Over decades, conservatives in Washington "deregulated" Wall Street, letting crafty opportunists concoct hazardous investment schemes. The worst involved mass sales of subprime mortgages to low-income families who couldn't afford them. The mortgages were "bundled" into derivative securities, given an undeserved top-grade AAA rating, and peddled to investors around the world.
When this house of cards collapsed in 2008, it triggered the Great Recession that wiped out millions of jobs, threw many U.S. families into foreclosure, and severely injured America's economy. Investors lost more than $20 billion.
It's annoying that no Wall Street grifter has been prosecuted criminally in this nightmare. But at least a major civil fraud suit was filed last week by a federal task force created by the Obama administration's Justice Department. The task force's co-leader, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, demanded restitution for deceitful actions by Bear Stearns, now a division of JPMorgan Chase.
The suit -- filed before statutes of limitations expire -- is expected to be the first in a wave of civil fraud cases. Well, it's about time.
Last week's filing said Bear Stearns made "material misrepresentations" (translation: lies) about the worthless derivatives it peddled. Even worse, when Bear Stearns forced some originators to buy back doomed securities, it simply kept the money instead of forwarding it to suckers -- er, investors -- to whom it had sold the bundled units.
The task force suit is a second major blow against JPMorgan Chase this year, after the giant investment bank lost $6 billion in complex trading orchestrated by a dealer dubbed the "London whale."
Millions of investors and pension funds around the world have little choice but to trust Wall Street operators who offer AAA-rated securities. The subprime mortgage cesspool showed that Wall Street cannot be trusted. Faith has been shattered.It's disappointing that none of these tricksters has gone to prison. But at least justice is being pursued through civil action.