “Too Big To Fail” concept. Because it is considered a “systemically important institution” whose collapse would have a major, Lehman-Brothers-style impact on the economy, two consecutive presidential administrations have taken extraordinary measures to keep Bank of America in business, despite a staggering recent legacy of corruption schemes, many of which were simply overlooked by regulators.
This is why the question of whether or not Bank of America should remain on public life support is so critical to all Americans, and not just those millions who have the misfortune to be customers of the bank, or own shares in the firm, or hold mortgages serviced by the company. This gigantic financial institution is the ultimate symbol of a new kind of corruption at the highest levels of American society: a tendency to marry the near-limitless power of the federal government with increasingly concentrated, increasingly unaccountable private financial interests.
The inevitable result of that new form of corruption is this bank, whose continued, state-supported existence should naturally outrage all Americans, be they conservative or progressive.
Moreover, Bank of America has ruthlessly preyed upon millions of homeowners, throwing them out on the street on the strength of doctored, “robosigned” paperwork created through brazenly illegal practices they helped pioneer — the firm sped struggling families to foreclosure court using perjured affidavits produced in factory-like fashion by the hundreds or thousands every day, with full knowledge of management. Through the firm’s improper use of an unaccountable private electronic mortgage registry system called MERS, it also systematically evaded millions of dollars in local fees, forcing some communities to cut services and raise property taxes.
Even when caught and punished for its crimes by the authorities, Bank of America has repeatedly ignored court orders. It was one of five companies identified in two separate investigations earlier this year that were caught continuing the practice of robosigning, even after promising to stop in a legally binding consent decree. Last summer, the state of Nevada sought to terminate a settlement over mortgage abuses it had entered into with Bank of America after it found the company was brazenly violating the agreement, among other things raising payments and interest rates on mortgage customers, despite the fact that the settlement only allowed them to modify loans downward.
Over and over again, we see that leveling fines and punishments at this bank is not enough: it simply ignores them. It is the very definition of an unaccountable corporate villain.