Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, March 27, 2011 12:21 pm

Fishing for guppies with dynamite while the great white sharks swim free

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 12:21 pm

If you’re local, then you may know that the News & Record has written a great deal in recent years about Charlie Engle, the drug-addict-turned-marathoner who went to prison recently for submitting false information to obtain two mortgages. (Most of the more recent N&R articles are hidden inside the online paper’s Google-Proof Vault, as Ed Cone calls it.)

Now, unlike Nocera, I have no particular sympathy for Engle strictly within the context of his own case. If Engle did the crime, he should do the time. However, there’s some fairly serious question as to whether Engle actually did do the crime — any crime.

And then there’s the bigger picture, which is what really gets on my last nerve. Even if you assume for the purposes of discussion that Charlie Engle did everything the government accused him of (and even the jury tossed one count), what he did was a tiny, tiny portion of a vast criminal scheme in which many other people did far worse things for far more benefit, causing far more financial loss and human suffering, and, so far, have escaped meaningful consequences. Joseph Nocera lays it out in an excellent column for the New York Times:

Mr. Engle’s is a tale worth telling for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its punch line. Was Mr. Engle convicted of running a crooked subprime company? Was he a mortgage broker who trafficked in predatory loans? A Wall Street huckster who sold toxic assets?

No. Charlie Engle wasn’t a seller of bad mortgages. He was a borrower. And the “mortgage fraud” for which he was prosecuted was something that literally millions of Americans did during the subprime bubble. Supposedly, he lied on two liar loans.

“The Department of Justice has made prosecuting financial crimes, including mortgage fraud, a high priority,” said Neil H. MacBride, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a statement. (Mr. MacBride, whose office prosecuted Mr. Engle, declined to be interviewed.)

Apparently, though, it’s only a high priority if the target is a borrower. Mr. Mozilo’s company made billions in profit, some of it on liar loans that he acknowledged at the time were likely to be fraudulent and which did untold damage to the economy. And he personally was paid hundreds of millions of dollars.  Though he agreed last year to a $67.5 million fine to settle fraud charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, it was a small fraction of what he earned.  Otherwise, he walked.  Thus does the Justice Department display its priorities in the aftermath of the crisis.

It’s not just that Mr. Engle is the smallest of small fry that is bothersome about his prosecution. It is also the way the government went about building its case.

This is not only unfair in and of itself. It also is wrong because unless the perps of this world-historical swindle face serious consequences, theft like this will happen again. And next time, it’ll be worse.

(h/t: Fred)

UPDATE, 3/28: The print edition of the N&R ran Nocera’s piece on page A5 today, labeled “commentary.” Good for them for bypassing the obvious excuse that the thing was too long to run on the op-ed page and giving it the audience it deserves.


1 Comment

  1. Lex speaks my mind

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Sunday, March 27, 2011 12:39 pm @ 12:39 pm

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