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Waters Calls for Aggressive Prosecution of Financial Institutions Involved in Drug Money Laundering

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, lit up a committee hearing Wednesday by calling for aggressive prosecution of financial institutions involved in the laundering of illegal drug money.

The hearing, held by the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Financial Services, focused on the question of whether large financial institutions are immune from federal prosecution. Mythili Raman, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, appeared as the sole witness.

Congresswoman Waters has long been critical of the disparity between the aggressive prosecution of individuals caught with illegal drugs and the lack of prosecution of large financial institutions and their officers which facilitate the drug trade.

Link to video of Ranking Member Waters’ statement and questions

Statement of the Honorable Maxine Waters
Hearing of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
House Financial Services Committee
“Who is Too Big to Fail: Are Large Financial Institutions Immune from Federal Prosecution”?

As delivered

Thank you very much; I’ll like to continue some discussion about drugs. This testimony was started by my colleague here, Mr. Heck, but I would like to take a little different spin on it. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the war on drugs a critical time to shine a spotlight on 40 years of failed policy. Since the declaration of the war on drugs 40 years ago America has spent at least $1 trillion on the drug war. It has cost US taxpayers at least 51 billion in 2009 at the state and federal level. That’s $169  per every man, woman and child in America – and that’s not counting opportunity cost or cost at the local level.

Millions of people have been incarcerated for low-level drug law violations, resulting in drastic racial disparities in the prison system, yet drug overdose addiction and misuse are more prevalent than ever. The number of people behind bars for drug law violations rose for from 50 thousand in 1980, to more than a half million today, an 11 hundred percent increase. Drug arrests have more than tripled in the last 25 years totaling more than 1.63 million arrests in 2010, more than four out of these five arrests were from mere possession and 46 percent of these arrests were from marijuana possession alone. Arrests and incarcerations for drugs even for the first time low-level violations can result in debilitating collateral consequences for an individual and their families.

I have worked on something called mandatory minimum sentencing for the last 20 years. I hold workshops every year at the CBC legislative weekend conference. And we worked on trying to bring about some justice in the area of mandatory minimum sentencing, where we had all these young people who had been incarcerated.

Five grams of crack cocaine triggered five-year mandatory minimum sentence, 50 grams of crack cocaine triggered a 10-year sentence. I can go on and on about this.

But you can understand why when I see that we have some of the biggest banks in the world who get a slap on the wrist for laundering drug money from the drug cartels and they are not going to jail and this keeps happening year after year after year. I don’t believe… it is hard to believe that we don’t understand how they launder this money, but we know this – if there was no profit, if they were not able to launder this money, perhaps we wouldn’t have drugs on the street, with all these young people getting arrested and basically some of them not criminals, just stupid, getting involved with small amounts of crack cocaine and yet we have some of the richest most powerful banks in the world who are laundering drug money from the drug cartels. Why don’t they go to jail?

Mythili Raman, U.S. Department of Justice: I think I can respond to your…

Waters: I can’t hear you.

Mythili Raman: I can respond to your question in a couple of ways. First and foremost, the bank entity of course cannot go to jail. The bank entity, when we are talking about a corporate entity the punishment that we get, are able to secure, comes in the form of monetary penalties a period under which they must engage in remedial action or cooperate with the United States and its investigations so our cases we are focused on ensuring that we understand how much of these crime proceeds that you are referring to have flowed through a bank and when we determined that we seek to forfeit that money or we seek to find…

Waters: Excuse me, and I don’t want to interrupt you, take too much time, but we know what you do. It’s what you do that we don’t like. What you do is they get fined, it’s the cost of doing business, these fines, and I know maybe you can’t incarcerate a corporate entity, but are you telling me that the CEOs and those who are responsible for the operations of the banks, the boards, the presidents nobody can have criminal violations because of the laundering of money in the bank.

Mythili Raman: We in the criminal division in fact established a money laundering and bank integrity unit that is focused on prosecuting precisely these kinds of cases including professional money launderers and the entities in which they work.
Waters: But you have not sent anybody to jail.

Mythili Raman:  We have prosecuted innumerable money laundering cases involving persons that assist drug and other criminal organizations in laundering their money. So we are committed in doing that when we have resolved any such cases with bank entities those resolutions have not in the least precluded the possibility of individual…

Waters: Well, let me just say this because I guess we can go on with this conversation and I appreciate the time here, but you have not prosecuted anybody, you have not sent anybody to jail, as a matter of fact the most shameful case that I won’t mention were hundreds of millions of dollars were laundered though one of the biggest banks in the world and they got away with a hefty fine and this goes on and on and on. It’s unacceptable. It’s not your fault, it’s not a personal attack on you, but it’s about the system. It’s about the Justice Department. Something needs to be done.

These kids they go to jail and do five years for 5 grams of crack cocaine, you tell me that they are more guilty then the presidents of banks who have the responsibility of running that bank don’t know that drug money is going through the bank? I don’t think so.

Thank you Mr. Chairman I yield the balance of my time.


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