A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from February 04, 2009
“The best way to rob a bank is to own one”

On June 13, 1987, William Crawford, the California savings and loan commissioner, testified before Congress on the growing Savings & Loan crisis of the 1980s:

“We build thick walls, we have cameras, we have time clocks on the vaults; we have dual control—all these controls were to protect against somebody stealing the cash. Well, you can steal far more money, and take it out the back door. The best way to rob a bank is to own one.”

“The best way to rob a bank is to own one” was the title of William K. Black’s 1998 college thesis at the University of California, Irvine, and also the title of Black’s 2005 book.

William Crawford appears to have popularized a phrase that had been circulating for some time. In a 1989 newspaper this phrase was called “the oldest joke in finance” and, a year later in another newspaper, it was called “one of the financial world’s oldest stock phrases.” A similar phrase appears in print in 1966 (see below), but pre-1987 phrases using similar wording are difficult to locate.


19 June 1966, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Financial Pirates Sailing in Search of Banking Prey,” section 4, pg. C13:
..."financial buccaneers,” men who think that the best way to rob a bank is to buy it first, then drain off its cash and other assets for their own use.

5 May 1987, Washington (DC) Post, metro, pg. B1:
... their deliberations today, chief prosecutor Charles O. Monk II told them: “The evidence in this case shows that the best way to rob a bank is to own it.”

Google Books
Fraud and Abuse by Insiders, Borrowers, and Appraisers in the California Thrift Industry: Hearing Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Government Operations, House of Representatives, One Hundredth Congress, First Session, June 13, 1987
By United States Congress. House. Committee on Government Operations. Commerce, Consumer, and Monetary Affairs Subcommittee, Committee on Government Operations, Congress, House
Published by U.S. G.P.O.
1987
Pg. 10:
We build thick walls, we have cameras, we have time clocks on the vaults; we have dual control—all these controls were to protect against somebody stealing the cash.

Well, you can steal far more money, and take it out the back door. The best way to rob a bank is to own one.
Pg. 51:
Mr. CRAWFORD. No.
Mr. BARNARD. I mean you just said that the best way to rob a bank is to own one, it must be free and easy for some of these folks…

14 June 1987, San Jose (CA) Mercury News, “Savings Investigators Defend Their Record,” pg. 1C:
‘’The best way to rob a bank is to own it,” Crawford told the congressional panel.

14 June 1987, Ukiah (CA) Daily Journal, “Easiest way to rob bank...own one,” pg. 7, col. 1:
LOS ANGELES (AP)—Fraud by insiders played a significant part in the multibillion dollar wave of failures of savings and loan institutions across the country in recent years, a U.S. House subcommittee was told Saturday.

Federal and state regulators have been slow to respond to an increase in such fraud, and often are unable to persuade judges to impose the lengthy jail terms needed to defer others in the industry, some witnesses said.

“The easiest way to rob a bank is to own one,” said William Crawford, California savings and loan commissioner. He said fraud was a factor in the demise of most of the 29 state-chartered S&Ls...since the end of 1984.

2 November 1988, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “At a Time for Outrage on S&Ls and Takovers, the Silence Is Deafening” by Ernest Conine, metro, section 2, pg. 7:
To quote a California regulatory official, “The best way to rob a bank is to own one.”

1 November 1989, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Family Took in $34 Million as S&L, Parent Firm Failed” by William J. Eaton, pg. A1:
[A]bout the practices at ACC and Lincoln, Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) said: “It’s been said the best way to rob a bank is to own one.”

11 November 1989, Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT), “Current System Is Unworkable”:
The oldest joke in finance is that the best way to rob a bank is to own it.

3 October 1990, Miami (FL) Herald, “Close S&L Loopholes,” pg. 30A editorial:
IN A RECENT essay about the savings-and-loan debacle, writer L.J. Davis gives new meaning to one of the financial world’s oldest stock phrases: “The best way to rob a bank is to own one.” One could add that the best way to prevent such robberies is by improving Government regulation of the banking industry.

Google Books
United States Congressional Serial Set
By United States Government Printing Office
Published by U.S. G.P.O.
1992
Pg. 11:
As the S&L Commissioner from California (William Crawford) testified, “The best way to rob a bank is to own one.”

OCLC WorldCat record
Big Money Crime: Fraud and Politics in the Savings and Loan Crisis
by Calavita, Kitty,; Kitty Calavita, Henry N. Pontell, and Robert Tillman; CDL e-Scholarship Repository.
Type:  Downloadable 2-D image; English
Publisher: University of California Press 11/1/1997.
At a cost of $500 billion to American taxpayers, the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s was the worst financial crisis of the twentieth century as well as a crime unparalleled in American history. Yet the vast majority of its perpetrators will never be prosecuted, and those who were have received minimal sentences. In the first in-depth scrutiny of the ways and means of this disaster, this groundbreaking book comes to disturbing conclusions about the deliberate nature of this financial fraud, the political collusion involved, and the leniency of the criminal justice system in dealing with these “Gucci-clad white-collar criminals."Using material from over one hundred interviews with government officials and industry leaders and recently declassified documents, the authors show how - contrary to previous government and “expert” explanations that chalked the disaster up to business risks gone awry or adverse economic conditions - S&L leaders engaged in deliberate fraud, stealing from their own corporations to speculate on high-risk ventures. Tempted by the insurance net, perpetrators looted their own institutions in a new kind of white-collar crime the authors dub “collective embezzlement."Big Money Crime also demonstrates how systematic political collusion - not just policy errors - was a critical ingredient in this unprecedented series of frauds. Bringing together statistics from a variety of government agencies, the authors provide a close reading of the track record of prosecutions and sentencing and find that “suite crime” receives much more lenient treatment than “street crime,” despite its significantly higher price tag. The book concludes with a number of modest, but no less urgent, policy recommendations to counter the current deregulatory trend and to avert a replay of the S&L debacle in other financial sectors.
FROM THE BOOK:
“We built thick walls; we have cameras; we have time clocks on the vaults . . . all these controls were to protect against somebody stealing the cash. Well, you can steal far more money, and take it out the back door. The best way to rob a bank is to own one.” - House Committee on Government Operations, 1988.

OCLC WorldCat record
The best way to rob a bank is to own one : control fraud and the savings and loan debacle
by William K Black
Type:  Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript Archival Material; English
Publisher: 1998.
Dissertation: Thesis (Ph. D., Criminology, Law and Society)--University of California, Irvine, 1998.

OCLC WorldCat record
The best way to rob a bank is to own one : how corporate executives and politicians looted the S&L industry
by William K Black
Type:  Book; English
Publisher: Austin, Tex. : University of Texas Press, 2005. 

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityBanking/Finance/Insurance • (0) Comments • Wednesday, February 04, 2009 • Permalink