Pick up the slack

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

The Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) is trying to convince the state Legislature to pass legislation to allow local law enforcement agencies to pursue criminal charges for financial crimes of less than $100,000. Michael Semmann, director of government affairs for the WBA, said the bill could give more protection to the state’s businesses.
Financial crimes against banks can include commercial bribery, loan fraud and concealment of collateral.
Such crimes involving more than $100,000 are automatically investigated by the FBI. However, federal law enforcement agencies have had their hands full since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and have not been aggressively pursuing financial crimes of less than $100,000.
"There exists a threshold gap," Semmann said. "Crimes under $100,000 are not being investigated by the FBI. They are focused on terrorism. For Wisconsin law purposes, we want to put in place definitions of crimes and penalties to get ahead of the curve on a certain type of financial crime issues."
Mike Crowley Jr., chairman of the WBA and president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based Bank Mutual, said the proposed legislation is particularly important to banks because all financial crimes against banks prior to 9-11 received federal investigation. Wisconsin bankers are hoping local law enforcement can pick up the slack to investigate financial crimes of less than $100,000.
"The WBA feels that the banks here in Wisconsin would be disadvantaged where crimes were not able to be pursued on a local level," Crowley said. "Since 9-11, things are different. Local governments can’t rely on the federal government for as much. We’re bringing things back home, taking care of our own problems locally."
However, Crowley said, Wisconsin’s state laws regarding crimes against financial institutions are vaguely worded. Crowley said the WBA wants Wisconsin’s laws to be changed to more closely match federal legislation, which could give local law enforcement, district attorneys and the state attorney more effective legal weapons to go after crimes against banks or other financial institutions.
"The Wisconsin law is a little vague, and we feel that by making it more specific, we’re giving local law enforcement more power of enforcement if it is passed," Crowley said. "We’re trying to get it set up as a deterrent to be able to arrest, charge and sentence someone who commits crimes against a bank."
Because WBA staff is still working on a draft version of the legislation, Semmann said the agency does not know when it will be presented to state officials. The group is hoping to see action on the matter later this spring or during the fall session.
The legislation, when presented, will be based on a similar bill passed in Illinois in August 2003.
Semmann said he and other WBA officials have met with state officials to talk about the group’s proposal, and they have received positive feedback so far.
"We want it to act as a deterrent (to criminals) Semmann said. "Given all the attention the different crimes are getting, now is a good time to keep moving on these types of issues."
Randy Williams, chief of the Onalaska Police Department and president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, said he knows that the FBI has had more requests for its services, and he said local law enforcement in the state would be willing to step up enforcement of financial crimes if the legislation is passed.
"We would be interested to take a look at this piece of legislation, review it and possibly support it," Williams said. "We would be interested to see how we can help improve enforcement in this area, and work with our banker partners in this."

March 18, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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