Big Dirty Money

Publication date: September 29, 2020

How ordinary Americans suffer when the rich and powerful break the law to get richer and more powerful–and how we can stop it.

There is an elite crime spree happening in America, and the privileged perps are getting away with it. Selling loose cigarettes on a city sidewalk can lead to a choke-hold arrest, and death, if you are not among the top 1%. But if you’re rich and commit mail, wire, or bank fraud, embezzle pension funds, lie in court, obstruct justice, bribe a public official, launder money, or cheat on your taxes, you’re likely to get off scot-free (or even win an election). When caught and convicted, such as for bribing their kids’ way into college, high-class criminals make brief stops in minimum security “Club Fed” camps. Operate the scam from the executive suite of a giant corporation, and you can prosper with impunity. Consider Wells Fargo & Co. Pressured by management, employees at the bank opened more than three million bank and credit card accounts without customer consent, and charged late fees and penalties to account holders. When CEO John Stumpf resigned in “shame,” the board of directors granted him a $134 million golden parachute.

This is not victimless crime. Big Dirty Money details the scandalously common and concrete ways that ordinary Americans suffer when the well-heeled use white collar crime to gain and sustain wealth, social status, and political influence. Profiteers caused the mortgage meltdown and the prescription opioid crisis, they’ve evaded taxes and deprived communities of public funds for education, public health, and infrastructure. Taub goes beyond the headlines (of which there is no shortage) to track how we got here (essentially a post-Enron failure of prosecutorial muscle, the growth of “too big to jail” syndrome, and a developing implicit immunity of the upper class) and pose solutions that can help catch and convict offenders.

Jennifer Taub

Jennifer Taub is a legal scholar and advocate whose writing focuses on “follow the money” matters— promoting transparency and opposing corruption. She has testified as a banking law expert before Congress and has appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and CNN’s Newsroom.


Taub was the Bruce W. Nichols Visiting Professor of Law in fall 2019 at Harvard Law School and is now a professor of law at the Western New England University School of Law. A former associate general counsel at Fidelity Investments, she is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School.


Photo credit: Jill Greenberg

Q&A on Big Dirty Money

Praise for Big Dirty Money

“A scathing indictment of white-collar crime and its unpunished practitioners . . . In this steely-eyed examination of these brazen criminals, Taub holds that this lack of effective punishment merely encourages the wealthy to prey on the rest of society . . . A significant manifesto for judicial reform that aims at cracking the cabal of big-money grifters at the top.”

Kirkus Reviews
(*starred review*)

“The United States is drowning in dirty money; we’ve constructed a two-tiered system of civil and criminal justice, of corruption and campaign finance; of bailouts and bankruptcies. Jennifer Taub ably and cogently strips bare the racism and the regulatory failures that have made America’s wealthiest predators too big to fail and too spectacular to jail. Anyone worried about the current failures of accounting and accountability, and how these failures shape politics, elections, journalism and justice should take notice.”—

Dahlia Lithwick
Senior Legal Editor, Slate

“In the corporate and political worlds, Taub finds a rampant crime wave, touching more than our financial markets and the halls of Congress. It intrudes into our daily lives, threatening our health, food, environment, and well-being. Sweeping and comprehensive, her work culminates in a groundbreaking series of imaginative solutions to refocus our efforts on combating elite crime to help American society recover.”

Jesse Eisinger
Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Chickenshit Club

“A stimulating and provocative book that challenges the current administration on its handling of white collar crimes. It sets the stage for change.”

Ellen Podgor
Stetson University, co-author of White Collar Crime: Law and Practice

“Donald Trump’s time as president has shown that there are different standards for those in power—a ruling class that appears untouchable as in authoritarian regimes. But well before that, Trump was used to escaping accountability like other corporate insiders. Jennifer Taub details how this cycle of rewarding bad behavior has consolidated power in the hands of few and hurt our country.”

Amy Siskind
President, The New Agenda

“It’s no accident that African-American citizens can be brutalized or even killed for minor alleged infractions, while corporate wrongdoers escape punishment or prosecution. When we see corner drug dealers denied bail but pharmaceutical conglomerates payout dividends, we are seeing the justice system work as intended. Jennifer Taub explains how the rot goes right to the heart of our legal and regulatory systems themselves.”

Elie Mystal
Justice Correspondent for The Nation

“This powerful book explains how weak laws and ineffective enforcement enable some people to cause enormous harm with near impunity. Taub shines light on fraud, tax evasion and corruption, where wrongdoings can be hard to detect and the bar for creating accountability is too high. She issues a passionate call to action and outlines sensible reforms, at least some of which should resonate broadly and across our political divides.”

Anat R. Admati
Stanford University and co-author of The Bankers New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What To Do About It