Tales from the Trail

Lessons in ignoring red flags from the SEC

September 2, 2009

The Securities and Exchange Commission, which has the power to strike fear into the hearts of financial types, is the one getting beaten up today by its own inspector general.

Turns out that tips came in over 16 years that should have raised red flags and could have uncovered Bernard Madoff’s $65 billion ponzi fraud before his December 2008 confession. ASIA-EUROPE/

Even Madoff was “astonished” that the SEC did not follow up to verify his testimony about clearing trades through a third party, saying he had actually thought it was “game over” at that point.

These types of reports generally generate a lot of finger-pointing (congressional hearings offer a showcase) and sirens wailing for reform. The trouble is there’s never a quick fix.

It’s been eight years since the Sept. 11 attacks and the government is still working on reform of the national security aparatus after it became clear that various agencies had dropped the ball.

Republican Senator Charles Grassley has called for changing “a culture of deference toward the Wall Street elite at the SEC.”

Sounds like a taller order than simple reform, what do you think it would take to change the culture at the SEC.

Photo credit: Reuters/David Gray (soldiers holding red flags in China)

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