11. The Treasury Ignores S&L Crimes

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Source: IN THESE TIMES Dates: 5/30/94, 6/13/94, Titles: “The 21st FinCENtury” and “Crime of the FinCENtury,” Author: Joel Bleifuss

SSU Censored Researcher: Will Beaubien

SYNOPSIS: The database of all financial databases is operated by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a division of the Treasury Department, and is known as FinCEN for short. It was estab­lished in 1990 to help wage the war against drugs by tracking the flow of narcotics money. And law enforcement officials hail FinCEN as a technological breakthrough that makes it near impossible for criminals to hide illegal financial gains. So far, FinCEN has been suc­cessful in catching big-time drug dealers, helped finger Russian spy Aldrich Ames, and compiled evi­dence used to convict the Islamic extremists who bombed the World Trade Center. The agency now has a staff of 200, a budget of $20 mil­lion, and operates quietly out of its headquarters in Vienna (“Spook City”), Virginia.

FinCEN’s stated mission is “to provide a government-wide, multi­source intelligence and analytical network to support law enforce­ment and regulatory agencies in the detection, investigation and prose­cution of financial crimes.” Its computer capabilities make it very difficult for criminals to hide their illegal gains through money laun­dering.

Given its stated mission, and exceptional track record, one could expect it would be used to track down the financial criminals who looted the S&Ls and laundered their ill-gotten gains. According to the Stanford Law and Policy Review, the final cost of the S&L crime could add up to $1.4 trillion when all the Resolution Trust Corp­oration and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation accounts are settled.

However, the Treasury Depart­ment apparently has decided not to use FinCEN’s extraordinary capa­bilities to track down the money laundered by the well-heeled S&L crooks-a crime Americans will be paying for into the next century. According to a report FinCEN filed with Congress, the agency has received no requests from Treasury to assist in the investigation of the S&L crimes since its founding in 1990.

Apologists argue that it would be a waste of time since much of the money is irretrievable anyway; that it was speculated away in real estate deals that later went bust, or that it was lost with the fall in oil prices, or eaten up by the high interest rates of the `80s, or frittered away by S&L execs living high on the hog. Non-apologists suspect some por­tion of those billions was hidden from federal authorities, laundered in offshore foreign banks by the directors and officers of the failed S&Ls, surreptitiously handed off to family members-in other words, stolen.

Finally, it must be noted that about 41 percent of the $84.2 bil­lion in taxpayer bailouts from 1989 to 1993 will go to Texas thrifts. It also should be noted that Texans are well connected: from 1985 to 1988, the U.S. treasury secretary was Texan James Baker; from 1988 to 1992, the president was Texan George Bush; and since 1992, the treasury secretary has been Texan Lloyd Bentsen. Also worth noting is that both Bush and Bentsen have sons who got rich at the S&L trough.

The bottom line is that FinCEN has the technological capability to track the billions of dollars lost in the S&L looting but the Treasury Department has not yet asked it to do so.

COMMENTS: Investigative author Joel Bleifuss claims that “FinCEN is unknown even to many lawmakers. Very little has been written about this secretive agency.”

FinCEN’s vast databases could be a powerful tool used to fight white-collar crime, Bleifuss points out, and particularly useful “to track down some of the billions of dollars that S&L crooks laundered in offshore banks. But,” Bleifuss adds, “FinCEN has not used the databases that are at its disposal to track down this `stolen’ money. The general public, which is picking up the tab for S&L crimes, has a right to know why.”

Bleifuss says that the primary beneficiaries of the limited cov­erage given FinCEN are the “politi­cally connected S&L looters — ­particularly those from Texas — who have benefited from Texan Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen’s decision not to use FinCEN’s crime fighting potential to track down the hidden billions.” (Bentsen resigned his position effective 12/21/94.)