In a blistering letter sent Wednesday, 14 U.S. senators demand the Department of Justice (DOJ) "thoroughly investigate the culpability of senior executives" at Wells Fargo as part of its probe into the financial giant's recent fake-accounts scandal.
Not to do so, they warn, could reinforce "the notion that the wealthy and powerful have purchased a higher class of justice for themselves."
"Americans are rightly frustrated when they see that justice for the wealthy and powerful is very different than justice for everybody else."
—Fourteen US senators, to Attorney General Loretta Lynch
The missive from senators including Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.) to Attorney General Loretta Lynch cites a 2015 memo in which the DOJ vowed to finally crack down on corporate criminals.
It quotes Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who said at the time: "It's only fair that the people who are responsible for committing those crimes be held accountable. The public needs to have confidence that there is one system of justice and it applies equally regardless of whether that crime occurs on a street corner or in a boardroom."
Yet that confidence has been shattered, the senators write.
"Americans are rightly frustrated when they see that justice for the wealthy and powerful is very different than justice for everybody else," Wednesday's letter reads.
"A bank teller that takes a handful of bills from the cash drawer is likely to face charges for theft and prison time," it continues. "She can't hide behind an army of lawyers and corporate policies that diffuse accountability for those at the top. Meanwhile, an executive who oversees a massive fraud that implicates thousands of bank employees and costs customers millions of dollars can walk away with a hefty retirement package and millions in the bank. It's no wonder that Americans are skeptical of the effectiveness of our criminal justice system."
Indeed, The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote Tuesday, "The time for a crackdown is long overdue." In fact, she declared: "This will be the final chance for President Obama's hapless Justice Department and compromised SEC to demonstrate that they possess the independence needed to police the banks."
And there's more than enough fodder for the department to investigate, economist and white-collar criminologist William Black told Richard Eskow of the Campaign for America's Future this week.
"Could prosecutable offenses have been committed in Wells Fargo's executive suite?" Eskow asked Black in an interview published Monday.
"Yes," Black responded, "if they were on notice of it, or if they...deliberately prevented themselves from learning about it." He also cited "fraud, false statements to regulators, wire and and mail fraud, and identity theft" as potential violations that occurred.
The senators, in their letter, issue a similar charge. The facts that emerged from last month's Senate Banking Committee hearing with Wells Fargo chairman and CEO John Stumpf, they say, "raise questions about whether senior executives, including Mr. Stumpf, knowingly allowed illegal conduct to continue."
In addition to Warren, Sanders, and Franken, Wednesday's letter was signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Angus King (I-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore).