Bank Robbers Go to Jail, Bank Execs Write Checks

PHOTO: Michael Corbat the CEO of Citigroup Inc., at Citibanks newest branch location in Washington

While robbing a Citibank branch can earn individual citizens decades in prison, the Department of Justice is allowing corporate giant Citigroup executives to avoid criminal charges for the bank’s role in the financial collapse that caused thousands of Americans to lose millions of dollars.

Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference Monday that the Citigroup $7 billion fine and settlements like it so far have been punishment enough for big banks – that there has been a “deterrent impact from every substantial and historic settlement that we have worked out.”

According to settlement documents, from 2006 to 2007 Citigroup lured thousands of Americans into unstable mortgage loans and sold the resulting mortgage backed securities for tens of billions of dollars to investors. Holder said this practice contributed “mightily” to the financial tumble in the American economy in late 2007, which led to more than a million foreclosed homes and in some cases, homeless families.

Citigroup executives have admitted to the charges against the bank but they aren’t facing any criminal charges – a very different fate from the individuals arrested for robbing their banks.

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James Watson decided to rob two banks in Westport, Connecticut, one of them a Citibank, after he found himself neck deep in medical bills and needed money for his children’s Christmas gifts. His attorney told the Connecticut’s CTPost he walked out of the 2012 robberies with only $972. For the effort and threatening bank employees with a knife, he earned 10 years in prison.

Michael McManus, more commonly known as the “White Glove Bandit” because he wore white latex gloves when robbing banks, was arrested in April 2012 after robbing four banks and collecting more than $32,000 in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He threatened tellers with what looked like a revolver but later turned out to be a cap gun. He was captured on surveillance video holding up one of the banks, a Citibank. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

A father-daughter duo, John Charles and Shelby Dawn Applewhite, were sentenced to 15 years and 5 years respectively for their tag team robbery of three Dallas banks in May 2013. According to a FBI press release, John used a “dangerous gun” to threaten tellers. One of those, too, was a Citibank.

It should come as no surprise that low-level bank robbers will serve hard time for their crimes, while high-level corporate types often avoid criminal charges, according to Brandon Garrett, a University of Virginia law professor and author of the upcoming book “Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations.”

“There is a real moral concern with the difference in treatment of corporate offenders and the small fry that gets caught up in the criminal justice system,” Garrett said.

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