Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Detroit News, the Guardian, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndrewKroll.

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JPMorgan Paid $20 Billion in Fines Last Year—So Its Board Is Giving Jamie Dimon a Raise

| Fri Jan. 24, 2014 12:42 PM PST
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.

The New York Times reported Friday that Jamie Dimon, the silver-haired CEO of JPMorgan Chase, the nation's largest bank by assets, is getting a raise. Dimon is poised to add a few million to the $11.5 million compensation package he took home in 2013.

If you so much as glanced at the news last year, this bit of news may puzzle you. JPMorgan, in many ways, had a miserable 2013. JPMorgan paid $1 billion in fines in the wake of the "London Whale" scandal, in which the bank lost $6 billion on a market-rattling blunder by a trader named Bruno Iksil. The bank also paid $13 billion to settle charges that it'd peddled risky mortgage-backed securities. And it forked over another $2 billion to settle charges for failing to spot Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme, which Madoff perpetrated largely using JPMorgan accounts. All told, the bank paid out roughly $20 billion in penalties to federal regulators over a slew of screw-ups and failures.

2013 was a rough year for JPMorgan. So why is Dimon getting a raise? The answer, in part, will make your blood boil. Here's the money quote in the Times:

Mr. Dimon's defenders point to his active role in negotiating a string of government settlements that helped JPMorgan move beyond some of its biggest legal problems. He has also solidified his support among board members, according to the people briefed on the matter, by acting as a chief negotiator as JPMorgan worked out a string of banner government settlements this year.

[...]

Mr. Dimon's star has risen more recently as he took on a critical role in negotiating both the bank’s $13 billion settlement with government authorities over its sale of mortgage-backed securities in the years before the financial crisis and the $2 billion settlement over accusations that the bank turned a blind eye to signs of fraud surrounding Bernard L. Madoff.

Just hours before the Justice Department was planning to announce civil charges against JPMorgan over its sales of shaky mortgage investments in September, Mr. Dimon personally reached out to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.—a move that averted a lawsuit and ultimately resulted in the brokered deal. Just a few months later, Mr. Dimon acted as an emissary again, this time, meeting with Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan leading the investigation into the Madoff Ponzi scheme.

In other words, as big as those multibillion-dollar settlements were, JPMorgan board members believe the bank's legal problems could've been worse. Blast-a-hole-in-our-balance-sheet worse. And so Dimon's pay bump is a reward for locking horns with bank regulators and federal authorities and hashing out settlement deals that were favorable to the bank. He's getting a raise because he beat the regulators, played them so well, JPMorgan board members seem to be saying, that he deserves to be rewarded for the deals he helped engineer.

There are other factors, too. Despite its legal headaches, JPMorgan's stock price climbed 22 percent over the past year, and the bank recorded profits of $17.9 billion in 2013. But to read that Dimon's savvy negotiating has won him a raise—and don't forget that no top bank executives have gone to jail for actions related to the 2008 financial meltdown—brings to mind the old Dick Durbin quote about banks and Washington: "They frankly own the place."

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How a Mexican Citizen Allegedly Funneled $500,000 of Illegal Money into US Elections

| Thu Jan. 23, 2014 7:58 AM PST

This week, the FBI and Department of Justice busted a Washington, DC-based political consultant and an ex-detective turned private security contractor in a money-in-politics scandal seemingly ripped from the pages of All the President's Men.

According to a criminal complaint filed in the US district court in southern California, a wealthy Mexican national allegedly funneled more than $500,000 into local and federal campaigns in the San Diego area. That, of course, is illegal. Federal law bars foreign nationals from making contributions to political candidates. So the Mexican businessman—who is unnamed in the complaint—allegedly used retired San Diego detective Ernesto Encinas, political consultant Ravneet Singh, and an unnamed straw donor to inject his money into several California-based elections.

The Mexican businessman and his co-conspirators are accused of making illegal campaign expenditures in support of four different candidates. To support a San Diego mayoral candidate, the Mexican and the ex-detective set up a super-PAC and guided $100,000 in foreign money through a shell corporation into the super-PAC. In another case, the Mexican businessman gave $380,000 to a straw donor (who was identified as an American citizen in the complaint), and the straw donor then cut checks to assorted campaigns and political committees in the San Diego area.

None of the candidates who received the Mexican businessman's support are named in the complaint, but two of them are believed to be San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and former mayor Bob Filner. Dumanis and Filner faced each other in the city's 2012 mayoral primary. In December, Filner was sentenced to 90 days in home confinement, three years' probation, and fines totaling nearly $1,500 for assaulting three women while serving as San Diego mayor.

Then there's Ravneet Singh, the DC consultant who founded the company ElectionMall, which provides digital media services for political campaigns. Around February 2012, the Mexican businessman paid Singh and ElectionMall about $100,000 for Internet ads and key word placements to help elect a San Diego mayoral candidate. The money was transferred into ElectionMall's account by a Mexican company, and the online ad spending never appeared on expenditure records as it should have under state and federal campaign laws.

Later that year, in October, Singh and Encinas, the ex-detective, approached a general election candidate in San Diego's mayoral race candidate offering social media services to the candidate's campaign. When asked how much those services would cost, the complaint says, Singh and Encinas responded that it was "taken care of." Soon after, ElectionMall received another $190,000 from the Mexican-based company. Because the candidate's campaign was never billed, the complaint alleges that Singh, ElectionMall, and Encinas "facilitated illegal in-kind contributions" in violation of campaign law.

You can read the full Justice Department complaint against Singh, ElectionMall, and Encinas below. And you can wonder who will play the Mexican businessman, the ex-detective, and the consultant in the movie.

 
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