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The Privilege of the Pritzkers
President Barrack Obama has nominated his long time friend and top fundraiser, Chicago-based Multibillionaire, Penny Pritzker, to be the next Secretary of Commerce. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Pritzker’s nomination could prove controversial. She is on the board of Hyatt Hotels Corp., which was founded by her family and has had rocky relations with labor unions, and… She could also face scrutiny over the collapse of Superior Bank, which was co-owned by her family. The bank, based in Hinsdale, Ill., was involved in subprime mortgage lending, and its failure in 2001 stirred charges of fraud and mismanagement.”
Penny Pritzker, says Chicago-Based independent banking investigator Tim Andersen, played fast and loose with the American Dream. Anderson, who has been investigating for many years Pritzker’s pioneering sub-prime operations, says Superior Bank in Chicago, specifically targeted poor and working class people of color across the country. He asserts that her extreme wealth and privilege has not only made her virtually untouchable by law enforcement, but now her appointment to Sec of Commerce, will allow her to cleanse her sub-prime banking record by becoming the Secretary of Commerce.
D.B Let’s start with some deep background on Penny Pritzker and the family holdings…
TA: There are 11 senior Pritzkers, the descendants of A. M Pritzker, who is the 11th wealthiest person after Forbes. But they are different as far as their wealth goes. Before they broke up the family dynasty because of a suit between two of the junior siblings, they had about 15 billion dollars. Bloomberg thought it was more like 38 billion because so many of the assets are major companies that are privately owned, it’s hard to evaluate that.
DB: $38 billion, with a B.
TA: $38 billion. One publication listed eight casinos, another listed 13, with each license worth a half a million dollars. There is another $5-7 billion in casinos. When you own 13 casinos for 5-7 billion, you are a player in the casino business. That’s just the hotels and casinos. There are many other companies they own such as the second largest chewing tobacco company, which they sold for 3.5 billion dollars. They actually owned the second and third largest chewing tobacco company, but have since off-loaded those for billions of dollars. Many of their assets are not what society considers clean assets, but hey don’t care. As far as money goes, they want it. When it comes to casinos or chewing tobacco companies, they don’t care. Their wealth is almost incalculable, because according to Forbes magazine, they are the only family in America to have off shore tax-free trusts because they were grandfathered in. Their off shore trust can ship money back to their family tax-free. It was grandfathered in because their grandfather got it through Congress – he was smart to see the future and got it done. Congress closed the loophole and grandfathered him in. Forbesmagazine wrote about the Pritzker’s off shore trust, they emphasized that there are over 1000 separate trusts. Many families have two or three different savings accounts to keep track of what money belongs to who, but when you have over 1000 different trusts to handle the family estate it’s very hard to comprehend how much wealth there is and how many businesses they control. A few years ago, Penny sold TransUnion, the largest credit reporting agency in America, but there’s a question about whether she sold it to herself by selling it to various hedge funds which her family has a large interest in. Until she sold it, you could say that Penny Pritzker had more files on every citizen in America than the CIA and FBI combined, because everybody has a credit score and credit report. Penny Pritzker had the credit scores and report on every single citizen in America.
DB: That’s amazing because before she had TransUnion, she had Superior Bank, through which she destroyed the credit of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. You might say she helped destroy the credit of the United States of America.
TA: She had TransUnion while she had Superior Bank, so she controlled the credit scores of everybody who was getting a subprime loan. You pay a higher interest on your subprime loan based on your credit score. Whether or not it was ever brokered between the credit bureau and the bank, we don’t know, but we know the same people control both entities.
DB: What happened with Superior Bank when Barak Obama was an assemblyman in her district?
TA: Superior Bank was acquired back in 1989 as part of the original savings and loan giveaway by M, D and E Wall. As I wrote a in a paper for an economic conference in Denver, Superior Bank was sold to the Pritzkers for 42.5 million dollars. They changed the name from Lion Savings and Loan to Superior Bank after they acquired it. Lion Savings and Loan was sold to the Pritzkers just to put up money for the capital. But as government reports show, they only put up a million dollars cash and pledged their assets as the difference, the capital. That’s not supposed to be done, but they are privileged people so they get privileged deals. After they acquired this for $1 million they also got $640 million in tax credits.
DB: So they paid a million bucks and got $640 million in tax credits.
TA: The tax credits were designed so they could use it in any entity they wanted. They didn’t have to use it on what they bought. It could be sold on the open market for value, the credits could be used to file back taxes or warehouse them for future taxes. So for a million dollars, they got 640 million dollars for agreeing to take over Superior Bank, which they then looted for years then gave it back to the government with an enormous loss to the uninsured depositors and the whole subprime industry.
DB: And the US taxpayers.
TA: Oh yes. Taxpayers have lost very, very dearly. In 2007 and 2008, real estate dropped in value because of the subprime bubble bursting. Penny Pritzker, who ran Superior Bank, is going to claim she was just a silent investor and chairman. I gave the Chicago Sun Times a letter on Superior Bank letterhead that they ran, dated May 31, 2001. Addressed to the management and employees of Superior Bank, it said “with great pleasure…I am able to announce an agreement has been reached with the Office of Supervision for a $351 million plan to recapitalize Superior Bank. They reached the agreement, but they never paid it.
DB: So the Pritzkers never paid the $351 million?
TA: No. They reached the agreement so they could stay open. Then three months later they said that’s a bad deal – let’s just reneg on it. So they told the FDIC, “Here are the keys, you take it.” During that period of time, this letter, signed by Penny Pritzker, told her people – we are going to regain our prominence in the subprime industry. She was so proud of her prominence in the subprime industry. At that time, Wells Fargo, Countrywide and Washington Mutual hadn’t tooled up in the subprime lending as they did later on. One reason is they didn’t have a staff to do it. The FDIC closed down Superior Bank with its thousands and thousands and thousands of employees who made originated mortgages through their origination department. After they were laid off by the close of Superior Bank, they couldn’t work anywhere so they worked for Wells Fargo Countrywide. The whole tool up of Washington Mutual, Countywide and TransUnion are old Superior workers who were out of a job and knew how to make subprime mortgages.
DB: When you read the stories of the time, all the reports, including the Wall Street Journal, said the failure of the Superior Bank may have cost taxpayers between 1 and 2 billion dollars. It’s reported that between 1400 and 1700 savings accounts were gutted at Superior. How many people ended up losing their money at Penny Pritzker’s bank while she was busy working with her people to be sure that Wall Street got in real deep. She started with Meryl Lynch, which is also gone.
TA: These are smart people. Genius doesn’t have a connotation of ethics. Genius is genius unto itself. Let’s leave the ethics equation out of being a genius. The Pritzkers are absolute geniuses at understanding the tax system and investing and put it to their benefit. Warren Buffett is in awe of the Pritzkers. They gave Warren Buffett their Mermin group to manage for them and then he will buy them out as it performs over the years.
DB: So Warren Buffett is one of Penny’s managers?
TA: The Pritzkers, years ago, sold Buffett 40% of the Mermin group with the other 60% acquired by Buffett over a 10 year period based on how well the Mermin group performed. As Warren made the Mermin group more profitable, the Pritzkers got more money, as he had to keep buying it from them. That’s how they let him manage the asset for them. You cannot appreciate their sheer genius until you study all the stories about them. I have run across no family as bright, quick or well connected – with a White House pass. And any day, Penny Pritzker will probably be nominated as Secretary of Commerce by Congress.
DB: Some of those hundreds of people who lost their savings at Superior Bank lived in the same neighborhood as Obama. He knew. He got complaints from people about what Penny was doing, back in the day.
TA: Yes. But Penny and the Pritzkers are a special class of privilege – they are immune. Some major media are finally picking up on this story, but it got a pass four years ago because of the influence of the Pritzker family, which buys both sides of the isle. They are non-partisan, neither republican nor democrat. They will support whoever the incumbent is or is going to be. They invest in people, many of them being politicians, of course.
DB: Yes, they do. Now going back to the first Obama campaign, if the Clintons know they have a subprime bandit running their key opponent’s finances, why didn’t they go after Penny and her subprime operations? But the Clintons had a Pritzker too.
TA: Penny’s brother was co-chairman for Hilary’s campaign. I used to joke that it didn’t matter who won. If Hillary won, her brother would take her to the inaugural ball. If Barack Obama won, as he did, Hilary could take her brother to the inaugural ball. The Pritzkers bought both horses in a two-horse race. It was a no brainer. Society was fed up with George Bush, Dick Cheney, etc. Whoever won the democratic nomination was going to be the next president. The Pritzkers hedged their bet and bet on both horses in a two-horse race. They had one, and her brother had the other.
DB: How powerful are the Pritzkers in their hometown of Chicago?
TA: The Pritzkers have the Pritzker Foundation. The Pritzkers are large contributors to the museum, symphony, opera; anything that they can get their brass plaque above everyone else. They are golden in Chicago. They give away the Pritzker architect award, which is considered the Pulitzer of architecture. They have many others – as they curry favor with everybody. They invest in their own good name. They are very smart and savvy, disregarding what is good for society.
DB: Whatever the banks are doing now, they were doing 20 years ago. She was out of the subprime business by 2001 or 2003 and the FBI decided not to investigate anybody until 2004. How did that happen?
TA: That’s the privilege of the Pritzkers. They are immune to investigation. When the Pritzkers signed off on the deal on the Superior Bank with the FDIC to pay only some of the money, part of the agreement was that the FDIC, for this agreement, which is public record, would not cooperate with any other government agency without the Pritzkers. So the Justice Department couldn’t investigate the Pritzkers without the FDIC’s blessing, and the FDIC agreed they wouldn’t do it. What the Pritzkers did, and they negotiated beautifully, is they negotiated immunity from prosecution for all subprime crimes going back to 2004. In 2002, when the FDIC took over Superior Bank, they ran it for ten months under their management, using all the employees of Superior Bank and their mortgage originators. As the Wall Street Journal reported, for ten months the FDIC was the largest subprime lender in the country. They were taking the mortgages they were making, securitiizing and selling them off.
DB: Hence the Wall Street connection.
TA: Yes. The FDIC ended up working for the Pritzkers.
DB: Let’s talk about their predatory operations. There were many leads, examples, stories about what the Pritzker operation was doing to trap poor people, targeting specifically brown and black people for these predatory loans. They had a whole operation.
TA: I interviewed the only mortgage originator who went to jail out of the Superior Bank operation. The only reason he went to jail is that he pled guilty for the Pritzker’s signing the agreement with the FDIC. All his other cohorts who were going to be indicted were never indicted. I talked to the FBI, and they were ready to indict 14 people in this area. But the one guy, Jason Dune pled guilty and got it behind him. He explained to me that what you do is target a kmall couple and rip them off by moving the Pritzger subprime loans into their lives.
The subprime people would say they are just giving lower income people and middle America people a chance at the American dream. But these were not fresh mortgages; they were all refinanced mortgages. Superior was in the refinance business. If you had the American dream, the Pritzkers and Superior would push you into an American nightmare. That’s what they did across the country with lending offices under Alliance Funding. You can’t appreciate how large and profitable their operation was. They kept taking all the profits out in distribution dividends for the Pritzkers and then the OTS said, “You are taking so much money out, you are under capitalized.” But rather than give the money back, they said, “OK, you take over the operation. The subprime business is over and we want out.” So they got out. But they got out without having to take any responsibility, and that is the real shame that has never been dealt with.
DB: So poor Jason Dune told the truth and went to jail for it. Penny stole zillions and she’s going to be the next Secretary of Commerce.
TA: That’s up to our Senate. Does our Senate, in a non-partisan manner, want to stand up and ask Penny a few questions, such as “What was your role in getting subprime mortgage bonds investment grade?” That’s how every pension fund, such as CalPers, the teachers pension fund in California that bought mortgage-backed securities because they were investment grade, lost money. How did they become investment grade? The Pritzker’s genius was that if there is a bond with a thousand mortgages in it, and they’re all subprime, it’s a junk bond by definition. The Pritzkers convinced the rating agencies that if any mortgage goes bad they would take it out of the bond portfolio and put a fresh mortgage in. So the raters said, “if that’s collateral substitution, the bond can’t default.” They forgot to ask the one question: what if you can’t make mortgages anymore? They couldn’t when they were takenover. That was the start of the collapse of subprime mortgages. There never should have been investment grade. But once it became investment grade, Merrill Lynch was doing it with the Pritzkers, then Countrywide, Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual had to do it because every major pension fund wanted these investment grade subprime mortgages. They paid a very high yield and knew they were quality because the rating agency said investment grade triple A. They never were triple A. We all have hindsight. The Pritzkers created the investment grade for the entire subprime mortgage industry. Once that collapsed, the worldwide economy collapsed. And this is the person they want to put as Secretary of Commerce.
DB: The Pritzkers were doing this beginning in the 40s. How could the first Obama campaign, when Obama was a newcomer and Penny was the chair of the finance committee, out fundraise by two to three times what the well-connected Clintons raised?
TA: The Wall Street Journal wrote a cover story on the genius of what Penny set up. Besides being able to call all her friends to give money, they set up a system through public relations where people on the street pledged on their credit card to give $10 a month to the Obama campaign. The credit card was debited for a year and everybody wanted to be a piece of it. To see the momentum, look at the tapes of inauguration, the night in Chicago when he won the election. There was enormous euphoria in the country. There was euphoria because people were fed up with Bush. Nothing has made Bush look better than the last four years with Obama. Penny, four years later, as Secretary of Commerce, is not going to investigate herself. The circle closes. It’s up to the various editors of major newspapers, television and radio stations, to do their research. It’s all out there and easy to do. I was able to find information, find the documentation, reports. They need to do it and contact the various senators on the committee and make them ask Penny the questions. If Penny can answer the Senate’s questions, the Senate which represents us, then let them vote her in.
DB: Penny never relents – she’s always moving forward. There was an excellent picture of Penny as the President of the Pritzker Realty Group which owns the former navy base with David Pace, who is managing her development in Orlando with Orlando mayor Glenda Hood. She owns a lot of politicians. What has she been up to?
TA: Any politician who is for sale knows how to call Penny and ask for money. What the Pritzkers did in ’01 when the navy decided there would be one recruiting depot in Great Lakes, Chicago-land, the Orlando and San Diego naval bases for recruits were closed. The Pritzkers were able to acquire 1,093 acres for $6900, under $7,000 an acre. That was the price they were paying for it. They were supposed to include some low and moderate-income housing, but after the deal closed, they realized, what a waste, let’s just build million dollar condos and houses. They were also able to sell back to the government open-space land and never paid a penny. They used taxpayer money to buy it by selling back land they couldn’t use. They sold wetlands and swampland as parks. They either got tax credits, which for the Pritzkers was the same as money, or they actually got cash for selling it back. They got financed to buy it through the state and the city of Orlando, which is when the politicians came in. It was a 19 million deal, which became 130 million and they never even used their own money. You cannot duplicate the deals they pull off. They are more than wealth – they are privileged. They can do whatever they want and not be held accountable and the people suffer. There were 1400 uninsured depositors of Superior Bank – the hubris of Penny. It would have been peanuts to be sure that Fran Sweet, and the other known excess depositors of over $100,000 were paid back. They lost their money because they were told the Pritzkers would never let it fail. They put their money in there, though they were nervous putting $100,000 in. It would have been so easy for Penny to pay them off. About a year ago, to get rid of this last debt to the FDIC, the Pritzkers got a discount for paying off their debt to the FDIC early. So Fran Sweet and 1400 other uninsured depositors will never get all their money back. The Pritzkers do not pay their bills. They like to say they pay their debt, but they don’t. This is just contempt – absolute contempt for society.
DB: When Obama was elected the first time, one of the first things Penny did was represent all the major, highest end of the corporate interests in Congress to resist any attempt to make it easy for people to unionize.
TA: One of the largest hotel workers unions, UNITE HERE, is not going to fight this thing with Penny because it would embarrass the president, and since these union people are democrats and love unions and Barak says he loves unions too, they don’t want to jeopardize their relationship with the president. So UNITE HERE is selling out their own people in Chicago, and the whole Hyatt chain throughout the country, to protect the president. It’s disgraceful. They know the story. I’ve had their people interview me twice. The union gets abused by the Pritzkers but they take it because they don’t want to hurt their president. Penny is immune from both sides. The far right doesn’t touch her because they like the kind of money she makes for them, and the left doesn’t want to fight her because Barak is their candidate. They know how to play both horses in a race.
DB: How close is the relationship? Is it true that Michelle and Penny used to run together?
TA: I don’t know. There are stories in the Wall Street Journal and Chicago papers that before Obama was a senator, they used to vacation together in one of Penny’s homes in Michigan. I think it’s accepted that they are very, very close. And for the billion dollars that she raised in 2008, she’s even closer.
DB: Is it true that when Barak Obama was in the Illinois state legislature, he received written complaints from people who were being ripped off by Penny?
TA: That’s my understanding.
DB: When people who lost their money in Superior were hustled, such as by the companies selling off the debt to other companies, people didn’t know who they were paying or who owned their property.
TA: The Pritzkers would sell them into bonds, and they got all their money back, plus a profit when someone else owned the debt. You made the payments to Superior Bank, but the notes had been sold to other investors – Superior just serviced the debt. People’s lives were made miserable because they would make a payment, but it would be held until after a due date and then they’d get a penalty.
DB: They paid the interest for years but could never pay down the loan.
TA: There’s a whole show of how you run predatory lending. The Pritzkers are masters. This was known by the government on July 3, 2000. The NCRC, National Coalition of Reinvestment Act, wrote a letter to the OTS complaining that Superior Bank was the largest predatory lender in the land. They were complaining about it and talking about how they would book these mortgages and set them up so the people would fail – it was designed to fail so they could foreclose. The report shows how Superior Bank targeted minorities three and four times greater than any other subprime lender. Superior Bank in 98, 99 and 2000 targeted the minority community for their subprime mortgages – to refinance them and get them into trouble. No shame whatsoever.
DB: There were many suits that non-profits took on.
TA: There was one successful guy who represented the James and Irene Phillips family in West Virginia. They were mentally challenged.
DB: I read that lawsuit and spoke to their social policy attorney. They were mostly minors and were targeted by the zip codes. You could see whole zip codes of houses disappearing because Penny’s front man was saying meet me at McDonalds and people would sign over what their house was worth, 18, 20 30 thousand dollars. It didn’t matter because the Pritzkers took them all.
TA: Yes. It was a very sophisticated con game. They were the best in the business at hurting the poor people – they did a superb job. Look at what they’ve done to the middle class, to everyone’s retirement, every pension fund that lost money in ’08, ’09 and 2010. The Pritzkers destroyed the American economy, which destroyed the world economy. It’s time for the Senate to ask Penny, when she goes before them, to explain. Let the staffers do their research, talk to me, you, others who have done the research. Look at the documentation. Make Penny answer the questions.
DB: And she never has. On September 11, 2001, and this is in no way is to suggest a conspiracy, but she was supposed to testify on the day the twin towers were hit. She was already in Washington, and that investigation was cancelled. There was never even the beginning of a follow-up. Tell us about Bert Healy.
TA: Bert Healy is a well-renowned bank consultant who is quoted in every business publication when they talk about banks. He, and George Kaufman, professor at Loyola University, and Ellen Sideman, the head of the Office of Supervision, were all sworn in on 9/11, ready to give their testimony. Healy will tell you the story that they were all there, sworn in, in the cloak room waiting to go back in, when they were told the first building was hit. When the first building was hit, they didn’t know it was a terrorist attack because we thought one plane had gone off course. Healy says all of a sudden they are back in the room and staffers are whispering to the senators, then the senators all left, came back, and said “Maybe you people want to leave too.” That was 9/11. Then Ellen Salmon wrote their report after the fact, a report that is part of the public record. I’ve got copies of all their reports. Penny was on the list to appear, but this was Penny Pritzker. I don’t know if she was there. She hires lawyers. She’s a lawyer; they all are. The original business of Pritzker and Pritzker was a law firm. The Forbes magazine story shows that the whole Pritzker enterprise was a Chicago-based law firm.
DB: They are very secretive folks. It will be interesting to see her as Secretary of Commerce. She wants a bit of the high profile now. We know a lot more about her because her kids sued her.
TA: Lisa and Matthew, her half brother and sister, sued all the Pritzkers. That’s how we found out as much as we did, but that left us to uncover more and more and more. Four years ago she had to decline it ??? because the family hadn’t been divided. Now she can fill out a financial statement, which will show that she owns x amount of shares of Bushar-Hathaway, x amount of shares of the Hyatt. She may or may not disclose how much she owns of the casinos, other shipping companies, etc. It will all be a great deal of money in trust. It’s not her wealth but her power and influence – her ability not to be held accountable for the damage that Superior Bank did to our economy that is the real shame.
DB: Many of the people who lose their money in the casinos are poor and working class folks. But her first casinos were the banks, in the context of the subprime meltdown.
TA: All their businesses were casinos, and the house always wins, no matter what business they’re in. It’s up to the public to pay attention. Adlei Stevenson the first, the vice presidential candidate, grandfather of the senator and father of the governor, said by and large, the people get exactly what they ask for. Typically, at the time, they don’t realize that’s what they are asking for. If the public is upset with our Congress and Senate, they have nobody to blame but themselves. Now it’s up to them to tell their senators, “Before you approve her to be Secretary of Commerce, make her answer the questions about her role, not her wealth, but her role in the subprime securitization mess.” She needs to answer to her role in the mortgage meltdown which basically destroyed our whole economy. They need to be prepared to ask her the right questions. If they don’t, she’ll just walk right through it and get free pass like she’s always gotten. The burden is on the public.
DB: This is one of those stories that I refuse to let go of. I put this story in my book about Henry Hyde, who was part of this Chicago story. These are not just the 1%, this is privileged wealth, the 1% of the 1%.
TA: These are the people who are immune from prosecution or any form of accountability. They are above the Madoffs and the Corzines of the world. They can do whatever they want, and no one is willing to hold them accountable.
Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.