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Before U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder rides into the sunset—to be succeeded (pending Senate confirmation) by President Barack Obama’s nominee, Loretta Lynch—he is acting the lawman one final time.
In a speech at the National Press Club this week, he said he’s instructed Department of Justice lawyers to decide in the next 90 days whether they can bring viable civil or criminal cases against individual executives for actions that helped precipitate the financial crisis in 2008.
Holder has been criticized for launching few successful fraud or money laundering prosecutions against individuals in the aftermath of the mortgage meltdown. Holder has denied that his department has followed a de facto policy of ‘too big to jail’ in pursuing big banks and their top executives.
Karen Petrou at Federal Financial Analytics says dragging individual executives into court at this point might help deter future bad behavior by bankers.
“If you prosecute a few high-profile individuals and make it clear it’s not good enough to just make speeches about corporate ethics, that could well bring it home,” says Petrou. “That’s as opposed to abstract corporate sanctions which are ultimately paid for by taxpayers and shareholders.”
Under Holder, the DOJ has been aggressive in the past few years in pursuing civil settlements with big banks for alleged financial wrongdoing—levying $36 billion in aggregate penalties against JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America.
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