Marijuana Consumers Go To Prison While Cartel Bankers Get Bonuses

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Sell Weed To Pay Rent And Get Prison Time. Launder Nine Billion Dollars For Drug Cartels And Get Bonuses!

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is the best journalist out there explaining the world of high-finance criminality that is allowed to flout the law, ransack our tax dollars, and never get truly punished time and time again.  This time, his reporting on the financial settlement with British megabank HSBC shows how the high-finance criminals finance your high and profit handsomely while you go to prison if you try to profit.

Assistant Attorney General and longtime Bill Clinton pal Lanny Breuer...  this week signed off on a settlement deal with the British banking giant HSBC.... Despite the fact that HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels (among others) and violating a host of important banking laws (from the Bank Secrecy Act to the Trading With the Enemy Act), Breuer and his Justice Department elected not to pursue criminal prosecutions of the bank, opting instead for a "record" financial settlement of $1.9 billion, which as one analyst noted is about five weeks of income for the bank.

Wow.  Let's assume you're a contract bookkeeper for some company and you make the US median household income of $45,000 a year.  Now let's pretend your weed dealer friend gave you $20,000 of his profit every month for years to deposit in your company's accounts to launder it.  Now let's imagine that you're caught by police, you admit all of this to them, you're facing decades in prison and they say, "that's OK, we're not going to arrest you or charge you with any crimes.  Would you take a settlement of a $4,300 civil fine instead?"

Keep in mind, you're not actually going to be on the hook for the $4,300.  Your company is going to pay that for you.  Not only that, but you even get to keep your job and some of the bonuses you earned for being the guy who brought $20,000 worth of monthly income in to the company.  This is from the Asst. AG Breuer:

As a result of the government's investigation, HSBC has . . . "clawed back" deferred compensation bonuses given to some of its most senior U.S. anti-money laundering and compliance officers, and agreed to partially defer bonus compensation for its most senior officials during the five-year period of the deferred prosecution agreement.

That's right, the feds caught you laundering some weed dealer's $20,000 a month red-handed, you openly admitted it to them, and not only are you not charged with any crimes, you "agreed" to keep your job, your company pays your $4,300 fine, and you get some of your bonus for bringing in the drug money now and the rest in five years.  Why do you get such preferred treatment?  Because if we actually seized your company's ill-gotten assets and prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned you, your company might go under.

As the New York Times puts it:

Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system.

What a relief!  You might have been worried, figuring that really, you're just another bookkeeper, there are lots of them out there, and your company has been around since 1865 and did fine without you all those decades.  Turns out, you're the best goddamn bookkeeper in history and without you walking the streets and enjoying your bonuses, the entire planet will be cast into financial ruin.

Now the banks aren't just too big to fail.  They're too big to jail.  Taibbi nails it:

They're now saying that if you're not an important cog in the global financial system, you can't get away with anything, not even simple possession. You will be jailed and whatever cash they find on you they'll seize on the spot, and convert into new cruisers or toys for your local SWAT team, which will be deployed to kick in the doors of houses where more such inessential economic cogs as you live. ... On the other hand, if you are an important person, and you work for a big international bank, you won't be prosecuted even if you launder nine billion dollars. Even if you actively collude with the people at the very top of the international narcotics trade, your punishment will be far smaller than that of the person at the very bottom of the world drug pyramid.

By the way, the $1.9 billion settlement the government will recoup from HSBC is close to the almost $1.8 billion in asset forfeitures the federal government took from us "inessential economic cogs" in 2010.  That figure does not include what state and local agencies took from us in drug asset forfeiture cases.

Republished with special permission from the National Cannabis Coalition

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