- Critics say by naming payment processors in massive enforcement action over debt collection practices, CFPB is implementing its own version of Operation Choke Point [Kent Hoover/Business Journals; Barbara Mishkin, Ballard Spahr; Iain Murray, CEI]
- Green sprout in Amish country: “Bank of Bird-in-Hand is the only new bank to open in the U.S. since 2010, when the Dodd-Frank law was passed” [WSJ via Tyler Cowen; Kevin Funnell on smothering of new (de novo) bank formation; Ira Stoll (auto-plays ad) on growth of non-bank lenders]
- “Quicken Loans Sues DOJ; Claims ‘Political Agenda’ Driving Pressure to Settle” [W$J; J.C. Reindl, Detroit Free Press]
- Shocker: after years of Sen. Warren’s tongue-lashings, some banks consider not giving to Democrats. Is that even legal? [Reuters] “Elizabeth Warren’s Extraordinarily Bad Idea For A Financial Transactions Tax” [Tim Worstall]
- Still raging on: Delaware debate about fee-shifting corporate bylaws as deterrent to low-value shareholder litigation [Prof. Bainbridge first, second, third posts]
- “How a Business Owner Becomes Criminally Liable for How Customers Spend ATM Withdrawals” [Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason]
- New York financial regulator pushes to install government monitors at firms where no misconduct has been legally established [Robert Anello, Forbes]
This is welcome news from the U.S. Department of Justice, and rather than try to rewrite I’ll just quote at length what my Cato colleague Adam Bates wrote:
[On March 31] Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines to federal prosecutors tightening the rules for seizing assets for so-called “structuring” offenses.
Under the Bank Secrecy Act, structuring occurs when someone is suspected of arranging their financial transactions as to avoid triggering a report to the federal government by the financial institution. Some of civil asset forfeiture’s most egregious abuses are the result of federal prosecutors utilizing this nebulous statute to empty the bank accounts of unwitting citizens and small businesses who are never charged with any crime or even aware that their transactions are considered illegal.
The new rules require:
1. That structuring seizures against people for whom there is no criminal charge be based upon probable cause that the funds were either generated by unlawful activity or intended for use in anticipated unlawful activity. Alternatively, prosecutors must procure a warrant from a court and with the approval of either the U.S. Attorney (for Assistant U.S. Attorneys) or the Chief of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (AFMLS) (for Criminal Division trial attorneys).
2. That when the prosecutor determines subsequent to a structuring seizure that the government lacks the necessary evidence to succeed at either a civil or criminal trial, the seizing agency must return the full amount.
3. That when a prosecutor seizes property pursuant to suspicion of structuring, the prosecutor must file either a criminal indictment or a civil complaint, or receive an exception from either a U.S. Attorney or Chief of AFMLS within 150 days or else return the seized assets.
4. That all settlements must be complete and in writing. Informal settlements are expressly prohibited.
I’ve been writing about the outrages of these structuring cases for years, especially the feds’ ambush of Randy and Karen Sowers’s successful Middletown, Md. dairy farm and ice cream maker, South Mountain Creamery. In yesterday’s Washington Post, Rachel Weiner tells how the Sowers’ story “gave civil forfeiture reformers a powerful symbol”, especially after the Institute for Justice got involved. I’m quoted:
“The South Mountain case happened to be one of these that captured the imagination,” said Walter Olson, a blogger for the libertarian Cato Institute who has written about the Sowers case. “Once you’ve bought ice cream for your kids from one of their little trucks, the name sticks in your memory.”
- Florida court blocks drug-related seizure of house as violation of Constitution’s Excessive Fines Clause [Orlando Weekly, opinion in Agresta v. Maitland]
- Deferred- and non-prosecution agreements (DPAs/NPAs) have ushered in a little-scrutinized “shadow regulatory state” [Jim Copland and Isaac Gorodetski, “Without Law or Limits: The Continued Growth of the Shadow Regulatory State,” Manhattan Institute report]
- Politicized prosecution: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman throws book at bankers for not lending in Buffalo [Conrad Black via Tim Lynch, Cato]
- Would it improve prosecutors’ incentives if localities rather than state governments paid for incarceration? [Leon Neyfakh, Slate, via David Henderson]
- Andrew Pincus on the growing danger of enforcement slush funds [U.S. Chamber, more]
- “The Department of Justice, if it succeeds on its new theory, may have criminalized many instances of dull employee misconduct.” [Matt Kaiser, Above the Law; Peter Henning, N.Y. Times “DealBook”]
- A Brooklyn mess: new D.A. looking into 70 convictions obtained with evidence from retired detective Louis Scarcella [Radley Balko]
- Administration has abused the law in mortgage lender settlements [House Judiciary hearing: Paul Larkin, Ted Frank testimony]
- Department of Justice official says banks may need to go much farther in informing authorities of customers who may be up to no good than just sending Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) [Kevin Funnell] Interpol Red Notices, which among other effects cut off banking access, are open to geopolitical manipulation [Ted Bromund, Weekly Standard]
- No, Operation Choke Point hasn’t gone away, not in the slightest [Funnell, Jared Meyer/Economics21]
- What Elizabeth Warren has done to Michael Greve’s mortgage refinance application isn’t pretty [Liberty and Law]
- Battle over loser-pays clauses in corporate governance rages on in Delaware [Reuters]
- “The U.S. government’s stupid tax war on expatriates” [Brett Arends, earlier on FATCA]
- Dodd-Frank: “Wall St. attacked, Main St. wounded” [Iain Murray]
New Cato Research Briefs in Economic Policy No. 20 takes up a question often raised in this space before [Hester Peirce, Ian Robinson, and Thomas Stratmann, Cato]
“The Justice Department plans to try and force four major banks to plead guilty to criminal antitrust charges for alleged collusion by traders in foreign-currency markets, people familiar with the discussions said.” [WSJ]
- Calvin’s refuge: how Swiss banking confidentiality undermined state despotism [Matt Welch, who also discusses how the gruesome FATCA law is proving to be the first component of an multilateral effort by OECD governments to curtail account privacy]
- Dodd-Frank compliance costs and the rapid decline of community banks [Marshall Lux and Robert Greene/Kennedy School, Carrie Sheffield, Jeff Sovern with a scoffing view; WSJ]
- “The IRS seized $242 million based on suspected structuring in more than 2,500 cases from 2005 to 2012.” [Jacob Sullum, new Institute for Justice report (PDF) by Dick Carpenter II and Larry Salzman and summary] More: new structuring case against Dubuque, Iowa widow raises question of whether feds have really followed through on promise not to press structuring charges where income is otherwise legal [AP/WHEC]
- “House Investigators: DOJ Forced Banks to Donate to Left-Wing Groups” [Joel Gehrke, NRO]
- “FDIC retreats on Operation Choke Point?” [Todd Zywicki] Rep. Luetkemeyer likely to keep up the pressure on regulators [Kevin Funnell]
- “Fed Officials Accused of Perjury in AIG Bailout Trial” [Lawrence Cunningham, Concurring Opinions]
- “Standard & Poor’s Settlement Shows Futility Of Fighting Government Policy” [Daniel Fisher, earlier]
- House Oversight Committee report finds evidence FDIC used Operation Choke Point to strangle access to banking for lawful but disliked businesses [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bloomberg, report, Kevin Funnell, HalfWheel (cigar shops), Pete Kasperowicz, The Blaze (guns), Joe Adler/American Banker (critical views)]
- “Fallout for the S.E.C. and the Justice Dept. From the Insider Trading Ruling” [Peter Henning, NYT DealBook, on challenges to previous cases; earlier]
- Congress finally trims Dodd-Frank, with a nose hair clipper. Imagine what Sen. Warren will say if it takes up a scalpel or axe [Michael Greve; but see A. Barton Hinkle defending Warren’s position; Matt Levine (“not worth caring about”)]
- Did tax policy set out to make life tough for American expatriates, or does it just seem that way? [Neil Gandal, WSJ on FATCA, FBAR, etc.]
- “Like other federal agencies, the SEC has long been good at publicizing its initial accusations of wrongdoing …not so good at letting the public know when those accusations turn out to be unfounded or an overreach” [Russell Ryan via Bainbridge, more on SEC press releases on enforcement actions]
- A market with next to no entry: “If Primary Bank, Mr. Greiner’s proposed firm, wins approval, it would be only the second new bank the FDIC has cleared in the U.S. since 2010.” [WSJ]
- “The only people who benefit from shareholder litigation over M&A deals are lawyers. Period. End of discussion.” [Stephen Bainbridge; related, Steve Bradford via Bainbridge (“Delaware’ entire fairness standard morphs into a tax on deals for the benefit of plaintiff lawyers”), earlier here, etc.]
“Fox Business Network’s John Stossel interviews US Consumer Coalition’s Brian Wise and Kat O’Connor, owner of TomKat Ammunition LLC, on the Justice Department’s Operation Choke Point.” The Gaithersburg-based ammo seller was cut off from credit card processing services and suspects that the federal Choke Point program was the reason. [cross-posted from Free State Notes; earlier on Operation Choke Point].
- “How Operation Choke Point Hurts the Unbanked” [former FDIC chairman William Isaac, American Banker]
- A nation of snitches: “U.S. rules would expand white collar crime informers” [Reuters]
- Courts should stop giving deference to agency interpretations of criminal law: “Justice Scalia’s shot across the SEC’s bow re insider trading” [Bainbridge] Judge Rakoff criticizes SEC for bringing so many enforcement proceedings to in-house adjudicators [Reuters, earlier]
- Monitor envy: “The biggest U.S. banks have 100 or more on-site examiners from an array of regulators” and now New York’s financial regulator wants to get into the act [WSJ]
- Seventh Circuit finds Bank of America entitled to ask loan applicants about expected continuing entitlement to disability benefits, but in the mean time bank agrees in DoJ settlement to cease such inquiries [Easterbrook opinion in Wigginton v. Bank of America, see last page]
- Two SEC commissioners warn that campaigned-for “fair fund” to compensate investors in CR Intrinsic inside trading case “likely to benefit only class-action attorneys and the fund’s administrators” [Daniel Gallagher and Michael Piwowar, WSJ]
- “U.S. veterans sue [major European] banks, claim they should pay for Iraq attacks” [Alison Frankel, Reuters]