Category: Hmmmm Factor


Wall Street On Parade

Suspicious Deaths of Bankers Are Now Classified as “Trade Secrets” by Federal Regulator

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: April 28, 2014

It doesn’t get any more Orwellian than this: Wall Street mega banks crash the U.S. financial system in 2008. Hundreds of thousands of financial industry workers lose their jobs. Then, beginning late last year, a rash of suspicious deaths start to occur among current and former bank employees.  Next we learn that four of the Wall Street mega banks likely hold over $680 billion face amount of life insurance on their workers, payable to the banks, not the families. We ask their Federal regulator for the details of this life insurance under a Freedom of Information Act request and we’re told the information constitutes “trade secrets.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the life expectancy of a 25 year old male with a Bachelor’s degree or higher as of 2006 was 81 years of age. But in the past five months, five highly educated JPMorgan male employees in their 30s and one former employee aged 28, have died under suspicious circumstances, including three of whom allegedly leaped off buildings – a statistical rarity even during the height of the financial crisis in 2008.

There is one other major obstacle to brushing away these deaths as random occurrences – they are not happening at JPMorgan’s closest peer bank – Citigroup. Both JPMorgan and Citigroup are global financial institutions with both commercial banking and investment banking operations. Their employee counts are similar – 260,000 employees for JPMorgan versus 251,000 for Citigroup.

Both JPMorgan and Citigroup also own massive amounts of bank-owned life insurance (BOLI), a controversial practice that pays the corporation when a current or former employee dies. (In the case of former employees, the banks conduct regular “death sweeps” of public records using former employees’ Social Security numbers to learn if a former employee has died and then submits a request for payment of the death benefit to the insurance company.)

Wall Street On Parade carefully researched public death announcements over the past 12 months which named the decedent as a current or former employee of Citigroup or its commercial banking unit, Citibank. We found no data suggesting Citigroup was experiencing the same rash of deaths of young men in their 30s as JPMorgan Chase. Nor did we discover any press reports of leaps from buildings among Citigroup’s workers.

Given the above set of facts, on March 21 of this year, we wrote to the regulator of national banks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act (See OCC Response to Wall Street On Parade’s Request for Banker Death Information):

The number of deaths from 2008 through March 21, 2014 on which JPMorgan Chase collected death benefits; the total face amount of BOLI life insurance in force at JPMorgan; the total number of former and current employees of JPMorgan Chase who are insured under these policies; any peer studies showing the same data comparing JPMorgan Chase with Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup.

The OCC responded politely by letter dated April 18, after first calling a few days earlier to inform us that we would be getting nothing under the sunshine law request. (On Wall Street, sunshine routinely means dark curtain.) The OCC letter advised that documents relevant to our request were being withheld on the basis that they are “privileged or contains trade secrets, or commercial or financial information, furnished in confidence, that relates to the business, personal, or financial affairs of any person,” or  relate to “a record contained in or related to an examination.”

The ironic reality is that the documents do not pertain to the personal financial affairs of individuals who have a privacy right. Individuals are not going to receive the proceeds of this life insurance for the most part. In many cases, they do not even know that multi-million dollar policies that pay upon their death have been taken out by their employer or former employer. Equally important, JPMorgan is a publicly traded company whose shareholders have a right under securities laws to understand the quality of its earnings – are those earnings coming from traditional banking and investment banking operations or is this ghoulish practice of profiting from the death of workers now a major contributor to profits on Wall Street?

As it turns out, one aspect of the information cavalierly denied to us by the OCC is publicly available to those willing to hunt for it. On March 24 of this year, we reported that JPMorgan Chase held $10.4 billion in BOLI assets at its insured depository bank as of December 31, 2013.

We reached out to BOLI expert, Michael D. Myers, to understand what JPMorgan’s $10.4 billion in BOLI assets at its commercial bank might represent in terms of face amount of life insurance on its workers. Myers said: “Without knowing the length of the investment or its rate of return, it is difficult to estimate the face amount of the insurance coverage.  However, a cash value of $10.4 billion could easily translate into more than $100 billion in actual insurance coverage and possibly two or three times that amount” said Myers, a partner in the Houston, Texas law firm McClanahan Myers Espey, L.L.P.

 

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Insurance policies pertaining to bankers’ suicides classified as containing ‘trade secrets’

Published time: April 29, 2014 19:09

AFP Photo / John Moore

AFP Photo / John Moore

After a recent rash of mysterious apparent suicides shook the financial world, researchers are scrambling to find answers about what really is the reason behind these multiple deaths. Some observers have now come to a rather shocking conclusion.

Wall Street on Parade bloggers Pam and Russ Martens wrote this week that something seems awry regarding the bank-owned life insurance (BOLI) policies held by JPMorgan Chase. Traditional life insurance policies ensure that the loved ones of the deceased are compensated fairly in the event of a death, but banks are investing billions in policies that let them receive untaxed payment with the passing of each employee. While it’s not unusual for major banks to take out policies that compensate companies in the event of an employee death, the Martens wrote, attempts to find out more about that practice have been peculiarly hard and have raised a red flag among bloggers like those at Wall Street on Parade.

Four of the biggest banks on Wall Street combined hold over $680 billion in BOLI policies, the bloggers reported, but JPMorgan held around $17.9 billion in BOLI assets at the end of last year to Citigroup’s comparably meager $8.8 billion.

Both banks are global financial institutions with commercial and investment banking operations, the Martens wrote, and each employs close to a quarter-of-a-million employees. Nevertheless, they say that JPMorgan has experienced a far greater rate of suicide among employees in recent months, particularly in the midst of a series of news reports documenting unusual leaps off buildings and other bizarre deaths that have taken the lives of JPMorgan staffers.

 

Read More Here

 

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A dirty secret of the American judicial system is that juries are hardly fair and impartial

Jury selection these days is done with a wink and a nod.
Jury selection these days is done with a wink and a nod. (REUTERS/Art Lien)

Imagine you are a defendant awaiting trial on criminal charges that could send you to prison for the rest of your life. You are sitting at the counsel table during voir dire, the process by which a jury is selected before a trial.

The prosecutor asks a potential juror: “You haven’t heard any evidence. How would you vote?” The potential juror responds: “I would have to vote guilty.”

Your trial judge pipes up. He’s supposed to ensure that you receive a fair trial and that the jurors who will sit in judgment upon you are neutral, objective, and willing to see and hear the evidence with an open mind. The judge asks the prospective juror: “Could you return a verdict of not guilty if the government doesn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt?” The would-be juror responds: “I don’t think I would be able to.”

The prosecutor — who wants this juror on the panel because he wants to convict you — presses on. He asks the juror: “Let’s say the victim takes the stand [and] you flat-out don’t believe her. In fact, you think she’s lying. You look at her [and conclude], ‘I don’t believe a word coming out of her mouth.’ Are you going to convict this man anyway?”

The potential juror responds: “That depends. I still feel he was at fault.”

How would you feel if this juror were allowed to join the panel that determined your fate? Would you feel as though you had received a fair trial by an impartial panel, as the Sixth Amendment commands? Or would you feel that the trial judge had failed to protect your presumption of innocence?

My guess is you would feel cheated. I know I would. But yet this precise scenario unfolded in California in 2009. This juror was allowed to serve on this trial. And to date, no judge has declared it a violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.

Now, in this particular case, the defendant, Jose Felipe Velasco, was accused of an extremely heinous crime. He was an alleged serial child rapist who had gotten a 14-year-old girl pregnant after having some form of sex with her 21 times. But that should not change our minds about whether this man should be presumed innocent and be entitled to a fair trial. Indeed, this is precisely why we have constitutional rights in criminal cases — so that fairness and due process come even to the despised.

R. Scott Moxley, a veteran reporter and columnist for OC Weekly, brought this story to national prominence this week — and it’s a remarkably ugly picture in every way. Not only were the charges awful, not only is this defendant as unsympathetic a figure as the criminal justice system churns out, but the way the case was handled was ignoble, too. Thousands of years’ worth of the presumption of innocence shouldn’t go out the window just because a defendant is accused of heinous crimes.

 

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The myth of the impartial juror

Crazy story from the OC Weekly about a sex crimes case in California.

After an Orange County prosecutor gave an opening statement, Juror 112 notified [Judge David] Hoffer that based on her own experiences she believes criminals should forgo trials in such sexual assault cases and go straight to prison to spare victims additional turmoil.

The prosecutor then asked the juror: “You haven’t heard any evidence. How would you vote?”

Juror 112 responded, “I would have to vote guilty.”

Statements by lawyers are not evidence, and Hoffer followed up with the juror, according to court transcripts reviewed by the Weekly.

The judge asked if she could return a verdict of not guilty if the government couldn’t prove it’s case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“I don’t think I would be able to,” the juror replied.

 

Read More Here

 

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Left Side Male, Right Side Female: Extremely Strange Creatures

By , Epoch Times | February 23, 2014

 

This lobster is half female, half male—split right down the middle, as seen by the two-toned coloring. It was caught by a fisherman off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, last year and the photo was posted on Reddit by his nephew.

The chances of catching such a two-toned lobster are 1 in 50 million to 100 million, staff at the Mount Desert Oceanarium said when a similar lobster was caught in Bar Harbor, Maine, in 2006.

It may be rare to catch such a lobster, but this phenomenon is found not only in lobsters. It is also found in butterflies and numerous other organisms.

According to ancient Taoist beliefs, the human body is divided into two genders corresponding to yin and yang. The left side is male, associated with yang chi, and the right side is female, associated with yin chi.

Not all two-toned lobsters are part male and part female (gynandromorphs).

 

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Published time: February 19, 2014 00:53
Joe Raedle / Getty Images / AFP

Joe Raedle / Getty Images / AFP

With one person missing and presumed dead in an explosion at a natural gas well in a small Pennsylvania town, the company responsible is now under fire after apparently apologizing to the local community by handing out vouchers for free pizza.

It took five days for emergency crews to safely extinguish a fire that was set by an explosion that shook the small town of Bobtown, located in the far southwestern corner of the state. The blast gave off a loud hissing noise that could be heard from hundreds of yards away.

One resident told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the explosion in a shale formation where Chevron Corp. has spent time fracking “sounded like a jet engine going five feet above your house.” John Kuis, 57, of nearby Dilliner said his dog started growling unusually at 6:45 a.m. on February 11 “then the house just sort of shock and there was a big loud bang.”

At least one employee who was working on the rig has not been found and is widely thought to have been killed – either in the initial explosion or during the five days the flames burned. Another worker was injured in the event.

Chevron has denied any knowledge of what caused the explosion. Company spokesman Ken Robertson told the local ABC affiliate that workers were preparing to run tubing, which is done when wells are being readied for production, and that “there is not enough fuel being emitted to sustain combustion, and with the cooling of the crane, the ignition source has been removed.”

The Philadelphia Daily News has since discovered that residents of Bobtown – a census-designated community of fewer than 1,000 people that revolves mostly around coal mining – have started receiving coupons for one free pizza and a two-liter of soda from the local Bobtown pizza.

Chevron recognizes the effect this has had on the community,” the company said on its website. “We value being a responsible member of this community and will continue to strive to achieve incident-free operations. We are committed to taking action to safeguard our neighbors, our employees, our contractors and the environment.”

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Updated Feb. 6, 2014 12:59 p.m. ET

Russia deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, left, and Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov, right,smile ahead of a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the opening of a center for fans of the Russian national team in Sochi on Thursday. Mr. Kozak dismissed complaints that hotels built for the Olympics weren’t ready in time. ZUMAPRESS.com

SOCHI, RussiaRooms without doorknobs, locks or heat, dysfunctional toilets, surprise early-morning fire alarms and packs of stray dogs: These are the initial images of the 2014 Winter Olympics that foreign journalists have blasted around the world from their officially assigned hotels—and the wave of criticism has rankled Russian officials.

Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, seemed to reflect the view held among many Russian officials that some Western visitors are deliberately trying to sabotage Sochi’s big debut out of bias against Russia. “We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day,” he said. An aide then pulled a reporter away before Mr. Kozak could be questioned further on surveillance in hotel rooms. “We’re doing a tour of the media center,” the aide said.

A spokesman for Mr. Kozak later on Thursday said there is absolutely no surveillance in hotel rooms or bathrooms occupied by guests. He said there was surveillance on premises during construction and cleaning of Sochi’s venues and hotels and that is likely what Mr. Kozak was referencing. A senior official at a company that built a number of the hotels also said there is no such surveillance in rooms occupied by guests.

Mr. Kozak toured the giant, gleaming new media center Thursday morning, marveling at the huge workspace built specially for the thousands of journalists who have come from around the world to cover the Games.

Asked about the widely reported problems with hotel rooms not being ready for guests, he was dismissive. “We’ve put 100,000 guests in rooms and only gotten 103 registered complaints and every one of those is being taken care of,” he said. (It wasn’t clear what Mr. Kozak was counting as a registered complaint.)

In a news conference, Mr. Kozak said he had no “claims against Western or Russian journalists who are doing their jobs.” Most of the critical views of the accommodations or preparations amount to “small imperfections in the Olympic facilities and tourist infrastructure,” Mr. Kozak said, noting that it wasn’t long ago that the entire Olympic area was an “open field.”…..

Construction laborers Thursday work on the pavement of an unfinished apartment building in the mountain media village at the Rosa Khutor alpine resort near Sochi. michael dalder/Reuters

To build the facilities for the roughly $50 billion Sochi Olympics, Russia has built nearly an entire city from scratch. Organizers completed all the sporting venues, including the hockey and figure skating arenas, well ahead of time, as well as two villages for the Olympic competitors—one in the mountains and one by the sea.

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