Could Blankfein Face Prison?
The Goldman Sachs CEO didn't get a bit-time criminal-defense lawyer because he's worried about an SEC wrist slap--there's a real possibility of doing time, says former Goldman managing director Nomi Prins
By Nomi Prins - The Daily Beast
There’s a saying that loose lips sink ships. So can dead weight.
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who just got himself a lawyer, may be facing the possibility of sinking, either because of his own words in April 2010 before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) or because his shipmates are distancing themselves in a legal version of every man for himself. Or both.
Recall that Blankfein emphatically told the subcommittee, “We didn’t have a massive short against the housing market, and we certainly did not bet against our clients.” The 650-page subcommittee report (PDF) presented on April 13, 2011, which cites Blankfein 79 times, begs to differ.
The report accused Goldman of trading against its clients by simultaneously shorting certain subprime mortgage securities (a.k.a. “cats and dogs”) while stuffing them into the collateralized debt obligations it sold. It also suggested that Goldman executives, including Blankfein, misled Congress in testimony surrounding the Abacus CDO, Hudson, Timberwolf, and other deals, by saying it didn’t have a big short.
The top lesson I learned before leaving Goldman in the wake of Enron was Goldman’s foremost internal policy is to protect Goldman. It’s also to protect the most powerful members. When cracks manifest in the corporate armor, those two policies are at odds.
The executives running Goldman are exceedingly wealthy, not least because when the firm faced its darkest hour and lowest stock price in years during the bank-created crisis of fall 2008, the government provided it billions of dollars in the form of cheap loans, FDIC debt guarantees, TARP, AIG make-wholes, and a late-night moniker change from investment bank to bank holding company, giving the firm access to excessive Federal Reserve aid.
On Monday, Goldman shares took a 6 percent beating during final and extended trading hours on the announcement that Blankfein had hired a lawyer, without waiting for specifics. The last time its shares hit a 106.51 level was in early 2009.
That kind of downward movement concerns the firm’s partners. So would a wide number of casualties. Securing a separate attorney is a way to divide the firm’s members, to keep from being summarily conquered.
You could look at Blankfein hiring external counsel as a normal prudent, legal move. But that’s naive, given the attorney he selected. Hiring a major criminal-defense lawyer is about more than the fear of a $550 million SEC wrist slap for bad documentation in the Abacus CDO. It’s about the real possibility of doing time.
Big-shot Washington defense attorney Reid Weingarten, of the firm Steptoe & Johnson LLC, has represented former Enron chief accounting officer Richard Causey (who pleaded out), former Rite Aid vice chairman and chief counsel Franklin Brown (found guilty by a jury on 10 counts of conspiring to falsely inflate his company’s value), and former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers (convicted on nine felony counts by a jury). All three are in jail. Two of them, Ebbers and Causey, had undergone congressional panel investigations beforehand. Another of Weingarten’s clients, former Tyco counsel Mark Belnick, was acquitted, though Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski, who was not represented by Weingarten, was convicted and remains in jail.
Read the full piece here