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Big Money Crime: Fraud and Politics in the Savings and Loan Crisis

NCJ Number
K Calavita; H N Pontell; R H Tillman
Date Published
281 pages
Using material obtained from more than 100 interviews with government officials and collected from recently declassified documents, this book analyzes the deliberate nature of the savings and loan crimes of the early 1980s, the political collusion they involved, and the leniency of the justice system in dealing with "big money" criminals.
The saving and loan crisis of the 1980s was one of the worst financial disasters of the 20th century. The estimated cost to taxpayers, not counting the interest payments on government bonds sold to finance the industry's bailout, is $150 to $175 billion. If interest over the next 30 years is added to this, the cost approaches $500 billion. The savings and loan debacle involved a series of white-collar crimes unparalleled in American history. Many of the popular books and analyses by financial experts have attributed the disaster to faulty business decisions or business risks gone awry. This book argues instead that deliberate insider fraud was at the very center of the disaster. Furthermore, the authors contend that systematic political collusion, not just policy error, was a critical ingredient in this unprecedented series of frauds. Following the tradition of research on white-collar crime by Edwin Sutherland and others, this book examines not just the scope and scale of the fraud but also the government's response to these corporate offenders. The media have covered the prosecution, imprisonment, and recent release of high-profile suspect Charles Keating, but the vast majority of savings and loan wrongdoers will never be prosecuted. Finally, the book argues that the kind of financial crime evident in the S and L crisis differs substantially from the typical corporate crime in the industrial sector. In contrast to corporate crimes committed to enhance the profits of a business, the savings and loan crimes decimated the industry itself and brought the American financial system to the brink of disaster. This victimization of thrift institutions by their own management for personal gain, the existence of networks of co-conspirators with influential political connections, and other aspects of thrift fraud suggest a greater similarity to organized crime than to traditional corporate crime. Chapter notes and a 300-item bibliography