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Big Money Crime

Fraud and Politics in the Savings and Loan Crisis

Kitty Calavita (Author), Henry N. Pontell (Author), Robert Tillman (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 281 pages
ISBN: 9780520219472
May 1999
$30.95, £26.00
At a cost of $500 billion to American taxpayers, the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s was the worst financial crisis of the twentieth century as well as a crime unparalleled in American history. Yet the vast majority of its perpetrators will never be prosecuted, and those who were have received minimal sentences. In the first in-depth scrutiny of the ways and means of this disaster, this groundbreaking book comes to disturbing conclusions about the deliberate nature of this financial fraud, the political collusion involved, and the leniency of the criminal justice system in dealing with these "Gucci-clad white-collar criminals."

Using material from over one hundred interviews with government officials and industry leaders and recently declassified documents, the authors show how—contrary to previous government and "expert" explanations that chalked the disaster up to business risks gone awry or adverse economic conditions—S&L leaders engaged in deliberate fraud, stealing from their own corporations to speculate on high-risk ventures. Tempted by the insurance net, perpetrators looted their own institutions in a new kind of white-collar crime the authors dub "collective embezzlement."

Big Money Crime also demonstrates how systematic political collusion—not just policy errors—was a critical ingredient in this unprecedented series of frauds. Bringing together statistics from a variety of government agencies, the authors provide a close reading of the track record of prosecutions and sentencing and find that "suite crime" receives much more lenient treatment than "street crime," despite its significantly higher price tag. The book concludes with a number of modest, but no less urgent, policy recommendations to counter the current deregulatory trend and to avert a replay of the S&L debacle in other financial sectors.

FROM THE BOOK:"We built thick walls; we have cameras; we have time clocks on the vaults . . . all these controls were to protect against somebody stealing the cash. Well, you can steal far more money, and take it out the back door. The best way to rob a bank is to own one."—House Committee on Government Operations, 1988
Kitty Calavita and Henry N. Pontell are Professors in the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine. Robert H. Tillman is Associate Professor of Sociology at St. John's University in Jamaica, New York.
"An important, arresting book."—Michael Rogin, author of Blackface, White Noise

"This is a great book. Well written and argued, extensively documented, it is without doubt the definitive report on the S & L scandals. Calavita, Pontell and Tillman lay to rest, once and for all, the convenient canard that 'bad management' and 'bad economic conditions' caused the S & L disaster. Their clear, careful analyses make it crystal clear that massive insider fraud was basic in every sense."—Laureen Snider, Queens University (Ontario, Canada)

2001 Albert J. Reiss, Jr. Award for Distinguished Scholarship, Law and Deviance Section of the American Sociological Association

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