Few Americans today know who Ferdinand Pecora was, although he was once a media superstar, a nearly daily fixture in newspapers and radio broadcasts across the country. With the onset of our current economic woes his name has slowly begun to crop up again. In April 2009, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for a new "Pecora Commission" to investigate "what happened on Wall Street." The next week, the Senate invoked Pecora's name in voting to create an independent committee to investigate the financial crisis, and in January 2010 the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission held its first hearings.
Pecora, a diminutive Sicilian immigrant and a former assistant district attorney from New York City, was chief counsel for the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency, charged with investigating the causes of the 1929 stock market crash. As he recounted in his own memoir of the hearings, Wall Street under Oath: "Before [the committee] came, in imposing succession, the demigods of Wall Street, men whose names were household words, but whose personalities and affairs were frequently shrouded in deep, aristocratic mystery.... Never before in the history of the United States had so much wealth and power been required to render a public accounting." In terms of rapt public attention, economic impact, and long-lasting legislative accomplishments, Pecora's investigation must rank as the most successful inquiry in the more than 200-year history of congressional probes.
This article is a brief excerpt from The Hellhound of Wall Street (Penguin Press, 2010)