By David Dayen, author of Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud.
You could spread around a lot of blame for the current state of our two-tiered system of justice and lack of accountability, particularly as it relates to the financial sector. But if you wanted to find the most pathetic figure involved in that whole rigamarole, all roads lead to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.
As a refresher for non-obsessives, Miller was the somewhat highly regarded law enforcer put in charge of the 50-state Attorney General investigation after revelations around the end of 2010 that mortgage servicing companies, mortgage-backed trustees and their law firms were issuing false documents in foreclosure cases on a mass scale to cover up busted chains of title on securitized loans. (I, er, wrote a book on this.) Within days of being announced as the lead investigator, we learned that Miller received $261,000 from banking interests for his re-election campaign – 88 times more than he ever took in the previous decade – and that he personally asked bank lawyers for contributions. Miller then famously told community groups in Iowa that “we will put people in jail” for foreclosure fraud, only days later his office backtracked and said they weren’t referring to foreclosure fraud but some separate mortgage fraud investigation in Iowa (which he didn’t put people in jail for either), and then days after that he called the case “inherently civil,” and days after that he appeared at the Senate Banking Committee and admitted he had two settlement negotiations with Bank of America within the first month of the vaunted investigation. I could go on, but why bother? Whatever his outlook going into the investigation, Miller folded within first contact with the system, and became Washington’s lackey for a settlement that didn’t even rise to the level of a slap on the wrist.
So it was no surprise to dig up a public comment he made a couple weeks ago to the Department of Education, praising civil settlements for corporate crimes rather than holding individuals and corporations accountable for their wrongdoing. This paean to settlements couldn’t come from a better source.
Just as Miller quickly settled out foreclosure abuses, he opted for a national settlement with for-profit college chain Education Management Corporation (EDMC) after they misled prospective students with bogus job placement statistics. No executive saw handcuffs or restrictions on their bonuses from that either. But after a series of these incidents, and outcry from student groups who were forced to pay back their loans to colleges that defrauded them, the Education Department was belatedly pressured into issuing a rule providing a streamlined debt forgiveness process.