JPMorgan's Settlement Casts Doubts About Justice Dept.'s Prosecutorial Discretion

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- JPMorgan Chase's ( JPM) record $13 billion tentative settlement with the Justice Department concerning misrepresented residential mortgage-backed securities does not absolve from criminal charges senior bank officials or the bank as an institution.

JPMorgan could be dismembered if several senior officers are found guilty of criminal charges or the bank as an institution engaged in fraud or other criminal activities. The resulting crippling or breakup of JPMorgan would have grave consequences for major corporations and the broader economy that rely on the institution as their primary banker, and those firms' CFOs would do well to start shopping their business elsewhere.

Also, other Wall Street institutions, like Goldman Sachs ( GS), marketed similarly shaky securities. It must be asked: Why has all this taken five years? Why was JPMorgan singled out for such harsh treatment? Does this episode have parallels to the federal suit against Standard and Poor's ( MHFI), which downgraded U.S. debt in 2011 and then was singled out among bond rating agencies by the administration?

Much of JPMorgan's legal problems stem from its acquisitions of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, whereas Goldman Sachs' mortgage securities problems were manufactured within its own confines. Again why is JPMorgan treated so much more harshly, and without regard for the broader macroeconomic effects?

Much of Wall Street backed Barack Obama's bid for the presidency in 2008, and subsequently maintained distance for the 2012 campaign. Goldman Sachs has continued close ties to the administration and the Federal Reserve.

All this raises serious questions about the exercise of prosecutorial discretion by Eric Holder's Justice Department.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Professor Peter Morici, of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, is a recognized expert on economic policy and international economics. Prior to joining the university, he served as director of the Office of Economics at the U.S. International Trade Commission. He is the author of 18 books and monographs and has published widely in leading public policy and business journals, including the Harvard Business Review and Foreign Policy. Morici has lectured and offered executive programs at more than 100 institutions, including Columbia University, the Harvard Business School and Oxford University. His views are frequently featured on CNN, CBS, BBC, FOX, ABC, CNBC, NPR, NPB and national broadcast networks around the world.

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