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Barack Obama was in town last night for a series of fundraising events, including one at the New Amsterdam Theater in Times Square.
A coalition of activists demanding accountability for the financial fraud that set off the economic crash used the scene of the president raising millions of dollars to return himself to office to call attention to a project that’s sorely underfunded: the taskforce charged with investigating mortgage fraud by the nation’s biggest banks.
“Before you can campaign, you have to do the people’s business,” said Nish Suvarnakar, an organizer with the Campaign for a Fair Settlement, who helped organize the evening’s demonstration. “The campaigning and fundraising is going to go on, but we’re not going to go away either.”
The protesters pointed out that the number of investigators working for the Mortgage Fraud Task Force is far less than the number who investigated the Savings and Loan crisis in the 1980s. Back then, the well-staffed investigations netted more than 1000 indictments. In this crisis, the Mortgage Fraud Task Force has only a few hundred staffers, and apparently still no easily reachable telephone.
“How many criminal referrals have been made this time?” asked Alexis Goldstein, a member of Occupy the SEC and a former financial worker herself. “A big fat zero. Obama is not leading.”
Goldstein called on Obama to direct the Justice Department to reallocate substantial resources to the Mortgage Fraud Task Force to put some bankers in jail.
“We did it in the ’80s,” she said. “We did it under Reagan. We’ve seen more bankers brought to jail under George W. Bush than we’ve seen bankers brought to jail under Obama. Where is the investigation?”
The clock is ticking. New York’s statute of limitations closes the books on lawsuits for these sorts of banking crimes after six years. Four years after the crisis, the window for any accountability is closing fast.
Without convictions, Goldstein said, financial crimes and the resulting crisis can only repeat themselves. “Wall Street bankers make their decisions based on cost-benefit analysis,” she said. “If no one goes to jail, guess what the cost is. Nothing. What’s the cost for crime? Nothing. If no one goes to jail, it sends a message: Defraud as much as you can.”
On a recent MSNBC appearance, New York Attorney General Schneiderman promised Chris Hayes that if he came to believe the administration wasn’t serious about prosecuting the crimes that helped cause the economy to collapse, he’d quit the task force.
“Our strategy with this action is to put the pressure on Schneiderman,” said Aaron Bornstein, an organizer with Foreclose the Banks. “We want to hold him to that promise, to put his credibility and reputation on the line, so he has to do something or walk away.”
Obama will be back in town June 14th for another fundraising event hosted by Sarah Jessica Parker. F the Banks and the Campaign for a Fair Settlement will be back again then.