Although Donald Trump routinely disses her as Pocahontas, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is such a crowd favorite that she is keynoting tonight’s Democratic National Convention. Whatever side you’re on, I can testify to a side of Elizabeth Warren you might not know.
Shortly after arriving in Texas in 2006, a double refugee from Hurricane Katrina and a nasty divorce, I was desperately seeking advice. A person best described as a former family member had apparently opened at least five fraudulent credit card accounts using my name. Such white-collar crimes were increasingly common, enabled by the same shoddy lending practices that nearly trashed the economy just two years later.
In that now-forgotten era of easy money, banks routinely sent out pre-printed checks, already filled out in your name, for five or even ten thousand dollars. Providing only minimal personal information, you simply signed and deposited the check. Congratulations, you had now been approved for a credit card loan! Only a few fanatics examined the accompanying paperwork, where the small print stipulated that the bank was entitled to charge interest and penalties once the sole purview of Tony Soprano & Associates.
The system was so loose that my first warning came when ominous “Overdue! Final warning!” notices began arriving. But then my phone began ringing at odd hours as bill collectors circled like sharks.
As an intelligence officer, I was raised in a culture where information was power and my sources had to be better than the enemy. But now my adversaries were predatory banks making billions from unsuspecting consumers, probably some with stories similar to mine.
My research quickly identified Professor Elizabeth Warren of Harvard Law School as the nation’s leading expert on bank fraud. Her 2007 testimony to the Senate Banking Committee had made headlines. In 2005, the nation’s banks took in an astounding $79 billion in profits scammed from exorbitant interest and penalty fees. Their lucrative business model placed “as many credit cards in the hands of as many customers as possible.” Worst of all, the credit card companies loaded “their initial card agreements with tricks and traps” all intended to maximize “profit-taking, pure and simple.”
This was beginning to sound depressingly familiar, so I sought out that controversial law school professor. Professor Warren was polite but unfazed by much of what I told her, including the unresponsiveness of state and federal law enforcement agencies. With so much money overflowing the coffers, federal regulators and even congressional committees were reluctant to interfere. While she could not offer legal advice, she became a priceless strategic ally, coaching a novice on the inside baseball of this strange new game. Although I was never her client, her expert strategic advice was always tendered pro bono.
To clear my name, I filed a lawsuit that took two years and eventually cost over twenty thousand dollars. Several of the banks that once came me after me eventually helped pay my legal bills. After the 2008 banking crisis, Professor Warren headed the congressional oversight panel supervising the Troubled Asset Relief Program, celebrated as the “sheriff of Wall Street.” (Which might also make her Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.)
I have met Elizabeth Warren only once and then briefly. With a growing national reputation, she visited San Antonio in 2008, appearing at several local bases to explain how predatory lending practices could dramatically affect soldiers and their families. Playing a familiar role as a bad example, I chimed in that these financial problems affected old colonels as well as young soldiers, “Whatever our rank, all of us owe Professor Warren our heartfelt thanks.”
Now you might argue that that Ms. Warren simply “used the usurers,” first in getting elected to the Senate and then capturing the Democratic left; maybe so because successful politicians (left or right) are most adept in rising to any occasion. But unlike most politicians – and Hillary Clinton in particular – Senator Warren knows what it means to help people who could never repay her financially and who probably disagree with her politically. In short: She is precisely the kind of formidable personality who must be taken seriously now and in the future.