'Bank Whistleblowers United' Challenge Presidential Candidates to Reject Dirty Wall Street Money

Posted March 9, 2016

MP3 Interview with Michael Winston, former executive at Countrywide Financial & cofounder of Bank Whistleblowers United, conducted by Scott Harris

whistleblowers

Michael Winston had a successful career as an executive at five Fortune 100 corporations for over 30 years. Most recently when he was employed as a high-ranking executive at Countrywide Financial, he tried to stop the fraud, corruption and deception he observed at the mortgage lender in advance of the worldwide 2008 financial collapse. His warnings were dismissed or ignored by management and he was eventually fired. Winston subsequently took Countrywide and Bank of America to court, winning what the trial judge called an “overwhelming” jury verdict. Though the verdict was later overturned by an appeals court, Winston’s legal fight was profiled in a Salon magazine article titled, "Wall-Street's Greatest Enemy: The Man Who Knows Too Much."

Now Winston, along with three other prominent eyewitnesses to high-level wrongdoing by the nation’s largest financial institutions and the federal government have founded a new group they call, “Bank Whistleblowers United.” The four men have proposed a detailed plan to restore the rule of law to Wall Street, end too-big-to-fail banks and restore the best features of the Glass-Steagall Act that used to govern bank activities. In this election year, they intend to challenge presidential candidates to make a pledge forswearing campaign contributions from the banks and executives who engaged in fraudulent behavior that triggered the 2008 financial meltdown. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Michael Winston who describes his journey from high-level executive to whistleblower, and the goals of his group’s campaign to expose the links between the corrupting influence of Wall Street’s dirty money and U.S. politics.

MICHAEL WINSTON: Each of the four of us, Gary Aguirre, Bill Black, Dick Bowen and myself, saw corruption up close, personal, unmistakeable and we tried to do something about it. And the irony is, we blew the whistle. None of us, by the way, knew we were blowing the whistle when we blew it, we just thought we were doing our jobs, which was telling management what they were doing that was unlawful. And we connected just because of shared frustration with the use of the word, any round word except "fraud" – whether the people who did this were either reckless, or had lose standards or were greedy – no, they were committing fraud. And all of us saw it, and all of us tried to do something about it.

I took my company, Countrywide Financial and then Bank of America to court, and I won an overwhelming jury verdict. By the way, all of us won, and somehow it was lost a couple of years later, with no new evidence and just the unmistakable stench of graft, corruption, backroom deals and payoff. And we see that nothing has really changed in the eight years. Nothing was put in place to protect (against) a recurrence of the same securities violations, securities fraud and just foul business practices that led to the greatest unpunished white-collar crime in history.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tell our listeners what your group, Whistleblowers United, will be doing this election season and your goals in confronting presidential candidates with the pledge you're asking them to sign.

MICHAEL WINSTON: Well, number one, every single person running for office has indicated their distaste for what went on in Wall Street and their determination to thwart the recurrence of it. We're simply asking these same people who say they are committed to eradicating graft and corruption and fraud, we're asking them to simply not take campaign donations from those companies or those executives who committed that fraud. Seems pretty simple to us. If you are running for high office, and you say you speak heavily of your disdain for those practices, why would you accept money from those people?

But we're going further. We submitted a 20-point plan to restore the rule of law across the country – and on Wall Street in particular – because what we've seen is that the white-collar criminals have not been punished at all, but those people who surfaced their criminality, called whistleblowers have been punished in every conceivable way and many inconceivable ways. So we want to fix it so that it doesn't happen again and again and again.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Well, Michael, in your view, what legislation needs to be put in place, or what kinds of enforcement need to be beefed up to avoid a repeat of the financial calamity this country and the world went through in 2008?

MICHAEL WINSTON: I don't think any new legislation. I don't think any new laws. I think we need to enforce the laws that are on the books. I think the people who committed fraud – systemic, blatant, in your face fraud – ought to be punished for it. What we know is that if people are rewarded for something, they'll do it again. If they're punished for it, they're likely to stop doing it.

Well, all the architects of the 2007 and 2008 fraud have been essentially rewarded. They got to keep the money they heisted, and none of them did jail time. So, it's likely the next generation or that generation is planning their next scheme.

Obviously, forewarned is forearmed. But these are very smart people. I mean, look at (the film) "The Big Short." you know, we want to inform and alert people who commit that we're going to be watching them, and that others will be educated and watching them so that it doesn't happen again.

I think of all the legislation and regulations that were introduced, almost every one of them was gutted to such an extent that it is barely recognizeable. Most people in financial services are honest, upstanding and try to do the right thing. So I'm talking about maybe a tenth of one percent. But those people who are intent on committing fraud and doing harm to the economy are going to do it and they're planning their moves right now as we speak.

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