Latin Investment Corp. is by all accounts a bank, though unlicensed and unregulated {"D.C. Knew Firm Had No Bank Charter," Metro, Dec. 7}. Apparently aware of this status for years, local and federal officials did nothing other than urge one another to do something. Why this paralysis?

If public officials had acted, the life savings of many depositors would not be in jeopardy. Yet a growing clique of regulators routinely practice irresponsibility and inertia. Whether it's contaminated nuclear waste dumps, a defective Hubble telescope, an insolvent thrift industry or, today, a bogus bank, certain regulators always hide their own failures by authoritatively blaming anyone in the private sector. When will regulators themselves be held accountable for neglecting a public interest?

A policy of protecting grossly incompetent public officials is itself undemocratic and immoral. Taxpayers should not have to reward such officials with salaries and benefits. Therefore, individual regulators, as well as Latin Investment's managers, must be investigated and, if necessary, penalized for any dereliction of duties. Immigrants hurt by this fiasco should discover that in America justice and the rule of law are not mere myths. Moreover, officials who grossly neglect or abuse their authority should expect tough legal consequences.

FLORENCIO RAMOS Washington