A federal justice quiz — which merits a prison sentence:
1) Accepting at least $81,000 in secret money, breaking campaign-finance laws and conspiring with others to do so.
2) Violating the Bank Secrecy Act, Trading with the Enemies Act and other U.S. Sanctions that could have helped launder billions of dollars for Mexican drug lords and financial interests in state sponsors of terror such as Cuba and Iran.
It’s a no-brainer. Number 1 is a ticket to the slammer.
Just look at the difference in treatment between the cases involving Justin Lamar Sternad and HSBC Bank.
On Wednesday, Sternad is scheduled to plead guilty to three federal charges that he conspired with as-yet unnamed coconspirators to break campaign-finance laws and falsely file financial disclosures in his doomed campaign for Congressional District 26.
Meantime, the folks at HSBC suffered little despite running one of the most-corrupt banking operations the nation has seen in modern times. There’s a new term for these untouchable financiers: “banksters.”
Unlike Sternad, the “banksters” are too big to jail and often too big to prosecute in the federal system.
When banksters are caught committing billions of dollars of financial impropriety, the Obama-Holder Justice Department gives them what are called “deferred prosecution agreements.” The banksters admit some wrongdoing, pay fines (far smaller than the profits from their illegal activity), never go to trial and face no jail or prison time.
Sternad, linked to a scheme tied to former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, never had the chance of deferred prosecution. He’s too small. And that’s the lesson: if you commit a crime, do it with billions of dollars if you can.
Be a bankster, not a gangster.
In explaining why HSBC escaped criminal prosecution, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny Breuer essentially admitted he was worried about the effects on the economy.
“In trying to reach a result that’s fair and just and powerful, you also have to look at the collateral consequences,” Breuer said at a news conference last December announcing the deferred prosecution deal.
So justice isn’t blind when it comes to examining well-heeled bankers and the economy. No wonder banks are merging. Bankers won’t get prosecuted.
From a do-jail-time perspective, it’s essentially ok if, as HSBC admitted “at least $881 million in drug trafficking proceeds, including proceeds of drug trafficking by the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico and the Norte del Valle Cartel in Colombia, were laundered through HSBC Bank USA without being detected.”
HSBC had to pay a $1.92 billion fine, about five weeks of income. Sternad could do up to five years in prison. He has been embarrassed, outed in The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald and then captured by 11 news cameras on the day he was charged, Feb. 22.
On the same day Sternad was charged, eight other defendants in unrelated cases also had hearings.
Two faced facing cocaine charges. If they were employees of HSBC as it helped drug traffickers profit, they might not have ever seen the inside of a courtroom.
Then there was Maximiliano Nestor Juarez, charged with bulk-cash smuggling for allegedly trying to hide $30,500 in cash, stuffed in a fanny pack, an envelope, his computer bag and in “a sock that was concealed in his groin area.”