Two and a half years after the financial system nearly collapsed, it appears that none of the highly paid executives who helped start the disaster will ever see jail time, like Michael Milken in the 1980s, or Jeffrey Skilling in the Enron disaster, says New York Times columnist Joe Nocera. It’s a difficult question whether anybody should. In the 1980s, when nearly 1,000 savings and loans — a third of the industry — collapsed, costing the government billions, there were more than 1,000 major felony convictions, says William Black, a former regulator who teaches law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.
The federal government threw enormous resources at those investigations. There were a dozen or more Justice Department task forces, involving more than 1,000 FBI agents. With the FBI now focused on terrorism, there isn't a lot of manpower left to dig into potential crimes that may have taken place during the financial crisis. Fewer than 150 of the bureau's agents are assigned to mortgage fraud. Lawyers who represent white collar defendants say that outside of New York, there aren't nearly enough prosecutors who understand the intricacies of financial crime and know how to prosecute it. Sheldon Zenner, a Chicago attorney says, “These kinds of cases are extraordinarily difficult to make. They require lots of time and resources.”