If street thugs were to hold up a convenience store and drive off with $1 million, it would be national news. But when a venerable Boston bank rips off California's two largest pension funds for $56 million, it's business-as-usual -- at least to the anchors of CNBC.
State Street Bank -- the world's largest servicer of pensions -- systematically ripped off CalPERS and CalSTRS over a period of eight years. It did this by adding a tiny surcharge on foreign currency trades. But this adds up, especially considering that some $35 billion in 42,000 transactions were traded by these funds since 2001.
So when two whistle-blowers filed suit under seal in April 2008, attorneys from my office immediately investigated -- examining hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, interviewing witnesses and subpoenaing records.
They found in the course of an 18-month investigation that State Street was contractually obligated to give CalPERS and CalSTRS the "interbank rate" at the precise time of the trade. Instead, State Street consistently charged at or near the highest rate of the day, even if the
interbank rate was lower at the time of trade. And traders concealed the fraud by deliberately failing to include time stamp data in its reports, so that the pension funds could not determine the true execution costs.
When the suit was filed, we notified the media and held a press conference -- to bring the fraud to light and to deter other financial traders from considering similar action. This is a routine part of prosecuting important corporate fraud cases.
But, in a commentary post today, CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera sneered at California's effort to recover $200 million in damages and penalties, using a made-up quote from Elliot Spitzer to call it "quaint."
This follows an interview Tuesday that was straight out of the Daily Show. CNBC invited me on to talk about the case, and then Caruso-Cabrera asked why I would come on the air to talk about it.
Her co-anchors seemed to have no problem with the rip-off ("as long as they quoted you a dollar and you paid the dollar, what do you care what they got it for") and questioned the integrity of the whistle-blowers ("that whistle-blower -- is that a private law firm that you guys have hired to do this for you?") Unbelievable . And for the record, the whistle-blowers are industry insiders who have yet to be named.
The tone and substance of the interview are symptomatic of the Eastern financial elite, who think that $200 million is small potatoes, and big business should be given the benefit of the doubt.
In my book, there's nothing quaint about corporate fraud. There's nothing quaint about ripping off pension funds. And, I -- along with attorneys general from across the nation -- will continue to bring these high-priced rip-off artists to justice.
Visit my website, www.jerrybrown.org