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In the movies The Big Short (2015) and Capitalism, a love story (2009), it is claimed that only a single banker, Kareem Serageldin, went to prison for the Financial crisis of 2007–2008, for which many blame the practices of bankers.

Big Short quote:

Banks took the money the American people gave them, and used it to pay themselves huge bonuses, and lobby the Congress to kill big reform. And then they blamed immigrants and poor people, and this time even teachers! And when all was said and done, only one single banker went to jail this poor schmuck!

Was this true at the time of the films?

  • 11
    "And then they blamed immigrants and poor people." Virtually everyone I know and read blames the banks and their bad practices. Anyone besides bankers blaming anyone other than bankers is the bigger claim to me. – fredsbend Jan 20 at 0:36
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    @fredsbend: I recall in the very early days of the financial crisis, an Australian tabloid's front page picture of am African American family who had lost their house, - the article blamed families like theirs for getting home loans they couldn't repay. Later opinion pieces turned on the bankers instead. – Oddthinking Jan 20 at 2:23
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    @fredsbend: Oh, I think the headline was a shallow and racist take on the causes, but it is an example supporting the "they blamed [...] poor people" claim in the question. – Oddthinking Jan 20 at 2:48
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    @Oddthinking - it takes two to tango. Or to finalize a mortgage loan. Both sides are to blame - especially those borrowers who knowingly lied on their applications as to their income. Which, if you want to be fair, was the only crime generally committed around the financial crisis topic in mass. – user5341 Jan 20 at 15:42
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    @jpmc26 Not just potential lawsuits. There is video on YouTube of Cuomo (now Governor of the State of New York) from back when he was in Clinton's HUD department bragging on CSPAN about the multi-billion dollar judgments he had won in the 90s against banks for not making enough loans to people who couldn't afford to repay them. – reirab Jan 21 at 16:13
55

Only one Wall Street banker (a trader) went to jail. Other people, who could be considered bankers, were also jailed. No Wall Street CEOs were jailed.

Financial Times, August 9, 2017:

In the US prosecutors have won convictions of 324 mortgage lenders, loan officers, real estate brokers, developers and others who were at the front end of a chain of events that contributed to the crisis, according to Sigtarp, the federal agency overseeing government bailout funds.

The most senior executive convicted was Lee Farkas, the chairman of Taylor Bean & Whitaker, a Florida mortgage lender that was at the front end of the chain. Taylor Bean’s collapse caused the failure of Colonial Bank, at the time one of the biggest in US history.

On Wall Street, and not included in Sigtarp’s count of credit crisis-related cases, one trader, Kareem Serageldin of Credit Suisse, went to prison after pleading guilty to inflating his portfolio of asset-backed securities.

  • 1
    I don't see why they single out Lee Farkas as the most senior executive, for example as compared to Gilbert Lundstrom, CEO of TierOne Bank (which was a $3 billion publicly traded bank). – DavePhD Jan 20 at 4:15
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    @DavePhD because chairman is more senior than CEO – Chan-Ho Suh Jan 20 at 4:35
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    @Chan-HoSuh Gilbert Lundstrom was chairman and CEO of TierOne Bank. I should have been more clear. – DavePhD Jan 20 at 14:11
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    This os a bit short for my tastes. Why not more quotes from that article? (I know short=good, but the source will be paywalled) rel: nytimes.com/2014/05/04/magazine/… theguardian.com/business/2012/aug/06/… ig.ft.com/jailed-bankers – LаngLаngС Jan 20 at 14:34
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90 bankers were convicted, of which 62 went to prison:

Edward Woodard (conspiracy to commit bank fraud, false entry in a bank record, unlawful participation in loans, false statements to a financial institution, misapplication of bank funds, and bank fraud)
23 Years in Prison
CEO, President: Bank of the Commonwealth

Stephen Fields (conspiracy to commit bank fraud, false entries in bank records, misapplication of bank funds, and false statement to a financial institution)
17 Years in Prison
Executive Vice President, Commercial Loan Officer: Bank of the Commonwealth

Mark A. Conner (conspiracy to commit bank fraud; perjury)
12 Years in Prison
Acting CEO, Chairman, Vice Chairman, President, COO: First City Bank

Gilbert Lundstrom (conspiracy to commit wire fraud and securities fraud, conspiracy to falsify bank entries, wire fraud, securities fraud and falsifying bank entries)
11 Years in Prison
CEO, Chairman: TierOne Bank

Shawn Leo Portmann (conspiracy to make false statements in loan applications and to make false statements to the Department of Housing and Urban Development and making a false statement in loan applications)
10 Years in Prison
Senior Vice President, Loan Officer: Pierce Commercial Bank

Sean Cutting
8 Years and 4 Months in Prison
President, Director, Chief Lending Officer, Chief Administrative Officer, Chief Executive Officer: Sonoma Valley Bancorp

Brian Melland
8 Years and 4 Months in Prison
Chief Lending Officer, Vice President: Sonoma Valley Bank

Ebrahim Shabudin
8 Years and 1 Month in Prison
Chief Credit Officer, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer: United Commercial Bank (UCBH)

Troy Brandon Woodard
8 Years in Prison
Vice President: Bank of the Commonwealth (Subsidiary)

Catherine Kissick
8 Years in Prison
Senior Vice President: Colonial Bank

Clayton A. Coe
7 Years and 3 Months in Prison
Vice President, Senior Commercial Loan Officer: FirstCity Bank

Gary Patton Hall
7 Years in Prison
CEO, President: Tifton Bank

Kirk Marsh
6 Years and 6 Months in Prison
Vice President for Government Contract Lending; Vice President: Virginia Commerce Bank; Fulton Bank

Jerry J. Williams
6 Years in Prison
CEO, President, Chairman: Orion Bank

Adam Teague
5 Years and 10 Months in Prison
Senior Vice President: Appalachian Community Bank

Shaun Hayes
5 Years 8 Months in Prison
Director, Vice Chairman: Excel Bank

Anthony Atkins
5 Years and 3 Months in Prison
President, CEO: Gulf South Private Bank

Jeffrey Levine
5 Years in Prison
Executive Vice President: Omni Bank

Zulfakir Esmail
5 Years in Prison
CEO, Chairman; President: Premier Bank; Premier Bancorp

William R. Beamon, Jr.
3 Years and 6 Months in Prison
Vice President: Appalachian Community Bank

Robert E. Maloney, Jr.
3 Years and 3 Months in Prison
In-house Attorney: FirstCity Bank

Christopher Tumbaga
3 Years in Prison
Commercial Loan Officer: Colorado East Bank & Trust

James A. Laphen
2 Years and 10 Months in Prison
Acting CEO, COO, President: TierOne Bank

Melvin Rohs
2 years and 9 months in Prison
Senior Vice President, Senior Loan Officer:Citizens Bank of Northern California

Jeff H. Bell
2 Years and 6 Months in Prison
President; Head Factoring Division: Transportation Alliance Bank; Stearns Bank

Thomas Hebble
2 Years and 6 Months in Prison
Executive Vice President: Orion Bank

Charles Antonucci
2 Years and 6 Months in Prison
CEO, President: Park Avenue Bank

Joseph Tobin 2 Years in Prison
Vice President, Loan Officer: PBI Bank

Reginald Harper
2 Years in Prison
CEO, President: First Community Bank

James Ladio
2 Years in Prison
CEO, President; Chief Lending Officer: MidCoast Community Bank; Artisan’s Bank

etc.

  • 25
    You might note that the "only one banker" claim perhaps refers to Kareem Serageldin, who is the only Wall Street banker to go to prison. NY Times - Why Only One Top Banker Went to Jail for the Financial Crisis – Paul Draper Jan 20 at 3:06
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    What were the charges though? It is unclear how "causing a financial crisis" would cause someone to go to jail unless some theft or fraud occurred. After all, some collapses are due simply to over withdrawing of funds such that no more loans can be made. – The Great Duck Jan 20 at 5:53
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    @TheGreatDuck ok, I added the charges for the top 5 criminals, and links with further details – DavePhD Jan 20 at 16:41
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    @TheGreatDuck, theft and fraud is exactly what caused the financial crisis (though it was encouraged or exacerbated by other factors). – Paul Draper Jan 20 at 23:21
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    @PaulDraper The crisis was still all about fractional banking, continuous inflation and securities on unworkable loans. Yes, theft and fraud on the part of the bankers made it worse (and possibly even provided the tipping point, i.e. made it come down crashing earlier), but the crisis would still be there if all the bankers were only doing what they legally could. All over the world, there's still plenty of countries with the exact same problems teetering on the brink of a similar collapse - and further encouraged by the buy-outs etc. – Luaan Jan 21 at 10:20
7

Banks took the money the American people gave them, and used it to pay themselves huge bonuses, and lobby the Congress to kill big reform.

The money that's they are referring to here is the bank bailout that was passed in 2009. Of those, only a single banker went to jail; that's how I'm reading the claim.

BoA, Citygroup, JPMorgan Chase, WellsFargo, Goldman Sacks, Morgan Stanley, PNC Financial Services, U.S. Bancorp, SunTrust were the major bank recipients, for a total of $179 billion.

Some of those banks had their own mortgage services divisions that received additional money - for example, Bank of America bought Countrywide, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, etc.

Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae, the semi-government entities, received another $190 billion.

https://projects.propublica.org/bailout/list

Nobody from those institutions was ever sent to jail. Angelo Mozillo, and other Countrywide executives that were widely seen as responsible for some of the worst abuse were never criminally charged. Countrywide itself was found guilty of fraud but there were no criminal convictions.

I think that's a reasonable interpretation of the claim - given that the film focuses on the big banks and wallstreet executives, not small regional banks.

If that interpretation is accepted, I think it can be concluded that the claim is true.

  • "Woodard used fraudulent bank books and records to try to cheat federal taxpayers out of $28 million in TARP bailout funds to fill the holes he caused in the bank’s books. SIGTARP and our law enforcement partners will hold all those guilty of crimes related to TARP accountable because no one is above the law." justice.gov/usao-edva/pr/… – DavePhD Jan 22 at 2:59

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