I see stories such as this one quoted below where a Wells Fargo exec who headed phony accounts unit collected $125 million.

Basically the notion is that big fat cat bankers can swindle people out of BIG money and have absolutely no consequences, and they actually still benefit from defrauding others and be set for the rest of their lives.

On Thursday, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $185 million, including the largest penalty ever imposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to settle claims that that it defrauded its customers. The bank’s shareholders will ultimately have to swallow the cost of that settlement.

Tolstedt, however, is walking away from Wells Fargo with a very full bank account--and praise. In the July announcement of her exit, which made no mention of the soon-to-be-settled case, Well Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf said Tolstedt had been one of the bank’s most important leaders and “a standard-bearer of our culture” and “a champion for our customers.”

In a statement following the settlement, Wells Fargo said, “Wells Fargo reached these agreements consistent with our commitment to customers and in the interest of putting this matter behind us. Wells Fargo is committed to putting our customers' interests first 100% of the time, and we regret and take responsibility for any instances where customers may have received a product that they did not request.”

Shortly after the financial crisis, big banks in the nation, including Wells Fargo, promised that their top bankers would not be able to keep large paydays if it was found that those rewards were gained through harmful conduct. It was supposed to be the stick to the carrot of Wall Street bonuses. But the latest example of fraud at Wells Fargo shows that the big banks are unwilling to wield those sticks, especially when it comes to their top executives


It's quite obvious leaving decisions like this up to the companies that are found in violation of a federal regulation or fraud does not work to deter the fraudulent activity from occurring so to my question(s):

  • Can the feds not charge anyone from this company with a crime that has "prison time" or "felony" consequences?
  • Do bankers ever go to prison in America for fraud of this amount (fraud is fraud)?
  • If the shareholders are paying for most of this settlement, then how can this not be fraud to the shareholders or the correlated stock (e.g. some disclosure when you buy the stock that you may have foot the bills for fraudulence with their employees)?

Maybe there is a simple answer to this that could clarify which I could've found on my own with a little research, but I'm interesting more in what attorney's, or other legal professional's, or the legal enthusiast's more than doing my own research on the topic.

  • 3
    I know this is an old question, but did you mean The Fed (aka Federal Reserve), or "the feds" (aka, the US Attorney General's office)?
    – RonJohn
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 4:33
  • 1
    Bankers do go to jail: 35 Bankers went to jail for TARP funds fraud. During the S&L crisis, lots of bankers went to jail, there a thousand prosecutions and 100's of Wall Street Execs went to Prison. In recent history, bankers seem to have done a better job in getting the government to not give out prison sentences. There are rumors that the banks told the government that they would collapse the economy. I think it is more that the government has had other priorities in the last 20 years.
    – Walter
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 1:08
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    Do you mean can the Feds choose not to prosecute or do you mean that the Feds can't prosecute bankers because they are above the law? I suggest you reword the Title of the question to make this clear.
    – Walter
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 1:12

1 Answer 1


Prosecutors have discretion to not bring charges. Wayte v. United States 470 U.S. 598 (1985), Bordenkircher v. Hayes 434 U.S. 357 (1978)

The Department of Justice says:

The reasoned exercise of prosecutorial discretion is essential to the fair, effective, and even-handed administration of the federal criminal laws. Decisions about whether to initiate charges, what charges and enhancements to pursue, when to accept a negotiated plea, and how to advocate at sentencing, are among the most fundamental duties of federal prosecutors.

The US Attorney's Manual says:

The prosecutor's broad discretion in such areas as initiating or foregoing prosecutions, selecting or recommending specific charges, and terminating prosecutions by accepting guilty pleas has been recognized on numerous occasions by the courts. See, e.g., Oyler v. Boles, 368 U.S. 448 (1962); Newman v. United States, 382 F.2d 479 (D.C. Cir. 1967); Powell v. Ratzenbach, 359 F.2d 234 (D.C. Cir. 1965), cert. denied, 384 U.S. 906 (1966). This discretion exists by virtue of his/her status as a member of the Executive Branch, which is charged under the Constitution with ensuring that the laws of the United States be "faithfully executed."

As of April 28, 2016, 35 bankers had been sent to prison for fraud and other financial crimes relating to the 2008-and-onward financial crisis.

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