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TheStreet Open House

Verdict Is in: Wall Street Gets Off Scot-Free

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As I watched the HBO movie "Too Big to Fail" Monday night, enjoying the taut script and fine performances, I have to admit I was left with an empty feeling -- as I was after watching a recent indie film called "Meek's Cutoff," which basically has no ending. It just sort of stops. That film, like "Too Big to Fail," does not have an essential ingredient of any satisfying drama: resolution. The tying up of loose ends.

This is not a verdict on "Too Big to Fail" as a movie, or the book with the same name. No, it's a verdict on Eric Holder and Preet Bharara, and all of their colleagues at the Justice Department and the Office of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. It's a verdict on Mary Schapiro and the Securities and Exchange Commission. It's a verdict on everybody with a badge and/or gun and/or subpoena power, and jurisdiction over Wall Street crime. That would cover just about the entire federal and state law enforcement apparatus from here to Nome, and include a once-robust Manhattan District Attorney's Office, which used to prosecute penny-stock hoods but can no longer find scoundrels when they wear pinstripes.

You -- all of you -- blew it.

It's official, guys: We're so distant from the financial nightmare of 2008 that it actually has been made into an HBO movie, for heaven's sake. Yet not a single major criminal prosecution has emerged from anything that happened leading up to the financial crisis. In November 2009, Holder said: "We will be relentless in our investigation of corporate and financial wrongdoing, and we will not hesitate to bring charges." But the only thing more frustrating than Holder and Bharara breaking that promise is seeing the Republicans -- who sabotaged financial regulation for years and emasculated the SEC -- making political hay over it. (See this breathtaking hypocrisy.)

Yes, I realize all the usual counterarguments -- that criminal cases must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and that it's much more fun, not to mention less politically perilous, to prosecute Sri Lankan insider traders than it is to conduct meaningful criminal investigations of powerful Wall Street banks. But none of them seem especially convincing. As Peter Henning, a professor at Wayne State University, told Bloomberg the other day, the failure to bring a single major case is utterly at variance with the record of past financial scandals, such as the S&L debacle and Enron.

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