There was certainly no shortage of skepticism and criticism of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) when it was first introduced. But the news dump from just today is downright scandalous.
Let's start with the headline numbers.
Ethisphere, a research think tank that examines whether companies can benefit from using ethical practices, created a TARP Index in December to track losses taxpayers are taking under the TARP program. Since TARP's inception on Oct. 7, 2008, the government has lost $104.2 billion (as of Apr. 10).
According to Elizabeth Warren, who heads the Congressional Oversight Panel responsible for keeping tabs on TARP, for every $100 put into the program, the taxpayer is getting $66 back.
There's only one way that something like this would happen: the Treasury is paying retail prices for assets the wholesale market has already discounted. In other words, its a direct subsidy for Wall Street banks.
But that is just starters. Warren has also said that the value of those assets has deteriorated further since the latest report.
The calculated losses don't include the potential hit the government could take on assets that it has guaranteed for some of these banks, such as $300 billion of Citigroup's assets. "By all indications, it sounds like the government doesn't know what they have in the TARP program," says Linssen. "It doesn't know how much [it has] made. My opinion is they don't know how much they're guaranteeing."
If Citigroup's mortgage-backed assets turn out to be worth close to the value of the assets that other TARP recipients are now trying to sell for 30¢ to 50¢ on the dollar, the government would have to take a writedown of at least $150 billion on them once they're sold, says Brigham at Ethisphere. "They are scary numbers," he says.
Despite these scary numbers, this wasn't the headline that caught everyone's attention today. Instead that honor goes to Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the bailout program.
His report details how the TARP program is an easy way for Wall Street crooks to steal yet more money from the American public.
Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles -- In the first major disclosure of corruption in the $750-billion financial bailout program, federal investigators said Monday they have opened 20 criminal probes into possible securities fraud, tax violations, insider trading and other crimes.
The cases represent only the first wave of investigations, and the total fraud could ultimately reach into the tens of billions of dollars, according to Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general overseeing the bailout program.
Barofsky said the complex nature of the bailout program makes it "inherently vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse, including significant issues relating to conflicts of interest facing fund managers, collusion between participants, and vulnerabilities to money laundering."
"You don't need an entirely corrupt institution to pull one of these schemes off," Barofsky said. "You only need a few corrupt managers whose compensation may be tied to the performance of these assets in order to effectively pull off a collusion or a kickback scheme."
The risk of fraud is only increasing as the bailout becomes "more complex and larger in scope," he said.
You would think that would be enough in and of itself, but you would be wrong. Barofsky's report focuses on a new part of the bailout that is only just getting put into motion - the PPIP.
Because of the significant leveraging available and the inherent imprimatur of legitimacy associated with PPIP and TALF, these programs present an ideal opportunity to money-laundering organizations. If a criminal organization can successfully invest $10 million of illicit proceeds into a PPIF, not only does the organization enjoy the possibility of profiting through the Government-backed leverage, but any eventual distributions from the PPIF are successfully laundered because they appear to be PPIF investment gains rather than drug, prostitution, or illegal gambling proceeds.
How is it that if I smoke a joint in the comfort of my home I can be thrown into jail for an extended period of time, but if I launder the money for organized crime I can get a taxpayer subsidy? How did the country come to this sad state of affairs?
The answer to that question is actually rather simple and obvious, and it involves a corrupt political system.
Major recipients of federal bailout money spent more than $10 million to lobby lawmakers in the first three months of 2009, including arguing against pay limits for corporate executives, according to newly filed disclosure records.
"Taxpayers are subsidizing a legislative agenda that is inimical to their interests and offensive to what the whole TARP program is about," said William Patterson, executive director of CtW Investment Group, an activist group affiliated with a coalition of labor unions. "It's business as usual with taxpayers picking up the bill."
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) also released a report last month alleging that 13 of the firms owed the government $220 million in unpaid taxes, despite signed pledges by the companies that their obligations were up to date.
The whole situation is a travesty. The vultures are picking at the carcass and yet the Obama Administration is looking for hundreds of billions more for these same programs.