Reprinted from neweconomicperspectives.org
On April 9, 1987, twenty-eight years ago today, my colleagues and I from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco (FHLBSF) met with five senators at the behest of the most notorious savings and loan (S&L) fraud -- Charles Keating. Keating was looting Lincoln Savings through classic "accounting control fraud" techniques. Our examiners and enforcement investigation led by Anne Sobol (detailed from Litigation Division) had discovered and documented some of Keating's worst frauds. Keating, desperate to prevent our recommendation that the federal agency place Lincoln Saving into conservators (removing Keating from power), used the five senators to try to pressure us into taking no enforcement action against Lincoln Savings and its officers for the largest violation of rules in the history of our agency.
The agency's statutory authority to place a state-chartered S&L like Lincoln Savings into conservatorship had lapsed so Bank Board Chairman Edwin Gray could not act on our recommendation until Congress passed legislation restoring our power. The five Senators, of course, would have a great deal to say about whether and when that legislation was passed. Because we refused to give in to their intimidation, the Keating Five helped ensure that the power to remove Keating from power was not passed until after Gray's term ended -- and President Reagan's cynical secret deal with Speaker of the House James Wright ensured that Reagan would not reappoint Gray.
Gray's successor, M. Danny Wall, was a Republican political staffer whose boss, Senator Jake Gran, after a single meeting with Keating had his number and refused to ever meet with him again. But the lesson Wall took from seeing Gray reduced to roadkill at the hands of Speaker Wright and the Keating Five was to never block the road when powerful thieves and their political cronies are racing down that road and eager to run you over.
Wall first took the unprecedented step of removing our (the FHLBSF) jurisdiction over Lincoln Savings and gave Keating a sweetheart deal. Wall's critical, Neville Chamberlain-like order to his senior staff to reach an "amicable resolution" with Keating (which, given Keating, meant "surrender") occurred immediately after a meeting with Keating. Wall's meeting with Keating, in turn, occurred immediately after Keating met with Senator Glenn and Speaker Wright. Keating and Wright used their after-lunch meeting to plot how to get me fired and sued. Keating hired private investigators twice that we know of to try to find dirt on me. Fortunately, I live a very Midwestern personal life. Keating eventually sued me for $400 million.
Keating, being Keating, started his meeting with Wall by noting that he had just met with Speaker Wright and Senator Glenn. Keating was capable of being subtle, but he preferred smash mouth football, so his next line, referring to the Speaker, was that "There's someone you would have much better relationships with if you took care of your red-headed lawyer in San Francisco." I still had bright red hair (and beard) at that time.
After getting rid (he thought) of the accursed FHLBSF regulators, Wall proceeded to force Joe Selby, the Nation's most respected financial regulator, to resign as our top supervisor for Texas. Selby's sin was being a vigorous regulator. The Texas frauds targeted him for removal and successfully enlisted Speaker Wright's enthusiastic support through contributions and by telling Wright that Selby was gay. Bank Board Chairman Gray, who personally recruited Selby and Mike Patriarca because of their reputations as the Nation's best financial regulators, had placed Selby and Patriarca in charge of the two states with the worst fraud problems (Texas and California). Wall, while still a congressional aide, had urged Gray to fire Selby to placate the Speaker. Gray refused. Wall now publicly took "credit" for forcing Selby to resign or be fired. Within months, Wall had removed or sidelined the Nation's best financial regulators.
Keating's successful extortion of Wall to remove the FHLBSF's jurisdiction over Lincoln Savings did not work out well for Wall and the Keating Five for Keating used the sweetheart deal to intensify his looting of Lincoln Savings and its customers which led it to become the most expensive financial institution failure in U.S. history (at what now seems a quaint $3.4 billion), to sell worthless (and uninsured) junk bonds of Lincoln Savings' insolvent holding company, and to target tens of thousands of widows for those sales. My extensive notes of the Keating Five meeting led to a Senate ethics investigation of the Keating Five. The Democratic Party Senate Committee colleagues on that investigation spent most of their energy attacking us, the regulators, for the high crime of criticizing Senators for aiding the Nation's most notorious fraud loot the S&L and rip off widows. (Senators Cranston, Riegle, Glenn, and DeConcini were Democrats. Senator McCain was the lone Republican.)
The type of violations we had documented were invariably fatal. Keating had recruited the Keating Five through political contributions and through hiring Alan Greenspan as a lobbyist. Greenspan also served Keating as his outside economist to attempt to prevent the agency from adopting effective regulations to restrain looting by the Keatings of the world. In that capacity Greenspan had famously claimed that Lincoln Savings posed no foreseeable risk of loss to the FSLIC insurance fund. Greenspan was slightly (as in 180 ) off as I just explained.
But here's the thing -- given their ages, the lessons of the S&L debacle should have been the formative experiences for everyone involved in the most recent crisis. Wall resigned in disgrace in December 1989 after months of House hearings. The Senate ethics committee hearings on the "Keating Five" took place in 1990 and 1991.
"These [Senate ethics committee] hearings would take place from November 15 through January 16, 1991.  They were held in the Hart Senate Office Building's largest hearing room.  They were broadcast live in their entirety by C-SPAN, with CNN and the network news programs showing segments of the testimonies.  At the opening of the hearings, as The Washington Post would later write, 'the senators sat dourly alongside one another in a long row, a visual suggestive of co-defendants in a rogues' docket.' Overall, McCain would later write, 'The hearings were a public humiliation.'
The committee reported on the other four senators in February 1991, but delayed its final report on Cranston until November 1991."
Greenspan's role was discussed in both the House and Senate hearings.
"Progressives" tend to roll their eyes in disgust at the entire "Whitewater" investigation, but two points are worth noting in terms of what the scandal should have taught the Clintons and their appointees. First, James McDougall, the CEO, looted Madison Guaranty through classic accounting control fraud techniques. (He was acquitted by a jury of one series of alleged bank frauds and convicted subsequently of other band frauds.)
James Clark, the Bank Board examiner-in-charge (EIC) of the 1986 examination of Madison Guaranty, testified in front of Congress about McDougall's domination of the S&L and his massive multiple frauds. Clark's testimony is devastating.
Second, McDougall's frauds were made possible by the criminogenic environment created by the three "de's" -- deregulation, desupervision, and de facto decriminalization -- and McDougall was brought to book when the regulators and prosecutors learned their lessons and got rid of the three "de's." The FSLIC was appointed the conservator for Madison Guaranty in February 1989.