The Hellhound of Wall Street: Michael Perino on Ferdinand Pecora and the Great Depression

Aired: January 29, 2012

In 1933, Ferdinand Pecora, the son of Italian immigrants, led a federal investigation into the causes of the Great Depression. Tenacious, intelligent and fearless, Pecora made history by calling Charles Mitchell, the head of the largest bank in America, National City Bank (now Citibank), to the stand, proving financial misdoings at the heart of the crisis. In this interview, Michael Perino, Dean George W. Matheson Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law and the author of The Hellhound of Wall Street: How Ferdinand Pecora’s Investigation of the Great Crash Forever Changed American Finance, discusses the Great Depression, Ferdinand Pecora and his impact on American finance. The Hellhound of Wall Street was chosen as an Honor Book by NJCH in 2011.

Unemployment stood at 25%. Shantytowns dotted the landscape. Bread lines snaked around city streets. The Great Depression, which began in 1929, dwarfed all previous financial recessions and raised deep questions regarding social safety nets for regular Americans. In this clip, Michael Perino describes the impact of the Great Depression on the United States, and how the collapse set the stage for financial reform.

In the early twentieth century, immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe brought new people to the United States, who often had to face discrimination and prejudice. In this clip, Perino discusses the stereotypes that plagued Italian immigrants, which associated them with anarchism and crime. Yet, Ferdinand Pecora, the son of Italian immigrants, was able to succeed despite these difficulties, becoming a prosecutor renowned for his ferocity.

The scene could have come from a Hollywood script: on one side of the courtroom was Ferdinand Pecora, the son of immigrants who had faced discrimination in becoming a lawyer. On the other side was Charles Mitchell, one of the wealthiest men in America and the head of the most powerful bank in the nation. Over the course of ten days, Pecora revealed Mitchell’s improper actions, leading to substantial financial reform.


To Learn More Visit:

  • Michael Perino’s website for more information on his book and Ferdinand Pecora.
  • Penguin Press to purchase The Hellhound of Wall Street.
  • The Senate’s webpage on The Pecora Committee.
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