Justice Department decides not to pursue charges against Goldman Sachs

ABC News reported on Thursday night that the Justice Department has decided not to bring charges against Goldman Sachs for its actions during the subprime mortgage crisis.

DOJ claimed there wasn’t enough evidence to continue with a prosecution at this time, although it may revisit its decision if new evidence surfaces.

“Based on the law and evidence as they exist at this time, there is not a viable basis to bring a criminal prosecution with respect to Goldman Sachs or its employees in regard to the allegations set forth in the report,” Justice said in a statement.  “The department and its investigative partners conducted an exhaustive review of the report and its exhibits, independently gathered and scrutinized a large volume of other documents, and tenaciously pursued potential evidentiary leads, including conducting numerous witness interviews.  While the department and investigative agencies ultimately concluded that the burden of proof to bring a criminal case could not be met based on the law and facts as they exist at this time, we commend the hard work of those involved in preparing the report and thank the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for its cooperation in regard to the criminal investigation.”

Naturally, Goldman Sachs is pleased with this outcome.  Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) is likely to be less happy with it.  He chairs the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which requested the Justice Department investigation after it found that Goldman Sachs profited from betting against the fragile housing market, which was said to be a conflict of interest with Goldman clients who found themselves on the wrong end of collapsing mortgages.

DOJ’s decision not to prosecute also will not sit well with critics who accuse the Obama Administration of being far too reluctant to prosecute high-end financial miscreants.  ABC News recounts a few other notable Justice decisions to let serious charges slide: “There was the collapse of AIG and the role of the top executive at AIG Financial Products division, Joseph Cassano, and former Countrywide CEO Anthony Mozillo, who was fined by the SEC in an insider trading case.  Citibank and JP Morgan both had multi-million-dollar settlements with the SEC over collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, tied to the U.S. housing market, but Justice has not brought any criminal cases.  Freddie Mac was subpoenaed in a grand jury investigation in 2008 but the firm disclosed in an Aug. 8, 2011, SEC filing that the Justice investigation was closed.”

A Reuters report quotes Neil Barofsky, a critic of the 2008 bank bailouts, who described the Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute Goldman as “a stark reminder that no individual or institution had been held meaningfully accountable for their role in the financial crisis.”

Goldman Sachs is viewed by critics as having an especially close relationship with the government, leading some to disparagingly refer to the firm as “Government Sachs.”  Although they won’t face criminal prosecution from Justice, it should be noted that the Securities and Exchange Commission has applied significant penalties against Goldman as a result of its actions during the subprime mortgage crisis, including a $550 million fine levied because emails proved one of the company’s vice presidents clearly knew the market was about to collapse, and was pleased with his ability to quietly avoid a disaster that would consume his investors.

Given the magnitude of the subprime disaster, it’s cold comfort to know a few fines were assessed, but no one – inside or outside the government – is truly being held accountable for the deliberate betrayal of investors and taxpayers.  The subprime crisis was manufactured by government regulations, and nourished by Congressional representatives who brazenly lied during hearings and viciously attacked anyone who tried to shut down their financial doomsday clock before the hands reached midnight.  It was made incalculably worse by opportunistic financial executives who abused the trust of their clients, insulating themselves from a catastrophe that destroyed a staggering amount of investment value.  There is a lot of talk about Big Government and Big Business “partnerships” these days.  Well, the subprime crisis was one of the biggest such partnerships America has yet seen, and look how it turned out.

Much of this looks an awful lot like theft and fraud to the man on the street, but the government’s top law enforcement agencies evidently disagree… and come to think of it, the voters didn’t seem terribly eager to hold the political class responsible for its end of the crisis at the ballot box.  Somehow the subprime crisis left a staggering amount of wreckage, but very little evidence.