Book Review: Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime

Title: Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime
Author: Jennifer Taub
Genre: Politics, Economic, Business, True Crime

What’s it About: In 1939, a sociologist by the name of Professor Edwin H. Sutherland shared a breakthrough theory that he had been working on for decades–that individuals in prestige and power were committing crimes that have seemingly no victims, and getting away with it, in what he termed White Collar Crime. He warned that the influence of money shapes everything including legislations and the sentencing of criminals and the elite class has the power to define what is criminal and to change laws that disfavored them or interfered with their predatory business practices.

The true extent and expense of white collar crime is unknown, because the data is simply not available. Victims of money laundering, scams and fraud are usually afraid to come forward, and there is big society stigmatization that it was their fault that they got scammed, and de-frauded in the first place. Studies into white collar crime are hindered by the numerous definitions of what people believe white collar crime is–some say it is fraud, others define it as someone in a prestigious position, or corporate actors–yet most offenses considered to be white collar crime were committed by the middle classes. Furthermore, white collar crimes have a higher chance of being abandoned due to insufficient evidence and the odds of getting away with it are a lot higher. Experts believe that we do not have sufficient data on the career-related crimes or the white collar crimes, but agreed that some enterprises are too big to fail, and some offenders have too high a status to jail.

While there were a series of laws enacted since World War II that put white collar criminals in jail, this trend started to go downwards after the 2008 financial crisis, when the Department of Justice failed to prosecute the people who were responsible for the crisis. Instead, many of the people got away, the corporations got money, and those banks that had issues either got Deferred Prosecution Agreements or Non-Prosecution Agreements with light fines. 82 people got jailed internationally for the financial crisis for 2008, while in the United States, only one got indicted–a man born in Egypt working in England–which is completely unthinkable considering the amount of financial institutions involved in this. This trend continued to go downward under Trump, where the DOJ was seen as treating the banks with a lighter touch. The rich get richer through money laundering with no consequences while the poor get jailed.

Of course there is a way to fix this, and it would include strengthening whistleblower protection laws, creating an agency to prosecute these kinds of crimes, creating a cohesive database of these crimes and their victims, changing the criminal justice system and more.

My Verdict: I was honestly skeptical of this book because of the subject–anything legal can be quite heavy and difficult for me to read. To my surprise, I couldn’t put it down and lapped up the information fairly quickly, because even though there is mentions of all these different laws, the book tells the story rather than explains the laws. The book was well laid out, well formulated and thought out with specific examples and statistics. And as someone who works in an industry that deals with this facet of our society, none of this comes as a surprise to me. All the scandals in recent years that we’ve seen and heard of–Wells Fargo, HSBC, Citibank–the CEOs did not get prosecuted, but when you look at the small businesses, owners got jailed for money laundering or selling something that they shouldn’t have been. One thing that the author never really mentions is that even when you do have a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, the company still pays some kind of civil penalty in fines, and in recent years-at least in the last 4 years that I can think of, the price tag of those fines has gone up to an extent but we’ve also been desensitized by that number, because it’s okay to see it. Overall, it’s a very good book to read by anyone who is interested to gain an insight in how the financial system and the justice system work.

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