DOJ Morality Police May Be Behind Chase Closing Bank Accounts Of Adult Film Actors
from the choke-on-this-point dept
The Techdirt comments section is to thank for this one. After we just talked about Chase Bank appearing to close the personal bank accounts of a bunch of employees in the adult performing business, a few of you pointed us to reports that this may just be Chase Bank dancing to a federal piper. That report has expanded upon Teagan Presley, a former porn star, and her comments upon finding out she was suddenly no longer a Chase customer.
When Presley went to the bank in person to ask why, she was told it's because she's considered "high risk."So, the obvious question to ask next is what makes her "high risk"? After all, Chase Bank really likes money, even when it is generated by doing some pretty crappy things, so what's the deal? Well, the latest is that this may be a part of the US Department of Justice's "Operation Choke Point" program, in which the government has apparently decided that some extremely legal businesses don't get to exist anymore, but since they can't just disappear companies and industries in good standing, they've decided to route around the whole "freedom" thing and get the financial industry to act as contract hitmen.
"And then they told me that they canceled my husband’s account too, because our social security numbers are linked," Presley told VICE News. "They told him that it was because I'm a notorious adult star. Which is funny, because I'm kind of a goody-goody in the business, and I'm not even doing porn anymore."
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Thursday, American Bankers Association CEO Frank Keating wrote that the Justice Department is "telling bankers to behave like policemen and judges."Let's not mince words: a program that was built upon the goals of stopping financial fraud has devolved into a massive government overreach into private businesses that are operating within the law. The way it works is that the DOJ informs financial institutions that certain industries are more likely than others to be involved in unauthorized charges of consumer credit and bank cards. They likewise inform the banks that the DOJ is going to keep a special super-awesome close-eye on these industries, with the implication being that there will be a great deal of prosecutorial action, subpoenas, and scrutiny on those industries, not mention penalties on the institutions that work with them. The intention of the government, it would seem, is to make the banks unwilling to deal with the government harassment and simply cut anyone in those industries off from the financial institutions. Nobody is happy about this.
"Operation Choke Point is asking banks to identify customers who may be breaking the law or simply doing something government officials don't like," Keating wrote. "Banks must then "choke off" those customers' access to financial services, shutting down their accounts."
Keating said the highly secretive operation was launched in early 2013. That's when porn stars started to complain to the media that their bank accounts were being shut down without explanation.
Even the former chairman of the FDIC, William Isaac, wrote in American Banker magazine this week that Operation Choke Point is "way out of control," adding that 23 bipartisan members of Congress wrote a letter to the DOJ stating that the operation is driving legal business into the ground. That includes banks themselves.It's worse than that. The federal government is lording over legal industries operating within their respective states' laws and single-handedly directing banking institutions to cut their legs out from beneath them. It would be bad enough if we were just talking about business accounts, but personal accounts are getting swept up in this as well. That's how you end up with individual performers in the adult film industry suddenly finding themselves unable to open up a bank account. This is done, by the way, in the name of morality. It represents a violation of a free and legal marketplace by a government that has as much moral authority as can fit in a thimble.
Camden Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America, wrote a letter to the Justice Department in early April, saying that Operation Choke Point makes it too tough for small community banks to compete with the big chains.
And, no, it isn't just the porn industry we're talking about.
In 2011, the FDIC listed 30 "merchant categories that have been associated with high-risk activity," likening pornography to Ponzi schemes, racist materials, "lifetime guarantees," and sales of fireworks and tobacco. At a March hearing before a Senate Banking subcommittee, the Washington Post reported, Senator David Vitter (R-La.) said "there is a determined effort, from [the Justice Department] to the regulators... to cut off credit and use other tactics to force [payday lenders] out of business. I find that deeply troubling because it has no statutory basis, no statutory authority."This should be terrifying to business owners in every industry. Sure, this time they're going after some companies that you may not like, be they porn, or payday lenders, or people making racist materials, tobacco, or fireworks. But if those industries are operating within the law, they have the right to exist. The law is the only measure by which the DOJ should be invoking banking policy. The federal government doesn't get to pick and choose which businesses exist outside of their legality. If the federal government wants to make porn illegal, they should try to do so. They won't get very far, but they should try. This underhanded attack on free enterprise is simply un-American.