July 18, 2013
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This July, Bank of America was expecting to report an earnings increase of 32% from last year. The Washington Business Journal declared the bank among the top 10 “most improved brands” of the year. Bank of America is the second-largest bank in the United States following JPMorgan Chase.
So why does this bank deserve such an “improved” reputation? Perhaps it’s worth looking at a little of the bank’s record for some clarity.
During the first year of the global financial crisis, which the big banks helped to create and which they profited enormously from, the government stepped in to bail out Bank of America. They rewarded the bank $20 billion for its massive financial crimes, as well as a special guarantee for nearly $100 billion of potential losses on the balance sheets of Merrill Lynch, which Bank of America acquired during the crisis.
As it turns out, Bank of America and other big banks continue to get “backdoor bailouts” through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which acts as a legal guarantor and protector of the Wall Street chain gang of criminal conglomerates. The bank was recently added to a list, compiled by a corporate watchdog group, of the “dirty dozen” criminal financial institutions for its role deceiving investors, committing mortgage and foreclosure abuses and engaging in municipal bond rigging and illegal payments.
When Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone that Bank of America was “a hypergluttonous ward of the state whose limitless fraud and criminal conspiracies we’ll all be paying for until the end of time,” he wasn’t exaggerating. The bank foreclosed on tens of thousands of Americans through a “mass perjury” scheme and pushed worthless mortgages on pension funds and unions. As several big banks — including BofA, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and Citigroup — agreed to pay a $25 billion settlement with the government over “abusive mortgage practices,” the Department of Justice granted the banks what amounted to legal immunity “from civil government claims over faulty foreclosures.” In January, Bank of America settled to pay $11.6 billion to the government-controlled mortgage company Fannie Mae in response to a legal battle over “bad loans.”
In June of 2013, six former BofA employees and one contractor issued sworn statements in which they accused the bank of lying to homeowners, fraudulently denying loan modifications and paying bonuses to staff who pushed people into foreclosure. One of the whistleblowers commented, “we were told to lie to customers.” Employees that pushed ten or more homeowners per month into foreclosure would receive a $500 bonus, and the Bank also “gave employees gift cards to retail stores like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond as rewards for placing accounts into foreclosure.”
Further, anyone who “questioned the ethics” of the bank’s practices was summarily fired – a policy that led to a lawsuit in which homeowners accused the bank of racketeering “to defraud homeowners who sought modifications and then acted as the kingpin of that [racketeering] enterprise.”
Of course, it doesn’t end there. Bank of America, along with multiple other big banks, has been accused of laundering money for Mexican drug cartels. The FBI confirmed that BofA was involved in laundering drug money for the Los Zetas drug cartel in Mexico. However, in a twist of fine news for the bank, U.S. government regulators indicated they would not hold the bank responsible for its actions.
Banking on Influence
So how does a massive criminal enterprise engaging in large-scale fraud, racketeering and money laundering get a free pass from the U.S. government? The bank’s financial clout in the economy certainly plays a part. But so too do its affiliations with dominant national and international organizations, institutionalizing the bank within the larger global power structures and the elites who run them.
Republished with permission from: AlterNet