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Of Scams And Scandals: Biggest Financial Frauds At Wall Street, United States

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By Anupam Dabral:

“It was not curiosity that killed the goose who laid the golden egg, but an insatiable greed that devoured common sense.” - E.A. Bucchianeri

Greed is something which has belittled mankind time and again and in USA the history of fraud and greed  has been centuries old.  Greed is one phenomenon which has been defined in numerous ways by scholars , businessmen and psychologists but no one has until now come up with a concrete reason what ignites ‘greed’. Is greed only limited to money? How different is it from the unbridled power game that the world is witnessing in terms of international politics , how does greed effect intra-personnel relationships of two individuals , there are magnanimous questions that remain unanswered.

However as far as USA is concerned the term Greed had been popularized by the huge financial scandals that have shaken the world time and again. One of the best known frauds was the 1626 purchase of Manhattan Island for trinkets valued at 60 guilders (approximately $24).  In this case the Carnarsie Indians from Brooklyn perpetrated the fraud since their land was not even connected to Manhattan Island.  But in most cases it was the white men who cheated the Indians and each other.  Land swindling grew rampant as America expanded to the west and continues to be one of the major opportunities for fraud and deception.

As early as 1700’s more than 40 corporations were operating in US dealing with bridges, canals, dams, and other “public” projects all soaked in bribes, kickbacks, and inflated prices.  The late 1800’s saw the rise of a number of corporations and an unprecedented reporting of financial frauds. Newspaper reporting of scandals gave rise to the Populist movement that led to the passing of laws to regulate corporations and the robber barons who owned them. But the courts, using due to the inviolability of contracts, struck down repeated attempts to protect society from labor and monopoly abuses.

One of the nation’s terrible frauds was perpetrated by General Motors Corporation.  Street cars were once and still would be one of the most efficient ways of moving people around urban centers.  In major U.S. cities the tracks were already in place and street cars were running efficiently up and down the tracks.  Then General Motors took it upon itself to capture the city bus sale and replacement market.  In an effort to persuade cities to abandon street cars in favor of buses, General Motors commenced a strategy to bribe or otherwise cajole cities to sell their streetcar systems to GM from the 1920s to the early 1940s. The strategy was an enormous success for GM and a fraudulent disaster for large cities.  Eliminating the trolleys not only helped GM make millions in sales of city buses, the public became more dependent upon buying GM cars for commuting into the cities.

THE DIRTY GAME AT WALL STREET

Unlike the rest of the financial scandals the Wall Street scandals are devised and carried on some of the Titans of the field who have reputable degrees from Ivy Leagues . Wall Street provides ambitious men and women enough of tempting fodder to commit financial crimes. As Scot Paltow wrote  in “The Dark Side of Wall Street: Why Scandals Continue to Erupt” , The Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2004

“Wall Street firms in modern times can’t resist treating men and women of Main Street as chickens to be plucked. With the end of fixed commissions on stock trades in 1975, individual investors  while remaining an important source of revenue became progressively less important for most firms than the huge fees to be earned from underwriting and investment banking for big corporations. Over time, taking advantage of the naiveté of individual investors became a convenient way to gain and keep big corporate clients. In the analysts’ case, firms disseminated falsely rosey reports to induce unwitting investors into boosting the stock price of the firms’ investment-banking clients. Indeed, the language Wall Street traders and brokers use sometimes betrays disdain toward individual investors. Nasdaq market makers commonly refer to buy and sell orders from individuals as “dumb order flow,” meaning their orders are almost certain to be profitable for the market makers because small investors typically trade without any hard information that could give them an advantage over these dealers”

If one intricately studies one of the major causes for such repetitive financial frauds in the United States is especially high because the laws and courts are so lenient on non-violent white collar criminals.  White collar crime pays big even in the rare chance that the criminal is caught.  By the time the culprit is detected and indicted, he or she has already pirated away most of the loot in an offshore bank account or some other hiding place.  After spending a very small amount of time in relatively comfortable incarceration facilities, the culprit returns to a life of luxury. The auditing profession also is highly responsible for such kind of frauds and this is due to their tardy way of working. Most of the auditing companies today rely upon the views of the employees within the system.  Privacy is an another issue , if every, deal is electronically recorded and every high end money monger becomes responsible for every dollar , he or she owns then the scene would be a little bit different.

ENRON SCANDAL:

Enron Scandal was a cornerstone in the history of financial scandals on the wall street. The dramatic collapse of the company shook the lives of thousands of employees and many pension funds. Many still wonder , how can such a gigantic firm crumble down to nothing. C.E.O Jeffery Skilling adopted  a perfect way of concealing the financial losses that were incurred by the firm by a process called Mark to Market funding. It’s a method used when one is dealing in the business of securities and one determine the value of the security at the moment. It is normally disastrous for other business.  It was a clear game of hiding the ruptured condition of the firm, Skilling very artistically portrayed that the company was doing well. In order to create a delusion the star recruit of the Enron , Andrew Fastow was promoted to the C.F.O  in the year 1998 , who came with an another plan of SPE , which was used to hide any asset that were losing money. In 2001 , the Enron debacle was exposed , it was a very knit web of company executives who were hiding the debts and were not recording them in the books. Enron had losses  upto 591 million dollars and had 628 million dollars by the end of 2000. Share holders lost nearly 11 billion dollars until the end of 2001. The Enron scandal also resulted in the passing of the Surbanes-Oxley Act.

WORLDCOM SCANDAL:

Worldcom joined the league of the greatest accounting scandals of the history. The second largest long distance phone company sercices provider in America wrongly booked $3.8billion over the past 5 yrs. S.E.C said that Worldcom had committed “accounting improprieties of unprecedented magnitude”. It a resulted in 17000 job cuts. Worldcom like any other scandal brought the company down to debris , however it brought the story of Bernie Ebbers to the surface. A Canadian immigrant started Worldcom in 1997.  Ebbers started out as a milkman , later he joined  Mississippi College, where the Canadian won, of all things, a basketball scholarship and mostly rode the bench before graduating in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education.  Bernie Ebbers was like that of a rolling stone which took a unexpected halt until the Worldcom scandal got exposed.

TYCO SCANDAL:

A company that began it’s journey under the aegis of Arthur .J. Gandua in 1960 , resulted in rocking the Wall Street as one of the most infamous financial frauds of all times. In the year 2002 former chairman and chief executive Dennis Kozlowski and former chief financial officer Mark H. Swartz were accused of the theft of more than $150 million from the company. During their trial in March 2004, they contended the board of directors authorized it as compensation. Ex-CEO L. Dennis Kozlowski indicted for tax evasion. SEC investigating whether the company was aware of his actions, possible improper use of company funds and related-party transactions, as well as improper merger accounting practices.

WACHOVIA SCANDAL:

One of the most undocumented bank scandals in the history of U.S.A which had its roots in the transborder drug trade. In March 2010 Wachovia was sanctioned for filing to apply the proper anti-laundering strictures to the transfer of $ 378.4 Billion a sum equivalent to 1/3rd of Mexico’s gross national product. In the year 2006  a plane was seized  carrying 128 cases packed with 5.7 tons of cocaine , value at $100million . Later the authorities  discovered billions of dollars in wire transfer traveler cheque and cash shipments through Mexican exchanges into Wachovia accounts. Wachovia settled the biggest action under the U.S bank Secrecy Act. It paid federal authorities $110million in forfeiture and incurred at $50million fine for failing to monitor cash used to ship 22 tons of cocaine.

WASHINGTON MUTUAL :

It was considered to be the largest bank failure in the nation’s history. One of the biggest reasons for the failure was that a surge of high risk lending put borrowers, shareholders and depositories in the harm way. The other was the negligence by the OTS ( Office of Thrift Supervision) . Washington Mutual(WAMV) unsafe lending grant under the nose of a toothless watch day. In 2008 Washington Mutual Inc. and it’s remaining subsidiaries WMI investment Corp. filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy W.M.Inc was delisted from NYSE . The investigation continued in 2010/2011.

With the recent Rajat Gupta case a fresh chapter was added to the history of financial fraud on Wall Street , it leaves us in  bewilderment if we see the entire scenario in the light of Occupy Wall Street movement  . United States of America has been a melting pot for the superlatives of financial success , however unlike never before there is a huge middle class which goes unrepresented  undocumented  and tormented by the taxation and other financial policies of the American government.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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