I have a legal question citizens of New York might wish to ponder. What is the difference between Sheldon Silver and Jamie Dimon? Representative Silver is speaker of the State Assembly in Albany, and federal prosecutors want to put him in prison for taking kickbacks for doing political favors. Dimon is CEO of JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank, which has richly rewarded him for political manipulations that saved the megabank billions in regulatory fines for defrauding investors and saved fellow bankers from criminal prosecution.
Something about this comparison doesn’t smell right.
“Shelly” Silver is accused of steering plaintiffs to two law firms who sue big companies in behalf of people injured by asbestos or other cancer-causing substances. He arranged state research money for a couple of nonprofit health projects that deal with such issues, In return, the indictment charges, Silver received $3 or $4 million spread over ten or fifteen years. As political corruption goes, this is pretty small beer.
Jamie Dimon, by contrast, is political nobility, a leader of the Wall Street gang that raped the nation (financially). Trillions were lost by millions of families in the mortgage-securities racket that brought down the US economy. Dimon’s kickbacks were from his board of directors, grateful that he used his skill and influence to dodge the legal consequences.
Yet when it came time to punish financial wrongdoers, the scandal did not go before a grand jury. Dimon instead sent squads of corporate lawyers to negotiate with the government on how much the bank was willing to pay for its misdeeds (Dimon called them “mistakes”). When the negotiations stalled, Dimon traveled to Washington for a personal conversation with the attorney general. The final deal announced by Eric Holder was a bit fraudulent itself. Holder claimed to have won a record penalty of $13 billion, but lawyers who read the fine print and did the accounting said it was actually closer to $6 billion—a pittance compared to the horrendous damage Wall Street bankers profitably did to the nation.
The sordid mismatch of crime and punishment was displayed in the pages of The New York Times, though the newspaper seemed unaware of its contradiction. The Times editorial page demanded Representative Silver’s immediate resignation, never mind the trial and jury verdict. US Attorney Preet Bharara accused Silver of holding “titanic political power.” the Times wanted a prompt hanging. Silver did not resign but did agree to delegate leadership to senior assembly members on a temporary basis. “I hope I will be vindicated,” he said.
Meanwhile, on the same day back in its business section, the Times was reporting that for his efforts Dimon would get “a sweeter pay package in 2015.” The board of directors decided Dimon’s total compensation would remain at $20 million and he would get $7.4 million in “easier-to-access cash” rather than restricted stock shares.