Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

There are things going on that shouldn't be going on. There are people getting away with things who shouldn't be getting away with things. We all know that.

And then there's this interesting question: More than four years since the financial crisis, not one senior Wall Street executive has faced criminal prosecution for fraud. Are Wall Street executives "too big to jail?"

Chew on that one for a while.

Story continues below advertisement

The Untouchables (on Frontline, PBS, 10 p.m.) is a transfixing, enraging examination of why a small army of greedy-guts bank executives in bespoke suits, the ones who brought down an entire economy, are moseying around, fancy-free, and not in court or in the hoosegow.

It's fair to wonder why. And, timed as it is to air one day after Barack Obama begins his second term as President of the United States, the program is a brutal indictment of his administration.

What happened in the collapse of various banks in 2008 was mind-boggling. The U.S. economy itself came to the brink of disintegration. Look around the world at the impact and it is devastating. As we now know, a vast network of banks, all in cahoots, led Europe and the United States into recession. (A very good read on the madness in Europe is Michael Lewis's book Boomerang: Be prepared to be stunned by it.) Around Europe, former bank execs have been prosecuted and some are doing jail time. In the United States, nothing more than finger-pointing has happened.

The Frontline program, written and produced by Martin Smith, begins with an assertion by a U.S. Justice Department official that "greed is not necessarily criminal." It then looks at the difference between greed and criminality and finds copious evidence of criminal fraud.

At the core of the program is an examination of what was at the core of the banking practices that precipitated the crisis – the banks knowingly packaged and sold toxic mortgage loans to investors. These dubious loans should never have been given in the first place. The banks knew that and merrily stepped around financial safety standards to keep the game going.

Particular attention is paid to Countrywide Financial, which, in 2006, financed 20 per cent of all mortgages in the United States. Its business plan was simple, we are told – "a loan for every customer" was the motto. Even if the customer had no income. A former employee, who questioned the viability of some loans, was told, "If they can fog a mirror, we'll give 'em a loan." Total jiggery-pokery.

So mortgages, based on unverified information and inevitably headed for collapse, were sold and resold, with everybody along the banking line getting a fee, and nobody being bothered to make it stop. We hear from a "Due Diligence Underwriter," a person tasked with assessing the loans and mortgages, who says, "It wasn't uncommon for underwriters to laugh at the loans being given." But his boss would dismiss the concerns and say, "The loan looks reasonable to me." The boss's bosses would then sell a package of dubious loans to investors with an assertion that everything was fine. At one point, Countrywide was estimated to have assets of $200-billion. When it was acquired by Bank of America in 2008, its assets were estimated at only $2.8-billion.

Story continues below advertisement

What emerges is a picture of dubious practices unchecked. And then what emerges is a number of politicians and officials seething with rage that fraud charges have not been brought against key players.

A lot of people are mad at the U.S. Department of Justice for failing to press charges. Former senator Ted Kaufman (a Democrat who was appointed to fill Joe Biden's Senate seat when Biden was sworn in as Vice-President in January, 2009) was, as the program says, "determined to see bankers in handcuffs." But try as he might, nothing happened.

Kaufman left Washington in 2010. His chief of staff, Jeff Connaughton, remains perplexed that prosecuting Wall Street was never a priority for the Obama administration: "You're telling me that not one banker, not one executive on Wall Street, not one player in this entire financial crisis committed provable fraud?" he asks incredulously. "I mean, I just don't believe that."

Eventually, there is a sort-of explanation from Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney-general for the Department of Justice's criminal division. Wringing his hands and obviously a bit nervous, he says, "I think there was a level of greed, a level of excessive risk taking in this situation that I find abominable and very upsetting. But that is not what makes a criminal case."

And yet, as Frontline finds, there is considerable evidence of fraud. "Very upsetting" is what you'll find this excellent exposé. Talk about getting away with it. You and I couldn't get away with it.

All times ET. Check local listings.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies