Audit Notes: Why No Charges?, ABC on Collections, SEC Whiff

I’m no lawyer, but I’m pretty sure I can argue against this statement, by law prof Peter J. Helling, who writes “White Collar Watch for The New York Times’s DealBook:

One possible reason for the lack of prosecutions involving senior executives is the Supreme Court’s ruling in Skilling v. United States, involving Jeffrey K. Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron, that limits the right of honest services provision, 18 U.S.C. § 1346, for criminal fraud prosecutions to just those cases involving bribes and kickbacks. It is now impossible to pursue cases against corporate executives for questionable conduct that involved some measure of dishonesty that caused harm to the company unless it also resulted in the person lining his or her own pocket.

The Supreme Court decided Skilling v. U.S. three months ago. The financial crisis began more than three years ago. Somehow I’m doubting that we were about to see a flood of cases against Wall Street until the Supremes stepped in.

ABC News reports on bill collectors verbally abusing folks who got behind on their payments.

“What’s up, you f—-ing n—-r?” said one of the collection agents in a message to 32-year old Allen Jones of Dallas, who owed $81 on his Bank of America credit card…

In a message left a few minutes later, the debt collection agent told Jones, “You little, lazy ass bitch, get your mother f—-ing ass up and go pick some mother f—-ing cotton fields, bitch.”

That collector was fresh out of prison. Oh, but this is an extreme example, you say.

For the last three years, complaints about debt collections and their tactics have been the number one source of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission. In the first half of 2010, the FTC received over 65,000 complaints from consumers.

It’s worth noting that Bank of America continued using the collection firm who made the abusive calls even after Jones won a $1.5 million judgment against it. It continued using it until ABC started asking questions.

— What were they thinking over there at the SEC? We’ve all wondered that innumerable times in the last few years. None more so, perhaps, than its failure to heed Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolos’s detailed, insistent, and persistent warnings. But surely the SEC (and the Department of Justice) couldn’t possibly screw up a case where a Ponzi schemer walked into their offices and confessed to his crime. Right?

Well, yeah they could.

Crain’s New York’s Aaron Elstein points to (subscription) the case of a Queens preacher who the feds let free after laying out to them how he squandered $10 million of his church’s money in a Ponzi scheme:

Over several meetings with federal authorities through January 2006, Mr. Ovid “confess[ed] his wrongdoing,” states a court document. That wrongdoing entailed cheating about 70 church members and their families—including the founding minister, who lost his life savings.

But rather than arresting and charging Mr. Ovid, the feds let him go free, according to a recent review of his case file by Crain’s. Mr. Ovid returned to his native Trinidad, where he enrolled in an M.B.A. program and got a job at a construction management firm.

It wasn’t until three years later—while on a business trip to Florida in March 2009—that Mr. Ovid was arrested.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.