Why Is It So Hard to Prosecute Wall Street Executives?

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Either the financial crisis was entirely an accident, the product of individual and institutional neglect, or somewhere along the way the wizards of the U.S. financial system allowed fraud to compromise their decision making.

It is a broad stroke, but an important one, and the late-2000s financial crisis, which triggered the deepest recession since the Great Depression, must be painted with it. Writing in the January 9 edition of The New York Review of Books, Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York, explains why. If it was simply neglect, Judge Rakoff writes, then “criminal law has no role to play in the aftermath. But if, by contrast, the Great Recession was in material part the product of intentional fraud, the failure to prosecute those responsible must be judged one of the more egregious failures of the criminal justice system in many years.”

That is, if there was criminal wrongdoing, then where have the criminal prosecutions been? Wall Street has all but drowned in an ocean of finger pointing, and Judge Rakoff addresses the question that has cut through all the noise yet still lacks a compelling answer: Why have no high-level executives been prosecuted in relation to the financial crisis?

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