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The case of the Securities and Exchange Commission versus Fabrice Tourre might be viewed as the SEC taking on a midlevel employee at a Wall Street bank; an employee who sent vaguely misleading emails to investors. But many have been tempted to look at this as all of Wall Street on trial for the crime of the financial crisis. Tourre worked for Goldman Sachs.
He faced a jury that included a principal, a priest and an animator. So you might say this was a collision of Wall Street and Main Street. Lisa Chow, from NPR's Planet Money team, talked to two jurors about what this was like.
LISA CHOW, BYLINE: For almost three weeks, Dylan Maxwell didn't read any press reports of the trial that he was a juror on. When the trial ended last week, he finally got his chance.
DYLAN MAXWELL: I've read in newspapers that we were falling asleep, and that we didn't understand, and that we were overwhelmed by details. And we weren't.
CHOW: Maxwell's 37, and works in the film industry. He says yes, jurors nodded off from time to time. He was one of them. But that had everything to do with the tediousness of everyday legal protocol...
MAXWELL: And the same emails in front of a new witness - who repeatedly said, I do not recall, I do not recall, I do not recall; for hours. Even the lawyers were falling asleep on the bench.
CHOW: The man on trial, Fabrice Tourre, worked at Goldman Sachs, dealing in financial securities that were tied to the value of home mortgages. Another juror, Beth Glover, says there was a moment during the trial when the lawyers were discussing the mortgages at the center of Tourre's questionable deal. And she realized for all intents and purposes, they were talking about her mortgage.
BETH GLOVER: Definitely, when I was sitting there listening about like, what were the elements that they looked at when they were looking at the subprime mortgage groupings, I think I would have been in one of those. I didn't have as great a FICO score, at that time.
CHOW: Glover's 47, and an Episcopal priest. She says she saw how the financial crisis affected her parishioners. They lost homes, jobs. Church programs had to be cut for lack of funds. The other juror I spoke to, Dylan Maxwell, might still be underwater on his mortgage; he hasn't checked recently. But he says when it came time to deliberate, it was not Wall Street on trial. It was just Fabrice Tourre.
MAXWELL: When it came down to the facts of the case, there wasn't too much to learn. You know, I think that there was a deal, and it had all these complexities. And within that deal, there was somebody who wasn't telling the truth. And the question was: Is not telling the truth a crime, or is it not?
CHOW: The case, as laid out by the SEC, was that Fabrice Tourre, back in 2007, had been trying to help someone - John Paulson, a well-known hedge fund manager - make a billion-dollar bet that a bunch of mortgages in Arizona, Nevada, Florida and California would fail. To help Paulson do that, Tourre had to bring in someone to take the other side of the bet. The only problem was the other party - a company called ACA - said it didn't even know that Paulson was betting against it. It thought Paulson was on its side. The government presented emails that it said proved Tourre had misled ACA. Ultimately, the jury agreed, and found Tourre liable on six of the seven charges against him. But it took a while - almost two full days of deliberation.
MAXWELL: We didn't feel any malice towards him. We felt sympathy at times, you know. And we saw that he was greedy. We saw that he was maybe arrogant. I don't know if I can speak for everybody - or, of course, I can't speak for everybody. But then coming down to it, we saw Goldman as the bigger problem, and the whole system as a bigger problem.
CHOW: Glover agrees. She says she'd like to see some of the people above him put on trial. Tourre felt like a scapegoat.
GLOVER: You know, the problem with just going after Fabrice Tourre, or going after the different - sort of Fabrice Tourres that are in all of these banks, is that it doesn't change the system - at least, not enough.
CHOW: As a result of the jury verdict, Tourre will probably have to pay a fine. How much is still unclear. He could also be banned from working on Wall Street. His former employer, Goldman Sachs, paid $550 million in 2010, to settle charges relating to the same case. And while the bank acknowledged that its marketing material to investors contained incomplete information, it did not admit to any wrongdoing.
Lisa Chow, NPR News.
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