A well-wrought exposâ€š that puts paid to any notion that economic reverses precipitated the crisis now rocking US savings and loan associations. In their damning and convincingly documented indictment, the journalist authors attribute the thrift industry's woes mainly to deregulation during the early 1980's. Among other outcomes, the advent of laissez-faire overnight (coupled with an increase in federal insurance on deposits, from $40,000 per account to $100,000) proved an open invitation to a small army of white-collar crooks. In relatively short order, fast-buck artists (many with ties to organized crime) were plundering the nation's S&Ls. Able to bid for deposits, for instance, grifters dealt with brokers who steered large sums of hot money around the country in pursuit of top returns (or ""laundries""). Collected funds could be channeled to designated borrowers as well as into personal projects (and expenditures) without much risk of regulatory reaction, let alone reprisal. Permissive credit policies soon produced an upward spiral in defaults, but ""entrepreneurial"" as well as mob-connected institutions characterized their difficulties as interim and attributable to external factors, e.g., a slump in oil prices that depressed Sunbelt property values. Until the 11th hour, Washington turned a largely blind eye to the industry's increasingly apparent financial problems, in part because of grassroots political pressures--and ideological agendas involving free markets. The tab run up by mismanaged and pillaged S&Ls is coming due nonetheless: all told, the price of insolvency could exceed $300 billion. Noting that those convicted of swindling thrifts draw prison sentences averaging 36 months (against about 13 years for robbing the same institutions), the authors provide a wealth of case studies that substantiate their allegations of massive--and purposeful--fraud. They also offer a number of sensible reform proposals, e.g., tougher screening of S&L officers, directors, and owners, i.e., on a par with casino licensing requirements in Nevada and New Jersey. Nor, in their informed opinion, would more revelatory accounting procedures be amiss. A sorry tale, which spells out in telling detail why there's cause for genuine concern about the nation's banking system as well as its S&Ls.