NY Times Editorial: Time to Treat White Collar Criminals Like…Criminals

There’s a novel thought: enforcing laws on white collar crime.Take the extensive money laundering Mr. Manafort is accused of undertaking with shell companies that hide ownership. How could he have expected to get away with it?

Perhaps he saw what happened when one of the world’s largest banks, HSBC, helped launder billions of dollars in drug proceeds for the Sinaloa cartel, for a financier for Al Qaeda and for others over nearly a decade. When they were caught, they only had to forfeit less than five weeks of profit. No bank employee was criminally charged.Now consider the potential big fish in the special counsel’s investigation. Three years ago, about three months before Mr. Trump announced his candidacy for president, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network fined the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City $10 million for “willful and repeated violations of the Bank Secrecy Act” for failing to report suspicious transactions and failing to properly file currency transaction reports and keep proper records. The officials noted that the casino had “a long history of prior, repeated B.S.A. violations cited by examiners dating back to 2003.” The casino had been fined $477,700 in 1998. In other words, Mr. Trump’s casino helped launder money and no one was charged with a crime.

One-fifth of the condos owned by Mr. Trump in the United States were sold to shell companies like those Mr. Manafort used, BuzzFeed News found. Since Mr. Trump won the Republican nomination, 70 percent of domestic real estate sales by his companies were to shell companies, USA Today has reported.

A Times investigation found that this sort of behavior is business as usual for many big developers, as shell companies with untraceable funds — not all with nefarious purposes — buy a disproportionate number of high-end condos in cities like New York.

Nor is this simply a problem for global urban centers. A shell company obscured the purchase of a lobbyist’s luxurious home by the beleaguered administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, when he was an Oklahoma state senator in 2003.

The recent attention to Mr. Trump’s “personal attorney” Michael Cohen illuminated another not uncommon practice of the business world. One of Mr. Cohen’s specialties was keeping people quiet. He made hush money payments to the women in Mr. Trump’s life, including arranging for The National Enquirer to make “catch and kill” payments for the rights to salacious stories that were then never published.

The Associated Press reported that after it found out that The Enquirer paid $30,000 to a doorman who said that Mr. Trump had fathered a child with one of his housekeepers, the paper’s parent company threatened The A.P. with legal action.

Were those lawyers associates of the louche Mr. Cohen? Nope, they were from the firm of the legal paragon David Boies, who defended same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court and fought for Al Gore in the Florida recount debacle in 2000. Mr. Boies also worked to try to kill a New York Times report on women who accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and, as counsel to the fraudulent blood-testing company Theranos, threatened to sue The Wall Street Journal to prevent a report that showed the company was a complete con. A “good guy” in a bad cause — business as usual. (Mr. Boies’ firm did work for the Times Company until The New Yorker reported that the firm had arranged what Times officials called “a secret spying operation aimed at our reporting and our reporters” on the Weinstein story.)

All this is an indictment of a criminal justice system that has fed the swamp in which Mr. Trump and his ilk thrive. Industrial-level fraud by America’s banks nearly brought the world economy to its knees in 2008, and no senior executive was even charged.

Source: Opinion | Mueller Guides Us Through the Swamp – The New York Times

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