Mouse-mild, youthful, and nerdy but with an unnerving intensity to his gaze, Everett Stern sits in the booth of a local chain restaurant and announces, "I'm sure I'll get capped eventually."
It seems melodramatic -- especially in the Florida suburban setting -- but the record is there: The former Wellington High student and FAU grad has taken major pokes at major players, some of them in the corridors of highest finance and some in the terror underground of the Mideast. Perhaps they would like to see him disappear.
The son of a VA physician, Stern developed a taste for numbers during a teenage internship at the American Stock Exchange. He was a star scholar at Wellington High but bounced around among colleges after graduation, finally taking a BA from FAU in 2005.
Somewhere along the way, he also developed a taste for heroics, and on February 14, 2006, "after a Valentine's Day break-up," he told us, he applied for a position with the CIA, to no avail. "I keep the rejection letter in a safe," he said.
International intrigue came his way all the same after he was hired by one of the world's leading banks -- HSBC, a storied British institution with historic roots in Hong Kong and Shanghai (thus the acronymic name). It was 2010, and Stern was hired as part of a team to tighten up internal oversight after the bank was cited by the feds for creating the potential for money-laundering.
Stern says he found the bank more interested in covering up than cleaning up. As recounted by Reuters in July 2012, the oversight consisted of:
a febrile boiler-room environment overseen by managers uninterested in investigating transactions with possible links to drug trafficking, terrorist financing, Iran and other countries under U.S. sanctions, and other illegal activities. Instead, they say, the single-minded focus was on clearing out the paperwork as fast as possible... Stern said that in the course of his work, he came across many suspicious transactions. Some involved parties he suspected of having ties to Hezbollah and Hamas -- Islamist groups that the U.S. considers to be terrorist organizations.
When Stern's team leaders blew off his concerns, he took them elsewhere -- back to the CIA and FBI. His testimony fed into investigations that blew up last year and brought down a rain of pain on HSBC, including a record $1.9 billion fine for washing the terrorist greenbacks.
Out of a job with HSBC, naturally, Stern's taken his investigative talents private, incorporating as Tactical Rabbit, "providing tactical risk mitigation, intelligence due diligence, and strategic corporate forecasting." His client list consists of a range of private investors and law firms, though his "bread and butter," he said, are unnamed nonprofits.
Stern continues to cooperate with investigations by the Department of Justice, but he's none too happy with the agencies to whom he fed so much data. He points the finger at Attorney General Eric Holder, who he claims hasn't fully followed through on prosecutions of the bank. A good account of that complaint was provided by Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi last February.
As a result, Stern's taking it from the suites to the streets with a project called Bank War Day, designating November 5 as a day on which "Americans across the country will take their money out of the big banks that sponsor terrorism and drug cartels and put it into credit unions and community banks that uphold ethical business practices and do not compromise national security."
Stern's Bank War builds on an idea first floated two years ago, by Occupy Wall Street. Although a self-described "conservative Republican," after his HSBC discoveries, he developed sympathy with OWS' criticism of the banking system, speaking at the protest group's anniversary gathering in New York last month.
"I believe in capitalism," Stern told New Times at our recent meeting. "But the banking system we're seeing now is a perverted form."
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.
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