By Gerri Elder, Total Bankruptcy Writer
Arizona's Maricopa County Attorney Republican Andrew Thomas has pledged to help prosecute Wall Street executives for crimes they may have committed that led to the current global financial crisis.
The county attorney is running for reelection and has turned that pledge into one of the major cruxes of his campaign.
"In addition to fighting identity theft, frauds on senior citizens and other financial crimes, I will use Arizona's fraudulent schemes and artifices statute and its long-arm statute to hold accountable those who may have committed crimes related to the recent financial scandals," Thomas said in a press release.
Thomas is in a brutal battle with Democrat Tim Nelson for the county attorney's seat-and election day is right around the corner.
Thomas said he plans to work with federal agencies in Phoenix and use state laws "to deal with possible fraudulent practices by Lehman Brothers, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or other financial institutions that have collapsed or been taken over by the federal government".
"Somebody has to step up in Arizona to prevent this from happening again," Thomas said to a local reporter.
Specifically, he said in his press release that he would:
But already Thomas retreated from those statements, according to an East Valley Tribune article.
When referring to how he planned to prosecute Wall Street, he said "It would not be proper to make allegations at this point," in a recent interview.
However, he did say that he would like to assist the U.S. attorneys in New York and New Jersey who are currently probing the numerous failed banks' policies.
"My intention isn't to try to intrude upon or impinge upon ongoing investigations, but to make clear my own personal commitment that we get to the bottom of things," Thomas said.
When asked about whether Thomas can keep his promises, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said, "I guess it's possible. It would take a tremendous investigative resource to obviously go where the executives live and to be able to prove a connection with Arizona investors."
Goddard has already endorsed Nelson.
Nelson said that Arizona already has a financial crimes unit that addresses those types of issues and they do a good job at prosecuting people who violate the law. He also said that Thomas should examine his own spending to address financial issues that matter to the state of Arizona.
"It seems to me we're going to be facing very serious budget restraints in the upcoming budget and his budget in particular has been poorly spent for a long time," Nelson told the East Valley Tribune. "I think we need to be prosecuting the most serious crimes, the most violent crimes."
A county attorney can't prosecute under federal law; however, he could prosecute Wall Street executives if they violated Arizona laws.
"I don't think that's ridiculous on its face," Stuart Green, a law professor at Rutgers School of Law in New Jersey and an expert on white-collar crime told the newspaper. But Green agreed that Thomas' office probably lacked the experience needed to prosecute the executives.
"These statutes are fairly complicated, and the cases require a different kind of expertise, particularly in terms of investigation," Green told the reporter. "You have to understand how the transactions work, you have to be able to dig through the evidence, and they frequently have FBI agents or [Security and Exchange Commission] officials who have some background in that."
In addition, Goddard said that it would cost millions of dollars to take just one case to trial.
David Smith, the county's manager, said the county is already facing a $70 million shortfall in its budget. Regardless of cost, Smith said that executive fraud prosecutions shouldn't be a county attorney's top priority.
"It would mean they had resolved a number of other pressing issues in this county," Smith told the newspaper, "such as murder, rape, kidnapping, home invasion, to such a degree that they had enough free time to go after fraud on Wall Street."
Thomas argued that his office is prepared to prosecute white-collar crime, saying that his prosecutors consistently win fraud convictions.
Thomas is comparing his Wall-Street fight to the fight he made against illegal immigration. He said that people doubted his abilities to crack down on illegal immigration when he ran for the office four years ago and said "I believe I've done my utmost".
During his term, Thomas has helped to pass new state immigration laws and has prosecuted about 1,000 illegal immigrants for felony human smuggling.
Many Americans are outraged by the irresponsible practices of Wall Street. While executives were living large, the rest of America was - and still is - facing foreclosure on their homes and job loss.
It'll be interesting to see if this politician's promise for justice will resonate with voters. Stay tuned to Total Bankruptcy for updates.