DOJ's 'Operation Choke Point' May Be Root of Porn Star Bank Account Closings

Teagan Presley/InstagramTeagan Presley/InstagramDespite being in good financial standing, adult film performers and others in the porn industry have had bank accounts abruptly terminated—and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) may have had something to do with it. 

Under "Operation Choke Point," the DOJ and its allies are going after legal but subjectively undesirable business ventures by pressuring banks to terminate their bank accounts or refuse their business. The very premise is clearly chilling—the DOJ is coercing private businesses in an attempt to centrally engineer the American marketplace based on it's own politically biased moral judgements. Targeted business categories so far have included payday lenders, ammunition sales, dating services, purveyors of drug paraphernalia, and online gambling sites.

"Operation Chokepoint is flooding payments companies that provide processing service to those industries with subpoenas, civil investigative demands, and other burdensome and costly legal demands," wrote Jason Oxman, CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association, at The Hill

The theory behind this enforcement program has superficial logic: increase the legal and compliance costs of serving certain disfavored merchant categories, and payments companies will simply stop providing service to such merchants. And it’s working—payments companies across the country are cutting off service to categories of merchants that—although providing a legal service—are creating the potential for significant financial and reputational harm as law enforcement publicizes its activities.  

Thus far, payday lenders have been the most frequent target. ... And if payday lenders are today’s target–what category will be next and who makes that decision?

I'm not sure who made the decision, but it seems the next big targeted category is the adult film industry. Last week, adult film actress Teagan Presley and an unknown number of others in the porn industry received notices that their Chase Bank accounts were being abruptly terminated. 

Layton Benton/TwitterLayton Benton/Twitter"When Presley went to the bank in person to ask why, she was told it’s because she’s considered 'high risk,'" according to VICE News. VICE's Mary O'Hara was the first to note a likely link between the porn bank account closings and Operation Choke Point. The DOJ did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.  

For years, various government initiatives have been aimed at reaching the "unbanked" and "underbanked." Federal officials claim to want to help these individuals avoid high fees and other downsides of nontraditional financial services, but it's hard not to suspect these efforts have at least as much to do with wanting a record of everyone's financial goings-on. If the unbanked were such a real concern, why would federal agencies be simultaneously encouraging banks to drop more customers?

Targeting porn performers or not, Operation Choke Point represents an incredible abuse of regulatory power. In a recent American Banker op-ed, former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman William M. Isaac called it "a direct assault on the democratic system and free-market economy."

In a March 2013 hearing before a Senate Banking subcommittee, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) pointed out the obvious: that DOJ has "no statutory authority" to be doing this. But why bother with statutory authority when you can just secretly strong-arm highly regulated businesses into doing what you want? I've never been much of a cryptocurrency evangelist myself, but I'm beginning to come around...

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  • Duke||

    If any private lawyer used the legal process to simply harass those engaged in legal activities, they'd be liable for malicious prosecution and abuse of process.

  • Duke||

    Fist of Etiquette must be eating dinner right now.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    What, you think prosecutors are commoners like you and me?

    They must be free to God's work: Commit Brady violations, harassing pornstars, incarcerate innocent men, pad their resumes, make connections, run for mayor/governor/Congress.

  • Cyto||

    If any private lawyer used the legal process to simply harass those engaged in legal activities, they'd be liable for malicious prosecution and abuse of process.

    I believe the term you are searching for is: Tortious Interference.

  • Duke||

    Wrong and not even close to being right. I'm a lawyer and what i said are the correct terms for abuse of the legal process. Tortious interference of contract is when one private actor interferes with the contractual rights of another private actor. I've actually handled all three of these types of cases before.

  • SweatingGin||

    I (without having clicked through to vice yet) would like some more evidence of a chokepoint link.

    That said, there's been a lot of people in the bitcoin world running in to problems with chase accounts being closed.

    Thisstory should be interesting as it developes.

  • ||

    there's been a lot of people in the bitcoin world running in to problems with chase accounts being closed.

    Any links to these reports?

  • LynchPin1477||

    This story will probably disappear down the memory hole. Unless we can link it was a transportation disaster or racist tirade.

  • Injun, as in from India||

    Isn't this essentially what the US Government did with Wikileaks? Choked them off?

  • ||

    Operation Choke Point represents an incredible abuse of regulatory power

    Sounds like the Obama administration.

  • JW||

    Holy fuck, these people are scum.

    You know that this is being driven by some mid-level appointee, or some Jr. division head, who wants to make his or her bones in the DOJ. This is pure power mongering.

    "I know, let's go after unsympathetic people and really fuck them in the ass. The best part is that we aren't even legally allowed to do it."

    "But, they haven't done anything wrong. Why do this?"

    "So what? Let them sue us. And why? Fuck you. That's why."

    Please tell me there is a Hell for these cunts to burn in for eternity.

  • Pathogen||

    NOTHING. LEFT. TO. CUT!

  • croaker||

    That's pretty much how the IRS got their hooks into waitress' tips: They first went after the maids at the Chicken Ranch for not reporting the money customers left on the dresser. Now every business owner whose employees are expected to receive tips is required to keep track of sales made by each individual employee, assume 8% of that figure is tip income, and withhold accordingly.

    There are a lot of government officials who need to be shipped to zip code 18241 for crimes against the Constitution and dealt with. Google Maps shows a nice wide field where the courts can be built surrounded by tall trees suitable for five nooses each.

  • Mike Laursen||

    This wouldn't be happening if we had a Democrat in the White House!

  • kinnath||

    I suppose I could read the other comments before I posted.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I'll admit, it's an obvious joke, but still a good one.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I'll admit, it's an obvious joke, but still a good one.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I suppose I should have waited for the squirrels before I posted.

  • croaker||

    We don't have a Democrat in the White House. We have an Islamic fascist masquerading as a Communist.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Banks also have to abide by rules based on federal regs wherein ANY appearance of wrong-doing (not just being a porn star) requires accounts to be closed immediately and it is against bank policy for the customer to be given a direct reason as to why. For example, an Indian doctor who wires money back home often enough can be drawn into this mix. You may not have engaged in a single illegal act- just appearances alone are enough to justify swift action by internal banking security.

    It seems that the bigger the bank the more paranoid and heavy-handed. Much could be said but you can be guaranteed that a lot will remain secret simply because careers and lives can be destroyed over shedding light on this.

    The tyranny here is not only troubling but staggering in scope.

  • anon||

    Banks also have to abide by rules based on federal regs wherein ANY appearance of wrong-doing (not just being a porn star) requires accounts to be closed immediately and it is against bank policy for the customer to be given a direct reason as to why.

    You made this up. The rules are pretty much: 5k or more deposit, 7k or more withdrawal, and any check deposited from a non-US bank.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I've been away from banking for a while and can't speak authoritatively, but I believe that lesser amounts can get attention because of "structuring." That's when people split up transactions for the purpose of evading BSA, etc.

  • Bryan C||

    Structuring? So, basically, they redefine "explicitly not breaking the law" to mean "breaking the law"?

  • mkreitler||

    George Will just wrote a piece on this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....story.html

    If I understand correctly, the IRS requires reports on all deposits over $10K, but if it detects a pattern that makes it appear you're avoiding deposits of $10K or more, it can seize your assets. At that point, you have to prove your innocence to have even a chance of recovering a portion of the seized money.

    Damned if you do and damned if you don't, anyone?

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Nope. And I refuse to confirm where I got this information.

  • croaker||

    Then explain why you can get a pre-paid debit account closed for a $500 deposit twice a month? How much drugs will that buy?

  • Lonely Stalker||

    7k or more withdrawal

    Soon you won't be able to pay for your morning coffee without getting a record on the DOJ's new mainframe.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Why is it that whenever the Dems copy an idea from the Republicans, it's always one of the bad ones?

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Bad ideas are content with any political position.

  • Jordan||

    That's the definition of bipartisanship.

  • flye||

    +1 War on Drugs

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    Ya. Vice versa applies here like a mother fucker.

  • LarryA||

    Republicans have good ideas? Cite?

  • Sevo||

    And Dems? They have to copy bad ideas?
    Pretty sure they've come up with some whoppers all on their own.

  • AlmightyJB||

    The only fascist ideas that either team abhors are the ones that they didn't come up with first.

  • Hydra||

    When did the Republicans do this?

    Why is it, whenever the Dems do something oppressive and stupid, Stormy Dragon is here to blame the GOP?

  • Calidissident||

    I'm not sure if he was just talking about generic anti-porn measures. I don't know if the GOP has ever done this specifically. Wouldn't surprise me if either party started it.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Well, Obama is everything wrong with Bush and so much more.

  • ||

    Why is whenever you copy a talking point from Democratic Underground...

  • Bryan C||

    Because bad ideas are the only ones with any appeal to Democrats.

    Republicans discard these bad ideas largely because they know they'd never get away with actually enacting them. They've learned over the decades to be circumspect and cautious about their tyrannical ambitions. Whereas the Democrats are free to do pretty much whatever they want, knowing the media has no interest in reporting on their own team's wrongdoing.

  • VicRattlehead||

    Because they're all the same flavor of statist scum.
    the only politicians who speak for the people are Libertarian in ideology regardless of a D or an R next to their name.
    D and R have no political separation anymore, its authority vs liberty, and both parties are chock full of Authoritarians trying to force government down all our throats.

  • Duke||

    Is the DOJ going after gay pornstars? Because if so, BIGOT!

  • ||

    Also war on Women.

  • Lonely Stalker||

    Aren't feminists AGAINST porn because it fuels rape culture?

  • VicRattlehead||

    "rape culture" is a trademark of the Regressive authoritarian party careful using that you may get fined.

  • Rich||

    "When Presley the United States went to the bank in person to ask why, she was told it’s because she’s considered 'high risk,'"

    Future FTFY.

  • kinnath||

    What else do you expect when a Republican sits in the White House and another runs the Justice Department?

  • Sevo||

    Something equally as bad.

  • Bryan C||

    But not equally successful or equally quiet, I'll wager.

  • VicRattlehead||

    the media screaming about war on wemin and teh gayyyyys

  • ||

    I've never been much of a cryptocurrency evangelist myself, but I'm beginning to come around...

    When you do I would not be surprised if your bank account gets closed.

  • Rich||

    Last week, adult film actress Teagan Presley and an unknown number of others in the porn industry received notices that their Chase Bank accounts were being abruptly terminated.

    Apparently Chase does everything the government asks it to do.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    There would have been consequences had they not.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    He added: “We did not, at that point, need TARP. We were asked to, because we were told, I think correctly so, that if the nine banks there, and some may have needed it, take this TARP, we can get it into all these other banks and stop the system from going down.

    Gee, it almost sounds like a cartel, or a conspiracy to restrain trade, or something.

  • croaker||

    Some regional banks were actively threatened with audits that were "guaranteed" to find that they were not compliant with the Community Reinvestment Act if they didn't take TARP money that they didn't need.

    Make no mistake, we're all fucked.

  • Sudden||

    I seriously want the job of naming these operations. The people who name the various bills and operations in the various departments and branches of govt might be the only people in DC with any sense of irony.

  • Duke||

    Operation Chicken Choker might have been a little more precise in this case.

  • politicsbyothermeans||

    I've always wanted to meet the intel analyst that convinced a room full of senior agency types and flag grade officers to call the Moro Islamic Liberation Front "MILF."

  • Anon E. Mouse||

    I once worked in a Combat Light Intelligence Team. It's a process, but the end result can be humorous. Staff officers generally come unglued when you eventually walk into a meeting wearing a C.L.I.T. patch on your uniform.

  • VicRattlehead||

    well its not as bad as your chief asking you if your monthly PMS is done.

  • ||

    One wonders how the DOJ knew her real name and where she had a bank account.

  • Pathogen||

    Meta-data is innocuous ...

  • Hydra||

    By law the porn production companies have to maintain records on performers including real name, date of birth, etc. and give the DOJ access to them on demand. It's supposed to combat child pornography, but was probably abused in this case.

  • ||

  • Bryan C||

    You're trying to tell me that a government registry of highly sensitive private information was abused and used against the registrants for the political advantage of government officials who were entrusted to maintain it?

    Dude, that's crazy.

  • VicRattlehead||

    Since government first existed and started taking down names, it has always been for the sole express purpose of harming the individuals whose names they took down.
    if you register anything with them expect it to be used against you to the fullest extent that they think they can get away with and still cover up.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Anyone else notice the @PerezHilton handle on that tweet? Did he go from unbearably annoying random TV personality to porn star? That's quite a step up!

  • ||

    It's because he's a celebrity gossip blogger. It appears that he has posted on similar matters before.

  • ||

    Naked fascism.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman William M. Isaac called it "a direct assault on the democratic system and free-market economy."

    The old gangster complaining that the young gangsters have no morals.

  • croaker||

    With sufficient reason. The MAFIA had rules of conduct that the gang bangers considered irrelevant.

  • Matthew Cline||

    Targeted business categories so far have included ... dating services,

    Wait, what? Prostitution services disguised as dating services, or dating services in general?

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Eliminating the competition for match.com.

  • ||

    If you do the same thing over and over again, you will get the same result over and over again.

    Socialists, communists, fascists, and champions of all powerful government are idiots to think otherwise. Tony proved that earlier in the Kill one man to save five? thread.

  • Dweebston||

    Five men eat more than one. Additional mouths are a liability when you've shouldered the burden of feeding mankind. I suspect Tony, being a diehard statist, figured the ratio was a raw deal. Much better to kill five and save one.

  • croaker||

    If the five are coming after the food I bought and paid for, damn right. Hogs need to be fed, after all...

  • VicRattlehead||

    or 4 could work the fields while 2 go fishing and hunting.... but that would mean everyone has to work
    if it were winter keeping as many alive for spring as possible would be imperative for stabilization of food supply or else all 6 starve and die eventually.
    moral of the topic, if we fail to work together we run a higher chance of personal failure than if everyone pitches in and the lazy are allowed to die come winter.

  • PapayaSF||

    Exhibit #5,272 on the "If This Happened Under a Republican President the Media Would be Freaking Out" list.

  • ||

    Nah, I don't think they'd give a shit about porn stars either way.

  • Jose Chung||

    It's not about coming to the aid of the victims, it's about painting the opposition as corrupt monsters, especially in an election year.

  • ||

    I just don't see the mainstream media "freaking out" about the DOJ harassing porn stars using banking restrictions no matter the President's TEAM. This just goes under shit that always happens under both TEAMS that the media generally lets slide.

  • VicRattlehead||

    what "teams" are you talking about?
    the authoritarians are all on the same team and the libertarians would never clamp down on economic freedom.
    or do you still think the majority of republicans aren't socialist twats, because newsflash- they are aiding and abetting the socialist tyrants every time they make a deal.

  • SlV||

    Who knew the "Party of Porn" is really just a bunch of SoCons?
    In Reason-speak the Obama DoJ is tacking to the Right of Focus on the Family.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Chase is behind pretty much all of these. They went after gun sales as well.

    With the porn star thing, there was a reasonable explanation, though. There is an enormous amount of chargeback in online porn, and it is very expensive to deal with. A horny dude forks over his credit card info, his wife sees the bill, and he denies it, etc etc. Some of the webcam companies deposit into the performers account every minute. That gets very tedious in dispute resolution.

    One of the porn stars was quoted as saying she was told her account was "risky". If I were a bank dealing with excessive chargeback, I might agree.

  • ||

    The letter posted on Perez Hilton is regarding a savings/checking (not clear which), so chargebacks would not be an issue.

    I don't think most porn stars have their own merchant accounts, anyway.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    A lot of those operations are ACH, or "no credit card necessary".

  • dinkster||

    The stats aren't paid by the production companies directly? I think if the performers' business acumen is what you are suggesting, then they wouldn't be porn stars.

  • AlmightyJB||

    The great thing about the DOJ is that it's organization chart is a great document as to whom should be tried for treason first.

  • ||

    U.S. wins $1.2 million penalty against bank for aiding payday loans

    A U.S. court on Friday ordered North Carolina's Four Oaks Bank to pay a penalty of $1.2 million over claims it failed to protect consumers' bank accounts in a win for federal prosecutors investigating banks doing business with payday lenders.

    [...]

    The case was part of a justice department push, known as "Operation Choke Point," to investigate whether banks enabled payday lenders to illegally siphon billions of dollars from U.S. checking accounts, according to a report in the New York Times.

    [...]

  • John C. Randolph||

    Perhaps the porn industry can lead the way to our no-bank, bitcoin-based future.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Porn sold the public on printed books, movies, VCRs and the Internet...

    Nah it would never work.

  • ||

    I doubt they would do it, given justifiable fear of retribution, but it would be awesome if some of the porn companies would post stats on visits coming from IP address blocks assigned to the US government.

  • Pathogen||

    That could be construed as a micro aggression, and would demand SWAT hit teams restore order at all costs...

  • Hydra||

    Sounds like the plot of a bad porno.

  • ||

    "opps sorry we were hacked"

  • croaker||

    That's easy

    1.x.x.x .mil
    2.x.x.x .gov

  • VicRattlehead||

    got a link on what you are talking about? could it be a worthwhile thing to have everyone do to limit spying on them or doesn't it work that way?

  • Vampire||

    "If only we get the right people in there will government not pull stunts like this"......hell, they've been saying this crap and luing to themselves for thousands of years already. On some other threads, folks call freedom and liberty, which could only be best supported and defended through the absence of a violent coercive state as "chaos".

    Yet they have no problem allowing the state (fed and state govt) to confiscate half of everything they earn. If someone went into their house, and robbed half of their belongings, and robbed half of their savings account that would be a very chaotic situation. Yet folks are blind to this form of theft and extortion. Lions and tigers and bears oh my, if we didn't have taxes and government there would be armed men running around stealing half of what we own to include taxing what we buy. ........ Douche sheisser, this happens already with the violent state......really wtf is wrong with some people?????

  • VicRattlehead||

    So i can count on you to move to Anarchotopia when i buy my used aircraft carrier?

  • RishJoMo||

    Dude so why didnt I ever think of that?
    www.GoGoAnon.tk

  • Pro Libertate||

    Whatever happened to due process, anyway? I'm sure there's some bullshit justification, but this kind of thing seems increasingly common.

  • SpitzersBlackSocks||

    Due process?

    That's like some phrase that's a hundred years old and written by dead white guys.

  • Immolate||

    Imagine the raw-throated howls of outrage when the next Republican president uses the same executive overreach to choke off all of the abortion clinics?

    I'm not a fan of payday loan places, but making them go away is the prerogative of the legislation, with the President getting his say at the end. I also think that putting them out of business should be the prerogative of the consumer. Bunch of bone heads.

  • VicRattlehead||

    Should get all the used condoms they can and go "egg" eric holders house.

  • Free Society||

    If by "egg" you mean hand grenades.

  • astronomical object||

    "DOJ Now Pressuring Banks to Refuse Service to Gun Stores"

    "...'This letter in no way reflects any derogatory reasons for such action on your behalf, but rather one of industry,' wrote branch manager Ricardo Garcia. 'Unfortunately your company’s line of business is not commensurate with the industries we work with...'"

    http://www.infowars.com/holder.....un-stores/

  • ShortsAndSandalsEnt||

    A new award-winning documentary, "Risky Business: A Look Inside America's Adult Film Industry," examines many of the current issues surrounding the adult film industry, including the mainstream discrimination that adult performers face, as with Chase Bank. The film's website is RiskyBusinessTheMovie dot c0m

  • Free Society||

    I've never been much of a cryptocurrency evangelist myself, but I'm beginning to come around...

    Anyone actually interested in limiting the power of government over their lives should come around. Or you can wait for the government to limit itself, as if that were possible.

  • HM||

    Well, it gives me hope to read comments like yours. False hope ... possibly. Still hoping the American public will attempt to educate themselves in these matters. Kind regard, HM

  • anon||

    Or you can wait for the government to limit itself

    ahahahhah good one!

  • HM||

    Ok, let me get this straight. Taxpayers were forced to bailout banks who have literally monopolized the market on FRAUD. Banks that have admitted to and paid fines for committing fraud which far surpasses the suspected fraud (by total $) than the businesses and citizens who they are targeting in "Choke Point." Legitimate, licensed businesses and persons yet to be accused of any illegal activities. President Obama, who campaigned on transparency, has sanctioned this surreptitious program targeting legitimate businesses based on their "moral" judgement. How is this not a bigger story?

    I detest payday lenders. But, what the administration has done is reprehensible and will do much more damage to our "free" country and I fear will have father reaching affects than the media is reporting. This is yet another a chilling revelation where the administration is acting on their summary judgement with a clandestine operation when instead they should be seeking to legislate change to protect the consumer. Shame on all of them!

  • anon||

    I detest payday lenders.

    It seems like just yesterday (in reality, about 7 or 8 years ago) I remember hearing some bullshit on NPR lauding how microloans (read: payday lenders, effectively) in 3rd world countries were helping pull those countries out of poverty.

    Time sure does change things.

  • DonLKaufman||

    Congrats! This post just made slashdot! http://yro.slashdot.org/story/.....k-accounts

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