TARP Police! Step Away From the Bailout Money!
Early this week, a request for proposal for police car upgrades by the Special Inspector General of the TARP bank bailout program began circulating in Washington.
That prompted a lot of head scratching around town: Huh? You mean the mild-mannered auditors who mind the taxpayer money in the $700-plus billion TARP program? What do they need police car upgrades for?
It may come as a surprise to people in the financial industry — it certainly did to me — but TARP’s inspector general (SIGTARP) is not just a financial watchdog. Under its outgoing leader, Neil Barofsky, it has quietly built itself into a full-fledged financial law enforcement agency.
It has 45 investigators who are empowered to carry guns and badges, and 27 vehicles with sirens and lights spread out in its branch offices across the country. SIGTARP agents are empowered to make arrests, and they’ve done just that 23 times, according to a spokeswoman. The agency says it is engaged in 142 ongoing criminal and civil investigations, and that it has already recovered assets worth $151.8 million.
And not everyone has been paying attention to the emergence of the new police powers. One person who was involved with the creation of TARP expressed surprise when told of SIGTARP’s gun-wielding agents.
“Really?” the person asked. “Holy ——.”