Mass fraud by banks and financial institutions continues unabated without hard prison time for the guilty parties.

“Deutsche Bank settles for $205 million in currency manipulation scheme.” “Goldman Sachs confesses to c.$5 billion in mortgage fraud during the 2008 financial crisis.” “Wells Fargo settles securities fraud lawsuit for $480 million.” “Bank of America to pay $42 million in electronic trade ‘masking” case’.”

These kind of headlines are daily events and it appears all our major banking institutions have engaged in a for profit mass fraud enterprise at some point – and continue to do so. It’s all there in your news feed. Here’s two big questions. How can big banks consistently plead guilty to mass fraud crimes and yet never see executives sent to prison? How can they keep paying these multi billion dollar fines and still be in business?

During a rally in 2011, US presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously said, “Corporations are people, my friend.” It was his response to protestors calling for corporations to be taxed. He argued that corporate employees are taxed based on the their earnings. To him, that counts as the corporations being treated like people. Corporations claim their “personhood” status usually when they’re trying to wriggle their way out of paying for something. It’s a tactic that dates back to the 1800’s.

Back then, a railroad company went so far as to cite the 14th Amendment in its defense. The Amendment’s intention was to guarantee protections to freed slaves. But the railroad company applied it to protect itself stating that laws had “been held to embrace artificial persons as well as natural persons.” When people commit financial crimes they are usually punished with both fines and prison time. The big corporations benefit from freedoms of speech and religion like people do. Yet, they aren’t subject to the same kinds of accountability or consequences for their actions as people are.

Corporate crimes—such as bank frauds and price fixing, insider trading, mortgage lending fraud, and misleading investors are all subject to stiff jail terms for the guilty individual, but not for our banks and financial institutions.

The catchphrase “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” has no relevance for banks. They plead guilty to mass fraud crimes regularly without even spending a day in jail. Of course that’s why they now use it as a business model. All the main banks have thousands of mass fraud cases pending against them on an ongoing basis. For its role in the 2008 financial crisis, Deutsche Bank paid at least $15 billion in litigation costs. As of this year, several banks found guilty of mass fraud have racked up $243 billion collectively in fines. That may sound like a lot but most banks don’t even end up having to actually fork over the amount they are fined. Instead, they are given these sort of “in kind” allowances for their contributions to debt management.

For example, Goldman Sachs’ $5 billion dollar settlement over the financial crisis was offset by nearly $2 billion. This was because of their work in “loan forgiveness and financing for affordable housing.” So when you consider how much banks made from their frauds plus the fact that they don’t actually have to pay a lot of their fines, these settlements can be seen as “a cost of doing business”?

Fines and cash penalties clearly have no apparent effect. It’s probably true to say now our banks are the biggest and most protected fraud recidivists of them all. Not much attention seems to be paid to the real victims of these fraud crimes by banks—the average citizen. Most of the fraud valuation for the banks’ settlement fees was based on losses associated with investors. But what about the estimated $19.2 trillion in losses suffered by households? Suddenly, $243 billion in fees and fines doesn’t seem like much at all. In fact, as numbers go, this seems to enable a “mass fraud for profit” systemic by all the financial corporations and banking institutions.

How much longer will big banks continue to get away with financial fraud crimes without prison sentences for the senior executives who plan and execute these huge crimes? When are we going to begin really treating these financial corporations as the “persons” they are so ready to claim to be when it’s legally convenient? Based on the existing “settlement and financial penalty system” there are no real personal consequences or true accountability for such institutionalized fraud. This means we can expect to see this mass fraud systemic continue at a cost of trillions to consumers for the foreseeable future.

Meantime, the person who gets caught stealing food for their hungry family can continue to expect hard prison time. Where’s the justice or even any semblance of balance in all of this?