Geoffrey Graber, the 41-year-old Justice Department attorney tasked with holding Wall Street accountable for the financial crisis, has a message for his prosecutors: Always be closing.
In the past year, Graber has won almost $37 billion in penalties from some of the world’s largest banks, a record haul for prosecutors. To colleagues, he compares his job to that of Blake, the notorious motivational speaker played by Alec Baldwin in David Mamet’s 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross, who chastises real estate salesmen for failing to lock in deals.
“My role was to identify the most promising cases and accelerate those,” Graber said in an interview. “We’ve done our best to put a short fuse on this.”
The surge of settlements engineered by Graber in the past year has helped neutralize some of that criticism and rehabilitate a key piece of Holder’s legacy. Still, the settlements have been controversial. Critics such as Roy Smith, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, say prosecutors were driven by “political fever” to extract massive penalties from Wall Street.
“They have to deliver something, so they come up with this,” said Smith, a formerGoldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS:US) partner. “The fact that it’s unfair never really gets considered. The banks have no choice but to hunker down and accept it.”
For Graber, a California native, it was personal.
“When I was living in San Francisco and coming home to L.A. I would see the devastating effects of the housing crisis,” Graber said in an interview. “I knew people who were losing their homes. They lived in the same neighborhood as my family. I had friends who lost homes.”
On a side note: Graber is now turning to prosecuting executives which include Mozilo. Read on.