Finding the culprits of the crisis

Derivatives expert Janet Tavakoli takes a hard look at what — and who — caused the financial crisis.

Janet Tavakoli calls it as she sees it — and what she often perceives isn’t a pretty picture. But for any advisor, or other investment professional, to ignore this industry veteran’s razor-sharp insights would be folly.

A gutsy critic of both Wall Street and the federal government, the Chicago-based consultant, specializing in derivatives and structured products, pulls no punches. Through her independent research into the global financial crisis, Tavakoli uncovered what she calls massive, widespread fraud committed by a network of mortgage originators, securitizers, and rating and regulatory agencies, among others.

Earlier, the founder of Tavakoli Structured Finance, 58, predicted the thrift industry blow-up and the demise of Enron. Then she foresaw that excessive leverage and structured products’ misratings would lead to a global financial crisis.

In her just-published e-book, The New Robber Barons, Tavakoli charges that the relationship between failed mortgage lenders and investment banks that securitized and sold risky loans was “the largest Ponzi scheme in the history of our capital markets … a financial Pearl Harbor,” where “investment bankers piloted many of the planes.”

Now Tavakoli sees another huge financial crisis looming.

The University of Chicago MBA has traded, structured and sold derivatives at firms including Merrill Lynch, PaineWebber and Westdeutsche Landesbank; and she had earlier stints at Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs. Research recently talked with her about red flags and preventive solutions.

You write that, in the past three years nothing has been fixed but that we must hold Wall Street responsible for the fraud that resulted in the financial crisis. What should be done?

We need to have investigations. But with the pushback and all the lobbying, what they’ve been counting on is that the statute of limitations for some of these frauds is expiring. So if you don’t file complaints, you may not be able to.

Members of Congress are enabling the lack of punishment and covering up great misdeeds in our financial system — and they’re doing it with no fear of consequences — i.e., being voted out of office, in which case they could find themselves the subject of investigation.

What do you mean: “covering up”?

Many people are covering up for cronies who have a lot of money sloshing around. We threw money into the financial system with no accountability and thus made the problem worse. Our system has been completely infiltrated and bought off. Things aren’t changing because Big Money doesn’t want it to change.

What other indications are there of a cover-up?

The MF Global dog-and-pony show. The attitude toward bundlers like Jon Corzine [the firm’s ex-CEO], who is a big bundler for the Obama campaign, is that the guy can do no wrong. This was before he even testified. People who are raising big money for campaigns get off with no real investigation.

In the Sarbanes-Oxley age, for MF Global to say they were unaware of what they were doing beggars belief. And yet there has been no indictment.

Is President Obama part of the cover-up?

Yes, in that he’s enabled it. He’s left people in place who crashed the global financial system in the first place: [Treasury Secretary] Tim Geithner and [Federal Reserve chair] Ben Bernanke. Obama had told us: “You can’t keep doing things the same way and expect different results.” So he’s been quite a hypocrite.

Who else is in the cover-up?

Mary Schapiro was appointed [by President Obama] to head the SEC. She was formerly head of FINRA, the antichrist of investor advocacy! Yet she was chosen SEC [chair] because the regulators are captive by and serve the people they’re supposed to be regulating. They do not serve investors.

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