"Attorney General Eric Holder, ...will probably be remembered above all for something he didn't do: prosecute top executives for their role in the 2008 financial crisis.
...Fearing a repeat of the Arthur Andersen debacle, prosecutors were careful to leave companies standing, even as they extracted tens of billions of dollars from banks for transgressions ranging from mortgage-related fraud to laundering money for drug cartels. "Some of these institutions have become too large,” Holder famously said in 2013 Senate testimony. "It has an inhibiting impact on our ability to bring resolutions that I think would be more appropriate."
The inhibition was understandable. Yet it arose because, under Holder's leadership, prosecutors lost sight of what mattered most: holding individuals, not companies, accountable for crimes. Of 21 separate actions against major financial companies from 2009 through May 2014, only eight were accompanied by charges against individuals, and none of them were high-level executives...
Could it be that nobody went to prison because no crimes were committed? This seems unlikely, at the very least. As we've noted before, more than 1,000 people were charged after the savings-and-loan bust of the 1980s, and more than 100 company officers and directors served prison terms. The accounting and other corporate scandals of the early 2000s led to criminal charges against at least 30 top-level executives, most of whom were convicted or pleaded guilty.
Failing to pursue individuals has sent executives the message that if they commit crimes, the worst that can happen is they'll lose their jobs and shareholders will have to pay up. This undermines the finance industry, and capitalism more broadly, by supporting the perception that Wall Street is a den of iniquity whose leaders operate with impunity. It fuels contempt for the country's politicians and the rule of law as well -- suggesting that the former are for hire and that the latter is a sham..."