If you blinked, you probably missed this. The SEC announced Friday that GE Funding would pay a mere $70.4 million (chump change to these people) to settle charges of bid-rigging.
When I was a reporter, the scale of fraud involved in this kind of thing drove me crazy, because no matter how carefully I’d report it, it was too complicated for most readers (and some politicians) to grasp. Yet it costs them real money.
I remember that during the Carter administration, the Department of Justice published a report called “Corruption: The Hidden Tax”. They estimated that government spending on all levels – federal, state, municipal – was inflated by 30 percent due to fraud. (That was in the 70s. Imagine how bad it is now.)
Now, think about that. Your tax bills are much higher than they need to be, because so many people are taking a cut off the top. Municipal bonds are a particularly scummy pond of corruption, and the practice that’s described here is widespread. There are “safeguards” built into the bidding system that requires the issuing company to get their bid certified by another “competing” bank – but as we’ve all learned over the past few years, there’s no real competition. They’re all in bed together. It’s common practice for them to rubber stamp each other’s deals, safe in the knowledge that soon they’ll have their own turn at the trough:
Dec. 23 (Bloomberg) — General Electric Co. agreed to pay $70.4 million to settle a criminal probe and civil claims for conspiring to rig bids on U.S. municipal-bond deals, overcharging state and local governments on investments.
GE Funding Capital Market Services, a former unit, is the fifth company to settle in a more than five-year federal investigation. The deal will resolve probes by the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service as well as attorneys general in 25 states, the Justice Department said today in a statement.
“GE Funding’s former traders entered into illegal agreements to manipulate the bidding process on municipal investment contracts,” said Sharis A. Pozen, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s antitrust division. “This anticompetitive conduct harmed municipalities as well as taxpayers.”
The settlement will bring to $743 million the amount that banks have paid to end the case, some of which is being returned to localities that were overcharged, the SEC said in a news release. Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., UBS AG and Wells Fargo & Co. previously settled similar cases.
As long as there are no consequences that fit their crimes, the crimes will continue.