There was a major development last week in the nation's collective desire to send at least one Wall Street big shot to jail after the financial crisis.
Normally, after a financial collapse and crash like the one we had, Wall Streeters are rounded up in packs, vilified, and incarcerated.
This time, however, no big shot has been so much as charged with anything, let alone sent to jail.
(The reason for this, which no regulator or Congress-person will admit, is because the vast majority of what happened in the years leading up to the financial crisis was legal, courtesy of silly laws championed by the industry and enacted by Congress. But Congress can't admit that, so Congress instead blames prosecutors and regulators for being too wimpy.)
But now it has become clear that at least one crime was committed at a major Wall Street bank.
MF Global used customer funds to pay off non-customer debts while frantically trying to save itself.
So the question is whether the government will be able to prove that MF Global knew it was misusing customer funds when it did it (I'm not an attorney, but as with other financial crimes, I believe that, to be considered a crime, this action has to be intentional--the "perp" has to know what he or she is doing and know that it's wrong. If you know more, please add your thoughts below.)
New evidence turned up by government investigators suggests that MF Global did know what it was doing. It also suggests that, more importantly, MF Global's CEO, Jon Corzine, personally ordered MF Global to transfer client funds.
In a memo, Congressional investigators describe the chain of events and evidence in these findings.
In reading the memo, it seems clear that at least some executives at MF Global knew that what they were doing might be wrong: The assistant Treasurer, Edith O'Brien, was apparently reluctant to sign a letter attesting that the transfer did not involve client funds. And she plans to take the fifth at a Congressional hearing this week.
The letter also makes clear what Mr. Corzine's defense will probably be:
Either that he was told the funds were wired from MF Global's account, an assertion that a later email supports. Or that he was told the firm had enough "excess" cash in the customer account that it could transfer the money without breaching its regulatory requirements.
Financial firms are allowed to transfer money from customer accounts as long as there is enough "excess" cash in those accounts. So, Mr. Corzine's defense could be that he thought there was enough "excess" cash in the customer account that $175 million could be transferred out of it without breaching the level required by regulators.
If that is, in fact, what Mr. Corzine thought, that's a perfectly reasonable defense.
Anyway, this new evidence will make next week's Congressional hearing into the MF Global collapse much more exciting.
- Wall Streeters