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Fortune: Morgan Stanley Escaping Blame in the Financial Crisis ... So Far

By John Morgan   |   Monday, 26 Aug 2013 11:19 AM

Morgan Stanley is the only major U.S. bank that has not paid a fine related to the 2008 financial meltdown and has not even been accused at the federal level of a related crime — in contrast to other banks and individuals that have generated $2.7 billion in penalties so far, according to Fortune senior editor Stephen Gandel.

The list of big financial companies on the Securities and Exchange Commission website that have paid fines for financial crisis-related crimes is a fairly long. The familiar "too big to fail" names include Walls Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase.

Morgan Stanley was one of the largest underwriters of mortgage bonds during the housing bubble, and also underwrote $37 billion in collateralized debt obligations — the classes of investments that led to trouble for other banks.

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While federal regulators have stepped up the visibility of their efforts to prosecute crimes from the financial downturn, so far there has been no evidence the Justice Department is going after Morgan Stanley.

However, Gandel reported investors in dozens of deals who have sued the bank have a different view of Morgan Stanley's activities in the run up to the 2008 meltdown.

"I have seen no evidence that Morgan Stanley is less culpable than other firms," an unidentified lawyer who has worked on several cases on behalf of investors who lost money in Morgan Stanley deals told Fortune. "Having spent the last 4 ½ years litigating these deals, that's not what I have found."

Emails and other documents in a case lodged by Washington state's King County, which lost money on a structured investment Morgan Stanley helped put together, showed bankers at the firm knew the deal was riskier than they were telling investors, according to Gandel.

Documents filed in the case attested that one of the loans Morgan Stanley included in the deal was for $143,000 to purchase a vacant lot. While an independent broker valued the property at $11,000, according to court documents, Morgan Stanley said the land was worth $183,000, Gandel noted.

"In April, Morgan Stanley settled the case with King County for an undisclosed amount. It's a settlement the government might want to take a second look at," Gandel wrote.

Attorney General Eric Holder told The Wall Street Journal last week the Justice Department is pondering a number of fresh probes from the financial crisis that he expects to announce in months to come.

"My message is, anybody who's inflicted damage on our financial markets should not be of the belief that they are out of the woods because of the passage of time. If any individual or if any institution is banking on waiting things out, they have to think again," Holder said.

National Public Radio (NPR) said that as the five-year anniversary of the meltdown draws near, the record of prosecutions against high-level Wall Street executives "has been dismal."

NPR reported the Justice Department has estimated downward the number of people criminally charged with mortgage fraud in 2012 from more than 500 to barely 100.

Editor’s Note: Will This Video Get Obama Fired? See the Evidence.

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