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TheStreet Open House

Another Benefit of TARP: Uncovering Bank Fraud

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The bailout of the largest U.S. banks, along with hundreds of smaller ones, has caused plenty of controversy, but one major benefit to a society based on law has been the uncovering of a boatload of outrageous fraud activity by bankers.

Whether or not you supported the bank bailout that began in October 2008, a quick review of the by the Office of the Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program (SIGTARP), should really get your blood boiling.

The Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP, began on Oct. 28, 2008 when eight of the nation's largest banks, including Bank of America (BAC), Bank of New York Mellon (BK), Citigroup (C), Goldman Sachs (GS), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Morgan Stanley (MS), State Street (STT) and Wells Fargo (WFC), received large capital infusions form the U.S. Treasury, with the government being issued preferred shares in return, with an initial coupon of 5%.

The big banks took the money in October 2008 whether or not they wanted it, after being told by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that they had better agree, in the best interests of the nation. TARP came on the heels of the largest bank failure in U.S. history, Washington Mutual, and the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, in September 2008.

Banks continued to receive government investments through TARP's Capital Purchase Program (CPP) until December 2009. The Treasury has said "taxpayers have already recovered more than the amount invested in banks through the CPP." Meanwhile, the debate over the "moral hazard" created by TARP, and how to mitigate the risk the economy from the perception that the nation's largest banks are "too big to fail," continues.

With up to $700 billion for use by TARP, Congress also created SIGTARP, as a watchdog to detect the fraud that was bound to take place as so many troubled institutions prepared to apply for government investments.

SIGTARP files quarterly reports to Congress, and during the most recent fiscal quarter ended June 30, the agency hit a milestone, with 51 defendants having been sent to prison. TARP Special Inspector General Christy Romero said in a statement Wednesday that "47 additional convicted defendants await sentencing." Romero added that "The average prison sentence for TARP-related crime investigated by SIGTARP is 68 months, nearly double the national average length of prison sentences involving white collar crime. Ten defendants investigated by SIGTARP were sentenced to 10 years or more in Federal prison."

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