In the wreckage of the 2008 financial crisis many Americans looked for someone to blame. The official explanations came in waves.
First there was the “these things just happen” story. It was essentially what Wall Street and Corporate America wanted people to believe, which the mainstream media (owned by them) happily repeated with an awe shucks demeanor. You could practically see the journalists looking into the sky, arms outstretched, cursing the heavens for man’s precarious existence.
The narrative is best epitomized by JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon telling Congress in 2010 during a hearing on the financial crisis “Not to be funny about it, but my daughter asked me when she came home from school ‘what’s the financial crisis,’ and I said,’Well it’s something that happens every five to seven years.'”
But that explanation was unsatisfactory to a number of constituencies, including the elite who knew the political system could not survive another bailout given the lack of trust between the haves and increasingly numerous have-nots.
So next came the more familiar attempt to let partisan blame-gaming take hold. Democrats would mostly blame deregulation and Republicans would mostly blame poor people, especially poor black people. Nothing criminal mind you, just one interest group gaining too much power over the other.
The “business as usual” story also failed to satisfy most Americans. Though deregulation surely played a role and perhaps poor minorities lied on loan applications, neither could comprehensively explain the 08′ crisis or do anything to prevent the next one.
The last wave finally hit home. The explanation that stuck was that the Wall Street banks had committed massive fraud both in the securitization of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and the sale of those securities to other financial institutions. When the fraud got too big to manage the entire system came crashing down, taking the real economy with it and causing the so-called Great Recession.
A few years after his “these things just happen” testimony before Congress, Dimon and his fellow Too Big To Fail bank CEOs were in discussions with regulators that would ultimately lead to some of the biggest fines in US history for financial fraud.
Despite the record settlements and fines, none of the Wall Street executives responsible for bringing the global economy to its knees would face criminal prosecution. Zero. Nadda.
But during this same period and well before, one man from the financial services industry would actually face the full power and force of the US government for his activities, his name was Vincent McCrudden.
A Very Small Fish
McCrudden was never, by any measure, a serious risk to the financial system. Even at the height of his earnings, he was not remotely a rival to the titans of Wall Street. Nonetheless, the US government has spent over a decade investigating and prosecuting him with breathtaking zeal.
The same prosecutors and regulators, including current Attorney General Loretta Lynch, have gone all-in on locking up this nominal player in the financial markets with no discernible victims: none of his investors took significant losses nor has any public or private institution been damaged by his activities.
Vince McCrudden started his Wall Street career in 1985 at the New York Commodity Exchange as a runner before working his way up to a licensed broker focusing on gold, silver, an foreign exchange (FX) options. After some success moving around different firms while primarily staying in the FX options markets, McCruden starts his own hedge fund, Commodity Pool, in 1995.
The fund officially launched in February 1996 with only $233,000 after other investors backed out. In May 1996, McCrudden began having serious problems and by June, McCrudden’s fund was down $330,000 from poor trading in copper futures. McCrudden insists the loses were damaging but “not fatal.”
After seeing an article about it that August, and looking to recoup some of his losses, McCrudden joined a class action lawsuit against Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan and other banks which are alleged to have been running a years-long scheme to manipulate the copper market.
JPMorgan was under considerable scrutiny for its business practices in the copper market at that time. In 1997, the Federal Bank of New York reprimanded JPMorgan for the firm’s “lax controls and supervision in its commodities lending business,” which is noted in a New York Times story about JPMorgan’s pioneering use of derivatives to help a commodities trader, Yasuo Hamanaka, take huge risks in the copper market.
JPMorgan loaned Hamanaka $535 million, which the trader used to try and manipulate the copper market. The loans were structured as derivatives according to a lawsuit filed by Hamanka’s employer, Japanese-based Sumitomo Corporation bank. Sumitomo ended up taking $2.6 billion worth of loses thanks to Hamanka’s bad trades.
While hoping for a settlement, which he believed would be in the millions, McCrudden continued to trade for the fund and continued to take loses. McCrudden closed the fund in 1997 and used a methodology called notional accounting, to present the books in anticipation of receiving funds from a legal settlement.
McCrudden claims it was his regulators, the National Futures Association (NFA) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), that told him to use notional accounting in lieu of the standard method known as General Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Part of the agreement was to submit a GAAP-based yearend audit, which McCrudden said he complied with.
A Tragic Pissing Match
Despite McCrudden’s assuarances, one of the partners hired a former assistant US attorney named Andrew Tomback who worked for the law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP to ensure he was paid back. McCrudden claims he gave Tomback all relevant information needed to prove that nothing improper was going on.
According to McCrudden, Tomback aggressively harassed McCrudden to pay the investors back, an effort that included sending threatening letters. McCrudden says he told Tomack to “fuck off” and the back and forth went on from 1997 to 2000.
McCrudden also takes issue with Tomback’s supposed conflict of interest as Milbank was also representing JPMorgan in the class action lawsuit McCrudden was a part of. There’s no evidence that played a role in their dispute.
What there is some at least circumstantial evidence for, is that McCrudden royally pissed off Tomback and that Tomback used his government connections to get back at McCrudden.
Arrest And Trial
In May 2000, Vincent McCrudden was arrested by the FBI and charged with mail fraud for his accounting practices (and subsequently transmitting them through the mail).
McCrudden claims Tomback told McCrudden’s lawyer that “I had your boy arrested.” This can not be verified.
The prosecution of the case is done under future US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, then United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
In June 2000, the case against McCrudden is dismissed without prejudice, giving prosecutors an opening to bring the case at a later time.
In May 2002, prosecutors do just that and McCrudden is arrested again on the same charges under new US Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf.
Also in May of that year, McCrudden receives the funds from the settlement from the class action case and says he made all his investors and partners whole.
Nonetheless, McCrudden’s case goes to trial in September 2003, where after two and half weeks of testimony and evidence he is acquitted of all charges by a jury-a total defeat for the government, which has been notoriously shy about bringing the criminals responsible for the 2008 to trial at all.
Though McCrudden prevailed in court, he clearly upset some powerful people within the futures trading industry. Whether this was due to a disparagement campaign by Tomback behind the scenes, embarrassment related to going to trial for mail fraud, or McCrudden’s brusque personality is unknown.
For whatever reason, the NFA appears to be looking for ways to not give McCrudden his trading license back in 2004. The NASD Series 3 license had lapsed and had to be re-issued by the NFA.
McCrudden also does something truly ill-advised (I say with irony) in 2004: he starts a blog. McCrudden begins slamming regulatory officials as corrupt and then disseminating the information to people throughout the industry.
In 2005, the NFA denies McCrudden his license citing a vague catchall statute in the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA). The NFA does not cite any particular transgression.
McCrudden appeals the decision and loses. Unknown to him at the time, losing his NASD Series 3 license means he is ineligible for other licenses he requires to work in the industry.
In 2008, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) comes after McCrudden for “failure to uphold high standards,” which will ultimately result in fines and suspension for McCrudden in 2010.
Yes, the NFA, CFC, SEC, US Attorney Office of East New York, and FINRA have all been part of investigations and prosecution and sanction efforts on a D-list commodities trader who has never actually lost anyone any serious money.
Your tax dollars at work.
During the same period of time that the government was relentlessly going after Vincent McCrudden, major and systemically important criminal activity was going on on Wall Street. Activity federal regulators have been warned about at the time such as the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and rampant fraud in the mortgage security market.
Federal regulators not only took no action to stop these crimes, they refused to even investigate them. And, after the damage was done and the economy on its knees, refused to prosecute or seriously sanction the wrongdoers.
McCrudden is now well-crushed. His “threats” landed him in prison multiple times and he is essentially finished in the securities and futures industry.
Those whose criminality damaged the futures of a generation of Americans have moved on unpunished and well-rewarded. Goldman Sachs alumni are set to staff the new White House just like they staffed the old one.
The philosopher Anarcharsis once remarked of Ancient Greece, “These decrees of yours are no different from spiders’ webs. They’ll restrain anyone weak and insignificant who gets caught in them, but they’ll be torn to shreds by people with power and wealth.”
Same as it ever was.