Thursday, June 10, 2010

The SEC's Stat Scam

GUEST BLOGGER-SOLOMON L. WISENBERG

Zachary Goldfarb has an interesting story in today's Washington Post about past turmoil and alleged retaliation in the SEC's Fort Worth District Office. The story highlights the difficulties facing the new SEC regime as it tries to kick-start an agency that rather miserably failed to spot the Madoff and Stanford frauds.

You may recall the name of Julie Preuitt. She is the Fort Worth Examination Branch official who sounded the alarm bell for years about R. Allen Stanford's alleged activities, only to see her complaints ignored or quashed by supervisors in the Fort Worth Enforcement Branch. All of this is detailed in SEC Inspector General H. David Kotz's excellent and shocking Report of Investigation of the SEC's Response to Concerns Regarding Robert Allen Stanford's Alleged Ponzi Scheme.

In 2007, according to Goldfarb, Preuitt's Examination Branch boss, Kimberly Garber, instituted a new super-short method, known as a rave, of examining certain brokerage firms. The exams lasted half a day. Only management personnel were interviewed during the raves, and the examiners did not actually examine any records, although company policies were reviewed. The raves were instituted by Garber, purportedly to boost Fort Worth's exam stats. Preuitt complained vociferously about the raves, and was rewarded with reassignment and demotion. This same management focus on stats over substance was what led to the Fort Worth Enforcement Branch's failure to publicize and halt Stanford's alleged activities in a timely fashion, according to Kotz's Report.

The story also reveals that Garber is alleged to have violated the SEC's ethics rules by using her office for the private gain of relatives. During an official trip to Kansas, Garber arranged for her staff to stay at a bed and breakfast owned by her brother and sister-in-law.

The SEC has discontinued the raves, but hard feelings between management and staff persist in Fort Worth.

This is all interesting stuff, and it points toward a larger and endemic problem within federal regulatory and law enforcement--that is, the obsession with statistics as a sign of progress in the war against white collar crime. Too much of a focus on stats leads management to favor the quick hit and the easy, often small, target. Think about that every time you see an FBI press release touting the latest mortgage fraud guilty plea. My guess is that most of the mortgage fraud convictions in the last two years involved small fries.

(slw)

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