Part VII: Adventures in Finance
Death Takes a Policy: How a Lawyer Exploited the Fine Print and Found Himself Facing Federal Charges
ProPublica’s Jake Bernstein draws you right into the story of Joe Caramadre with a beautifully crafted description of a Rhode Island lawyer whose avidness for playing the angles may have taken him too far. Did Caramadre sharply exploit a legal loophole to extract a bonanza from an insurance product called a “variable annuity,” or did he commit fraud at the expense of dying people and their families. According to Rhode Island law, Caramadre or one of his clients could buy an annuity on the life of someone who was not expected to live long and then pocket a profit when that person died. A little unsavory, perhaps, but was it also illegal? Insurance companies were losing on that claim in civil suits, but then came criminal charges.
Part II. The Financial System and Its Discontents
The “Subsidy”: How a Handful of Merrill Lynch Bankers Helped Blow Up Their Own Firm
When the protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement gathered in New York’s Zucotti Park in the fall of 2011, they probably didn’t have in mind this particular story by ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative group. But they might well have. In the third installment of a series that won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, Jake Bernstein and Jesse Eisinger show the extent to which Wall Street pay incentives perverted the financial system toward destructive ends. With remarkable clarity, the story shows that in 2006, as the housing market cooled, executives at a unit of Merrill Lynch that made mortgage bonds resorted to paying off members of another unit to buy securities they realized would soon collapse. The sole purpose: to keep the money-machine going and earn bonuses, no what the eventual cost to the firm or to society.