Between about 2008 to 2010, I tried to get a small company in California to give money back to its shareholders. The company didn’t need the money and management and the board clearly was going to spend it on themselves. So I demanded they give it back.
Apparently, someone at their law firm picked up the phone and called in a favor.
Between 2010 and 2012, an agency of the U.S. government investigated every aspect of me, my firm, my shareholder rights activities, and every other aspect of my professional and personal life. The agency demanded hundreds of thousands of documents and started calling my customers and associates at work and at home as part of its investigation. After years of work—efforts that clearly cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands or possibly even millions of dollars—the SEC ultimately accused me of a complicated form of civil fraud (not a crime), alleging I had overbilled my clients nearly $70 per month over a three-year period. In other words, the SEC decided that I had risked my reputation, my livelihood, my firm and my family’s good name for $2,200 and change and that I needed to be punished.
BTW, I didn’t steal any money and none of my clients think I did. But nobody seems to care much about what actually did or didn’t happen.
As a lawyer, a CFA, a fiduciary, a U.S. citizen, and a shareholder rights activist (and, obviously, a bit of a self-righteous prick), I decided I had a moral and ethical obligation to push back against an administrative branch of the United States government in Washington, D.C.
So the SEC decided to end me. It used its well-oiled playbook of investigatory tactics as well as the decrees of an in-house administrative law “judge” (the infamous “ALJs”) to destroy all three of my businesses, my reputation and my career prospects. The SEC got Chase to revoke my credit cards, it got Merrill Lynch to shut down my retirement account, the CFA Institute demanded my resignation, etc. I could no longer pay my 11 employees so I had to let them go. Suddenly, no firm in my industry would do business with me, let alone employ me, or, in some cases, even allow me in the front door. I had to continue paying rent on an office the SEC decided I was no longer allowed to enter. I nearly lost my house. The SEC even got Google to highlight a carefully written press release telling you exactly what a scumbag I really am. Even now, if you Google me, it’s the first thing you’re going to see.
All I’ve ever wanted was the chance to defend myself in a fair trial, a trial in which the government accuses me of violating some actual law, in front of an actual federal judge, based on actual evidence, actual witnesses and actual testimony.
I’m still waiting.
This isn’t about right and left, Republican versus Democrat or liberal versus conservative. Yes, I was born rich, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t worked just as hard as you have. And, it’s quite possible I’m more liberal than you are. I’m from Chicago: Over the last 50 years, I’ve learned a lot about racial segregation, police brutality, religious intolerance, income inequality, urban unemployment, racism, gang violence, anti-semitism, political corruption, and anti-gay hate crime. The only difference between you and me is that I was forced to take a stand against the administrative branch of the U.S. government. I hope you never have to. It sucks.
I can’t predict who is going to knock on your door. It might be the IRS, Immigration, the SEC, Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Education, the CIA, the NSA—or any of the other “fourth branch” administrative agencies that now have the legal right to become Judge, Jury and Executioner over every man, woman and child in this country—with the full blessing of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. judiciary. Some of these agencies even keep secret lists that deny those listed various rights and opportunities supposedly granted to every ordinary American citizen. Are you on one? They don’t have to tell you. My subpoenas have been denied. Maybe yours will will fare better.
If you push back, you’re going to lose. Nobody can push back against an administrative agency of the United States government. Not you, not me, not anyone.
The old joke says, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t really trying to kill you.”
Somehow that used to sound funnier.
Eric “The $2,200 Man” Wanger