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.


On CNN, July 10, 2017, Jennifer Taub and former US attorney Matthew Whitaker debate the legal implications of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer

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

Other People's Houses

OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES (Yale Press, 2014)

In the wake of the financial meltdown in 2008, there were many who claimed it had been inevitable, that “no one saw it coming,” and that subprime borrowers were to blame. This accessible, thoroughly researched book is Jennifer Taub’s response to such unfounded claims. Drawing on wide-ranging experience as a corporate lawyer, investment firm counsel, and scholar of business law and financial market regulation, Taub chronicles how government officials helped bankers inflate the toxic mortgage backed housing bubble, then after the bubble burst ignored the plight of millions of homeowners suddenly facing foreclosure.

Focusing new light on the similarities between the Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980s and the Financial Crisis in 2008, Taub reveals that in both cases the same reckless banks, operating under different names, failed again, while the same lax regulators overlooked fraud and abuse. Furthermore, in 2014, as the legal problems plaguing JPMorgan Chase demonstrate, the situation is essentially unchanged. The author asserts that the 2008 Crisis was not just similar to the S&L scandal, it was a severe relapse of the same underlying disease. And despite modest regulatory reforms, the disease remains uncured: top banks remain too big to manage, too big to regulate, and too big to fail.




This casebook endeavors to provide a theoretical and policy framework for systematically examining the principal federal statutes that prosecutors regularly invoke in corporate and white collar crime cases. In addition to relying on reported judicial decisions as vehicles for discussion, the book uses problems, case studies, and other similar materials to illustrate the context within which the issues are framed. The sixth edition  includes landmark decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appellate courts through 2016. New judicial decisions include United States v. Newman (Insider Trading); Yates v. United States (Sarbanes-Oxley); McDonnell v. United States (Bribery of Public Officials); and RJR v. European Commission (RICO).

It is with great honor and trepidation that I endeavor to carry forward Kathleen Brickey’s work, beginning with this sixth edition. Brickey was a pioneer in the field of corporate and white collar criminal law. Beginning in 1984 with her multi-volume treatise “Corporate Criminal Liability,” she cleared a path for many scholars to follow. One of her most generous contributions is this casebook.




Q&A on Other People's Houses

Do the conditions that caused the financial crisis persist? Could this happen again?

Unfortunately, yes. In 2009 Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke defended the multi-trillion dollar bailouts, explaining “it wasn’t to help the big firms that we intervened…when the elephant falls down, all the grass gets crushed as well.” Today, the elephants are larger than ever and the grass is still crushed. The top banks are bigger and still borrow excessively in the shortterm and overnight markets leaving them vulnerable to runs. But, let’s be clear. For most Americans, it’s not a question of when the next crisis will hit, but when this one will end.

Why another book about the financial crisis? What’s new here?

I wrote Other People’s Houses because I wanted to tell the story of the crisis from the perspective of homeowners. Many books about the crisis speak in broad concepts or they dramatize the crisis exclusively from the vantage point of bank executives and high-level government officials. Homeowners that are included can appear randomly selected, like stock characters. As a fresh approach, the central narrative thread of Other People’s Houses is the Nobelman v. American Savings Bank decision. This Supreme Court case still prevents families from saving their homes through bankruptcy. My book uncovers the back stories of the associated homeowners, bankers and regulators and traces them forward from the Savings and Loan debacle, through the toxic-mortgagebacked financial crisis, to the JPMorgan Chase $6 billion London Whale trading losses and associated legal troubles.

Praise for Other People's Houses

“Demonstrating an academic’s rigor and a style that is accessible to all, Taub takes us through decades of bad housing policy by bringing to life the greedy bankers and indifferent regulators who seem to keep bringing our financial system to its knees. Other People’s Houses makes a relentless case for the need to level the playing field for Main Street homeowners and the consequences for our failure to do so. A must-read for anyone seeking to understand the causes of the last financial crisis and why we may very well be heading towards another.”

Neil Barofsky
Former Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and author of Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street

“By unearthing the personal stories of homeowners, bankers, and regulators, Jennifer Taub shows that our recent financial crisis was no accident—it resulted from decades of government policies that bailed out banks and their wealthy executives while turning a blind eye to ordinary people.”

James Kwak
University of Connecticut School of Law, co-founder of the Baseline Scenario blog, and coauthor of 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown and White House Burning: Our National Debt and Why it Matters to You.

“No matter how much you think you know about recent financial debacles, you will make some astonishing discoveries in Other People’s Houses. This is first-rate financial history.”

Marty Fridson
CEO, FridsonVision LLC

“Taub exposes three decades of predatory lenders, greedy investors, and lax regulators, with a much-needed focus on the dire consequences of preventing bankruptcy judges from restructuring mortgage debt.”

Julia Gordon
Dir. of Housing Policy, Center for American Progress

“A page-turner that reads like a Michael Lewis financial thriller, this bracing account of the roots of financial crises debunks stubborn myths with insight that would make Louis Brandeis proud.”

Lawrence A. Cunningham
George Washington University, editor of The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America

“Taub argues persuasively how the seeds for the 2008 financial crisis were sown back in the 1980s as deregulation paved the way for the S&L debacle. But that was only an appetiser for even greater calamity later.”

Mark Tran
The Guardian

“Meticulously argued and guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of the average American taxpayer.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Over the years I’ve read a tall stack of books about the financial crisis. Other People’s Houses by Vermont Law School professor Jennifer Taub, provides the clearest, beginning-to-end explanation I’ve seen of what went wrong. And Taub’s beginning is a surprise: A 1993 Supreme Court decision about how bankruptcy law applies to mortgages.”

Pat Regnier
Money Magazine

“Provides a concise, clear, and compelling account.”

Glenn C. Altschuler
Huffington Post

“Taub’s cogently written, accusatory work will interest a wide readership. She highlights the negative treatment of homeowners compared to banks and places over three decades of mortgage lending since the 1980s savings and loan (S&L) crisis in sharp perspective.”

Library Journal

“Taub does an excellent job retelling and reframing a reasonably well-known story to make it fresh and interesting, and makes a strong case tying the 2008 crisis to the 1980s deregulation. . .All in all, this is a very good book on the housing bubble. . . Highly recommended.”

Adam Levitin
Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

“Brilliant account of the housing crisis and its lingering impact. I have read many books about the financial crisis, and Taub’s is one of the best. What’s really remarkable about this account is that it shows exactly how practices that were widely proscribed as criminal in the 1980s and 90s were rebranded or tinkered with in various ways to create similar, often strikingly similar, replicas of older scams.”


Frank A. Pasquale III
Professor of Law, University of Maryland, Francis King Carey School of Law

“A compelling narrative that keeps the reader’s attention from cover to cover.  .  .She pulls no punches as both Democrats and Republicans alike are implicated in Wall Street’s policy agenda. . .It is a must read for anyone interested in understanding and reforming our broken financial system.”

Timothy Canova
Professor of Law and Public Finance, Nova Southeastern University, Shepard Broad Law Center