Too Big to Do Time?: Fed Wrist-slap for Wachovia Bank Makes a Farce of the Drug War
The U.S. government won convictions against 23,506 drug traffickers nationwide during 2010, sending 96 percent of the offenders to prison, according to U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics.
Yet one of the biggest entities busted by the feds for involvement in drug trafficking last year received just a wrist-slap deal from federal prosecutors with nobody getting prison time.
During 2010, the U.S. government also won convictions against 806 persons involved in smaller-time drug-related money laundering, sending nearly 77 percent of those offenders to prison.
Yet when it came to a case involving billions of dollars in illegal drug profits, the federal government gave the same unusual wrist-slap to the same entity caught giving greed-blinded assistance to Mexican drug cartels by laundering billions of dollars in illegal profits for them.
So, what is this entity that federal prosecutors found worthy of big breaks for its laundering of billions of dollars, and for its blatant facilitating or tons of smuggled cocaine?
Meet Wachovia – once the nation’s sixth largest bank by assets and now a part of Wells Fargo Bank… a too-big-to-fail bank that for the feds is apparently too-big-to jail.
Wachovia recently completed what amounted to a year-long probation arising from a March 2010 settlement deal with federal prosecutors who were pursuing criminal proceedings against Wachovia for its facilitating of illegal money transfers from Mexico totaling $378-billion…a staggering sum greater than half of the Pentagon's annual budget, which included billions of dollars traced directly to violent Mexican drug cartels.
The record $160-million fine slapped on Wachovia under terms of that settlement deal included a $50-million assessment for failing to monitor cash used to ship into the US 22 tons of cocaine. (That fine amounted to less than two percent of Wachovia's profits during the prior year.)
Wells Fargo now owns Wachovia. Wells Fargo, federal prosecutors stress, was not involvement in the misdeeds that landed Wachovia in court, where it received a deferred prosecution deal.
Wells Fargo purchased Wachovia in early 2009 for $12.7-billion, shortly after Wells Fargo had received $25-billion in federal bail-out funds from the TARP program. That purchase helped make Wells Fargo America’s second-largest bank.
Many condemn the federal government settlement with Wachovia as a farce.
Criticism has come from persons in law enforcement frustrated by big-bank involvement in laundering drug money and from those who claim federal drug enforcement practices provide bigger breaks to drug kingpins than to low-level operators.
“All the law enforcement people wanted to see this come to trial. But no one goes to jail,” said Martin Woods, an English expert on anti-money laundering, whose work while with Wachovia’s London office helped unravel the drug connections. Woods says Wachovia officials bashed him for his investigative diligence and whistle-blowing as an employee.