Department of Justice

http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2014/July/14-ag-733.html

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Monday, July 14, 2014

Justice Department, Federal and State Partners Secure Record $7 Billion Global Settlement with Citigroup for Misleading Investors About Securities Containing Toxic Mortgages

Citigroup to Pay the Largest Penalty of Its Kind – $4 Billion

The Justice Department, along with federal and state partners, today announced a $7 billion settlement with Citigroup Inc. to resolve federal and state civil claims related to Citigroup’s conduct in the packaging, securitization, marketing, sale and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) prior to Jan. 1, 2009.  The resolution includes a $4 billion civil penalty – the largest penalty to date under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA).  As part of the settlement, Citigroup acknowledged it made serious misrepresentations to the public – including the investing public – about the mortgage loans it securitized in RMBS.  The resolution also requires Citigroup to provide relief to underwater homeowners, distressed borrowers and affected communities through a variety of means including financing affordable rental housing developments for low-income families in high-cost areas.  The settlement does not absolve Citigroup or its employees from facing any possible criminal charges.

This settlement is part of the ongoing efforts of President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s RMBS Working Group, which has recovered $20 billion to date for American consumers and investors.  

“This historic penalty is appropriate given the strength of the evidence of the wrongdoing committed by Citi,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.  “The bank’s activities contributed mightily to the financial crisis that devastated our economy in 2008.  Taken together, we believe the size and scope of this resolution goes beyond what could be considered the mere cost of doing business.  Citi is not the first financial institution to be held accountable by this Justice Department, and it will certainly not be the last.”

 The settlement includes an agreed upon statement of facts that describes how Citigroup made representations to RMBS investors about the quality of the mortgage loans it securitized and sold to investors.  Contrary to those representations, Citigroup securitized and sold RMBS with underlying mortgage loans that it knew had material defects.  As the statement of facts explains, on a number of occasions, Citigroup employees learned that significant percentages of the mortgage loans reviewed in due diligence had material defects.  In one instance, a Citigroup trader stated in an internal email that he “went through the Diligence Reports and think[s] [they] should start praying . . . [he] would not be surprised if half of these loans went down. . . It’s amazing that some of these loans were closed at all.”  Citigroup nevertheless securitized the loan pools containing defective loans and sold the resulting RMBS to investors for billions of dollars.  This conduct, along with similar conduct by other banks that bundled defective and toxic loans into securities and misled investors who purchased those securities, contributed to the financial crisis.                                  

“Today, we hold Citi accountable for its contributing role in creating the financial crisis, not only by demanding the largest civil penalty in history, but also by requiring innovative consumer relief that will help rectify the harm caused by Citi’s conduct,” said Associate Attorney General Tony West.  “In addition to the principal reductions and loan modifications we’ve built into previous resolutions, this consumer relief menu includes new measures such as $200 million in typically hard-to-obtain financing that will facilitate the construction of affordable rental housing, bringing relief to families pushed into the rental market in the wake of the financial crisis.”

Of the $7 billion resolution, $4.5 billion will be paid to settle federal and state civil claims by various entities related to RMBS: Citigroup will pay $4 billion as a civil penalty to settle the Justice Department claims under FIRREA, $208.25 million to settle federal and state securities claims by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), $102.7 million to settle claims by the state of California, $92 million to settle claims by the state of New York, $44 million to settle claims by the state of Illinois, $45.7  million to settle claims by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and $7.35 to settle claims by the state of Delaware.

Citigroup will pay out the remaining $2.5 billion in the form of relief to aid consumers harmed by the unlawful conduct of Citigroup.  That relief will take various forms, including loan modification for underwater homeowners, refinancing for distressed borrowers, down payment and closing cost assistance to homebuyers, donations to organizations assisting communities in redevelopment and affordable rental housing for low-income families in high-cost areas.  An independent monitor will be appointed to determine whether Citigroup is satisfying its obligations.  If Citigroup fails to live up to its agreement by the end of 2018,  it must pay liquidated damages in the amount of the shortfall to NeighborWorks America, a non-profit organization and leader in providing affordable housing and facilitating community development.  

The U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of New York and the District of Colorado conducted investigations into Citigroup’s practices related to the sale and issuance of RMBS between 2006 and 2007.

“The strength of our financial markets depends on the truth of the representations that banks provide to investors and the public every day,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh for the District of Colorado, Co-Chair of the RMBS Working Group.  “Today’s $7 billion settlement is a major step toward restoring public confidence in those markets.  Due to the tireless work by the Department of Justice, Citigroup is being forced to take responsibility for its home mortgage securitization misconduct in the years leading up to the financial crisis.  As important a step as this settlement is, however, the work of the RMBS working group is far from done, we will continue to pursue our investigations and cases vigorously because many other banks have not yet taken responsibility for their misconduct in packaging and selling RMBS securities.”

“After nearly 50 subpoenas to Citigroup, Trustees, Servicers, Due Diligence providers and their employees, and after collecting nearly 25 million documents relating to every residential mortgage backed security issued or underwritten by Citigroup in 2006 and 2007, our teams found that the misconduct in Citigroup’s deals devastated the nation and the world’s economies, touching everyone,” said U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch.  “The investors in Citigroup RMBS included federally-insured financial institutions, as well as a host of states, cities, public and union pension and benefit funds, universities, religious charities, and hospitals, among others.  These are our neighbors in Colorado, New York and around the country, hard-working people who saved and put away for retirement, only to see their savings decimated.”

This settlement resolves civil claims against Citigroup arising out of certain securities packaged, securitized, structured, marketed, and sold by Citigroup.  The agreement does not release individuals from civil charges, nor does it release Citigroup or any individuals from potential criminal prosecution. In addition, as part of the settlement, Citigroup has pledged to fully cooperate in investigations related to the conduct covered by the agreement.

 Michael Stephens, Acting Inspector General for the Federal Housing Finance Agency said, “Citigroup securitized billions of dollars of defective mortgages, after which investors suffered enormous losses by purchasing RMBS from Citi not knowing about those defects. Today’s settlement is another significant step by FHFA-OIG and its law enforcement partners to hold accountable those who committed acts of fraud and deceit in the lead up to the financial crisis, and is a necessary step toward reviving a sound RMBS market that is crucial to the housing industry and the American economy.  We are proud to have worked with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the Eastern District of New York and the District of Colorado. They have been great partners and we look forward to our continued work together.”

The underlying investigation was led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard K. Hayes, Kevin Traskos, Lila Bateman, John Vagelatos, J. Chris Larson and Edward K. Newman, with the support of agents from the Office of the Inspector General for the Federal Housing Finance Agency, in conjunction with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s RMBS Working Group.

The RMBS Working Group is a federal and state law enforcement effort focused on investigating fraud and abuse in the RMBS market that helped lead to the 2008 financial crisis.  The RMBS Working Group brings together more than 200 attorneys, investigators, analysts and staff from dozens of state and federal agencies including the Department of Justice, 10 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), HUD’s Office of Inspector General, the FHFA-OIG, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Federal Reserve Board’s Office of Inspector General, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and more than 10 state Attorneys General offices around the country.

The RMBS Working Group is led by its Director Geoffrey Graber and its five co-chairs: Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Stuart Delery, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Leslie Caldwell, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement Andrew Ceresney, U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado John Walsh and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Learn more about the RMBS Working Group and the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force at: http://www.stopfraud.gov .

Freddie Mac Is Putting an 83 Year Old Lady Out on the Street!

It never ceases to amaze me.  With all these numerous govt. programs that are supposed to be helping Homeowners/Borrowers stay in their homes, I have to wonder just who the hell it is that they are allegedly helping.  A case in Colorado, that I have become aware of, the 83 year old woman is most likely going to be on the streets next week.  And guess who is putting her out of her home.?.  Freddie Mac.

For some stupid reason, I was under the impression that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and others, along with all these billions of dollars from the robo-signing settlements, and the numerous entities alleging to be aiding those being foreclosed upon, and not one of them does a damned thing that I can see.  The propaganda they feed to everyone in the media, might sound good…You know that the housing market has picked up, foreclosures are down, new home buyers are up.?.  Yea right.  Somebody forgot to tell our neighborhood.  The vacant houses are still vacant.  Houses that should sale for $90,000, sell for $36,000.

But hey, the housing market has recovered.  RRRRiiiiiiiiiiiiggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhtttttttttttttttt!!!  In your dreams.

Unless and until the someone steps in, slaps these foreclosure mill attorneys around, you know, the ones that make up the fictional documents in the County’s Land Records, throw their asses in jail for the forgery, fraud, perjury, that they are so used to committing,  they ain’t ever gonna stop.  

Has anyone other than myself noticed that the foreclosure mill attorneys, and other attorneys who on a regular basis have been foreclosing on Borrowers/Homeowner and manufacturing documents to use to foreclose with; sign the Assignments, Deeds Under Power, and lie to the Courts; an have been doing it so long now, yes, they have been breaking the law for so long now in foreclosure cases, it has spilled over to other types of cases.  No matter what kind of case it is, there are certain attorneys, who continue breaking the law as if they were working a foreclosure case.  And the worst part, is the judges let them.  WTF?  It is bad.  They are violating the RICO, committing fraud, forgery, theft, perjury, and God only knows what else.

Now you have the full swat teams going to evictions.  If the cops don’t like the way things are going, they just kill the homeowner.  It has gotten way out of hand.   Looks like if you fight the banks and win, you either go to jail, or die.

Be safe yall!

FHFA Settles With BofA for $5.83 Billion Over Countrywide Legacy Loans

http://nationalmortgageprofessional.com/news47937/FHFA-Settles-With-BofA-%245.83-Billion-Over-Countrywide-Legacy-Loans?utm_source=MadMimi&utm_medium=email&utm_content=NMP+Daily%3A+FHFA+Settles+With+BofA+for+%245_83+Billion+Over+Countrywide+Legacy+Loans+and+More+___&utm_campaign=20140327_m119753830_NMP+Daily%3A+FHFA+Settles+With+BofA+for+%245_83+Billion+Over+Countrywide+Legacy+Loans+and+More+___&utm_term=FHFA+Settles+With+BofA+for+_245_83+Billion+Over+Countrywide+Legacy+Loans

FHFA_Logo_04_13_12

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has announced it has reached a settlement in cases involving Bank of America, Countrywide Financial, Merrill Lynch, and certain named individuals totaling approximately $5.83 billion. Bank of America Corporation owns Countrywide and Merrill Lynch. The cases alleged violations of federal and state securities laws in connection with private-label, residential mortgage-backed securities (PLS) purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac between 2005 and 2007. Allegations of common law fraud were made in the Countrywide and Merrill Lynch cases.

The Agreement provides for an aggregate payment of approximately $9.33 billion by Bank of America that includes the litigation resolution as well as a purchase of securities by Bank of America from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“FHFA has acted under its statutory mandate to recover losses incurred by the companies and American taxpayers and has concluded that this resolution represents a reasonable and prudent settlement of these cases,” said FHFA Director Melvin L. Watt. “This settlement also represents an important step in helping restore stability to our broader mortgage market and moving to bring back the role of private firms in providing mortgage credit. Many potential homeowners will benefit from increasing certainty in the marketplace and that is very much the direction we should be taking.”

Of the 18 PLS suits filed in 2011, FHFA now has claims remaining in seven suits against various institutions and remains committed to satisfactory resolution of these pending actions.

The settlement agreement regarding private label securities claims between FHFA and Bank of America involves the following cases: Federal Housing Finance Agency v. Bank of America Corp., et al., No. 11 Civ. 6195 (DLC) (S.D.N.Y.); Federal Housing Finance Agency v. Countrywide Financial Corp., et al., No. 12 Civ. 1059 (MRP) (C.D. Cal.); Federal Housing Finance Agency v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., et al., No. 11 Civ. 6202 (DLC) (S.D.N.Y.); as well as one Merrill Lynch security in Federal Housing Finance Agency v. First Horizon National Corp., No. 11 Civ. 6193 (DLC) (S.D.N.Y.).

Manifest Injustice Through Judicial Corruption

POLICY: LAW

http://washingtonexaminer.com/a-whistleblowers-worst-nightmare/article/2546069 

A whistleblower’s worst nightmare 

BY DIANE DIMOND | MARCH 21, 2014 AT 2:52 PM 

TOPICS: 2007 HOUSING CRISIS WHISTLEBLOWERS LAW 

Photo – Sadly, there is not enough space here to tell you the entire 7-year saga of whistleblower Michael Winston, but the bottom line is this: He got royally screwed by the California judicial system.

Sadly, there is not enough space here to tell you the entire 7-year saga of whistleblower Michael…

Justice is supposed to be blind. But what happens when it turns out to be blind, deaf and dumb?

Sadly, there is not enough space here to tell you the entire 7-year saga of whistleblower Michael Winston, but the bottom line is this: He got royally screwed by the California judicial system.

Winston, 62, is a mild-mannered Ph.D. and a veteran leadership executive who has held top jobs at elite corporations such as McDonnell Douglas, Motorola and Merrill Lynch. After taking time off to nurse his ailing parents, Winston was recruited by Countrywide Financial to help polish their corporate Image. He was quickly promoted — twice — and had a team of 200 employees.

It’s almost unheard of for a top-tier executive turning whistleblower, but that’s what Winston became after he noticed many of his staff were sickened by noxious air in their Simi Valley, California, office. When the company failed to fix the problem, Winston picked up the phone and called Cal-OSHA to investigate. Retaliation was immediate. Winston’s budget was cut and most of his staff was reassigned.

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Several months later, Winston says he refused Countrywide’s request to travel to New York and, basically, lie to the credit ratings agency Moody’s about corporate structure and practices. That was the death knell for Winston’s stellar 30-year-long career.

When Countrywide was bought out by Bank of America in 2008 — following Countrywide’s widely reported lead role in the sub-prime mortgage fiasco that caused the collapse of the U.S. housing market — Winston was out of a job.

In early 2011, after a month-long trial, a jury overwhelmingly found that Winston had been wrongfully terminated and awarded him nearly $4 million. Lawyers for Bank of America (which had assumed all Countrywide liabilities) immediately asked the judge to overturn the verdict. Judge Bert Gennon Jr. denied the request saying, “There was a great deal of evidence that was provided to the jury in making their decision, and they went about it very carefully.” Winston and his lawyer maintain they won despite repeated and egregious perjury by the opposition.

Winston never saw a dime of his award, and nearly two years later, B of A appealed. In February 2013, the Court of Appeal issued a stunning reversal of the verdict. The court declared Winston had failed to make his case.

“This never happens … this isn’t legal,” Cliff Palefsky, a top employment lawyer in San Francisco told me during a phone conversation. “The appeals court is not supposed to go back and cherry-pick through the evidence the way this court did. And if there is any doubt about a case, they are legally bound to uphold the jury’s verdict.”

None of the legal eagles I spoke to could explain why the Court of Appeal would do such an apparently radical thing.

The Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection group in D.C., has been watching the Winston case closely. Senior Counsel Richard Condit says he believes the appeal judge wrongly “nullified” the jury’s determination.

“This case is vitally important,” Condit told me on the phone. “Seeing what happened to Winston, who will ever want to come forward and reveal what they know about corporate wrongdoings?” GAP and various legal academicians are trying to figure out a way to get Winston’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

There have been whispers about the possible malpractice of Winston’s trial lawyer failing to file crucial documents that might have satisfied the appeal court’s questions. His appellate lawyer didn’t even tell him when the appeals court was hearing the case and Winston was out of town. The LA District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Department refused to follow up on evidence that Countrywide witnesses, including founder Angelo Mozilo, had blatantly committed perjury on the stand. Some court watchers speak of the, “unholy alliance” between big corporations and the justice system in California.

Winston, who says he spent $600,000 on legal fees, further depleted his savings by appealing to the California Supreme Court. That court refused to hear his case.

During one of our many hours-long phone conversations, Winston told me, “So, here I sit,” the whistleblower. The good guy loses. And the bad guys, officials at the corporation that cheated and lied and nearly caused the collapse of the U.S. economy — win.”

There’s a lot of talk out of Washington these days about “economic equality.” But seven years have passed since the housing crisis and the feds have not prosecuted one key executive from any of the financial giants that helped fuel the economic crash. Too big to fail — and too big to jail, I guess.

Bank of America has spent upward of $50 billion in legal fees, litigation costs and fines cleaning up the Countrywide mess. Their latest projections indicate they’ll spend billions more before it’s over. To my mind, a stiff prison sentence for the top dogs who orchestrated the original mortgage schemes would go much further than agreeing that they pay hefty fines. That’s no deterrent to others since they all have lots of money.

A recent email I got from Michael Winston, a proud man who has been unemployed for four years, said: “I have just received (a) court order mandating that I pay to Bank of America over $100,000.00 for their court costs. This will be in all ways — financial, emotional, physical and spiritual — painful.”

If a top-tier executive can’t prevail blowing the whistle on a corrupt company, if the feds fail to pursue prison terms, and if a jury’s verdict can be over-turned without the opportunity to appeal — what kind of signal does that send to the dishonest?

You know the answer. We’re telling them it is OK to put profit above everything else. We’re telling them to continue their illegal behaviors because there will be no prison time for them. At worst, they may only have to part with a slice of their ill-gotten gains.

This is not the way the justice system is supposed to work.

 

DIANE DIMOND, a Washington Examiner columnist, is nationally syndicated by Creators Syndicate.

Whistleblower, Szymoniak Has It Going On!

Banks, Mortgage Companies Defrauded HUD, Veteran Whistleblower Says

FEB 5, 2014 1:30pm ET
 

A whistleblower with a track record of wresting large settlements from banks is suing 22 companies for allegedly filing fraudulent mortgage documents with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Lynn E. Szymoniak, famous for her 2011 “60 Minutes” interview on the robo-signing scandal, filed a lawsuit late Monday against the companies, including Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. The Palm Beach, Fla., plaintiff’s lawyer alleges the 22 banks, mortgage servicers, trustees, custodians and default management companies created fraudulent mortgage assignments and submitted tens of thousands of false claims to HUD.

The lawsuit is a stark reminder that banks still face massive litigation and potential settlements for wrongdoing from the mortgage boom and financial crisis. On Wednesday, JPMorgan Chase acknowledged that it violated the False Claims Act and agreed to pay $614 million to settle claimsthat it improperly approved Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Affairs loans that did not meet underwriting standards.

HUD oversees the FHA, which reimburses servicers for losses and fees when government-guaranteed loans go into foreclosure.

Banks can be held liable for treble damages under the False Claims Act if they are found to have “falsely certified” that mortgages met all FHA requirements. The act also gives whistleblowers the right to file suit on behalf of the government.

“It’s been very difficult to uncover how fraudulent documents were created and spread through the system,” says Reuben Guttman, Szymoniak’s attorney at the firm of Grant & Eisenhofer. “Lynn Szymoniak did the original analysis, looked at documents and put the pieces together in a way that nobody else did.”

The new lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in South Carolina. Several of the defendants, including Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo, said they are reviewing the lawsuit and could not immediately comment.

In 2012, Szymoniak helped the government recover $95 million from the top five mortgage servicers, as part of the $25 billion national mortgage settlement. She personally received $18 million for providing information on the filing of false claims on FHA loans.

The suit also seeks to recover damages and penalties on behalf of the federal government, 16 states, the District of Columbia and the cities of Chicago and New York for the financial harm incurred in the purchase of private-label mortgage-backed securities that allegedly used fraudulent documents in foreclosure filings since 2008.

As investors in mortgage bonds, the government and others paid fees and expenses for services such as reviewing all mortgage documents put into trusts that were supposed to be performed by trustees. The federal government bought mortgage-backed securities with missing or forged documents through several avenues, including the Federal Reserve’s direct purchases and Maiden Lane vehicles, and the Treasury Department’s purchases through public-private partnership investment funds, the suit states.

The complaint does not specify damages but Szymoniak says she expects them to total around $10 billion.

The fraudulent mortgage documents were created because the original loans documents either were never delivered to the securitization trusts, or they were lost or destroyed, the lawsuit states. Many of the documents were created years after the trusts’ closing dates and showed the trusts acquired the loans only after they were in default.

Servicers “devised and operated a scheme to replace the missing documents,” the lawsuit states, and to conceal the fact that the trusts and servicers never actually held the mortgage notes and assignments, which are needed to initiate a foreclosure.

Szymoniak was also instrumental in uncovering fraud and forged documents at DocX, a now-defunct subsidiary of Lender Processing Services. She worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and U.S. Attorney’s office in Jacksonville, Fla., that ultimately led to the conviction of an LPS executive, the closure of DocX, firm, and varioussettlements by LPS, which is now owned by Black Knight Financial Services.

 

Jeff Barnes/Foreclosure Defense Nationwide “New Legal Issues”

NEW LEGAL ISSUES COMING UP IN TRIAL AND APPELLATE COURTS

DECEMBER 16, 2013

With the release of the US Bank admissions per our post of November 6, 2013; the issuance of the opinions from the Supreme Courts of Oregon and Montana holding that MERS is not the “beneficiary”; and recent opinions from various jurisdictions which are now, finally, holding that securitization-related issues are relevant in a foreclosure, a host of new legal issues are about to be litigated in the trial and appellate courts throughout the country. It has taken six (6) years and coast-to-coast work to get courts to realize that securitization of a mortgage loan raises issues as to standing, real party in interest, and the alleged authority to foreclose, and that the simplistic mantra of the “banks” and servicers of “we have the note, thus we win” is no longer to be blindly accepted.

One issue which we and others are litigating relates to mortgage loans originated by Option One, which changed its name to Sand Canyon Corporation and thereafter ceased all mortgage loan operations. Pursuant to the sworn testimony of the former President of Sand Canyon, it stopped owning mortgage loans as of 2008. However, even after this cessation of any involvement with servicing or ownership of mortgage loans, we see “Assignments” from Option One or Sand Canyon to a securitization trustee bank or other third party long after 2008.

The United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire concluded, with the admission of the President of Sand Canyon, that the homeowner’s challenge to the foreclosure based on a 2011 alleged transfer from Sand Canyon to Wells Fargo was not an “attack on the assignment” which certain jurisdictions have precluded on the alleged basis that the borrower is not a party to the assignment, but is a situation where no assignment occurred because it could not have as a matter of admitted fact, as Sand Canyon could not assign something it did not have. The case is Drouin v. American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc. and Wells Fargo, etc., No. 11-cv-596-JL.

The Option One/Sand Canyon situation is not unique: there are many originating “lenders” which allegedly “assigned” mortgages or Deeds of Trust long after they went out of business or filed for Bankruptcy, with no evidence of post-closing assignment authority or that the Bankruptcy court having jurisdiction over a bankrupt lender ever granted permission for the alleged transfer of the loan (which is an asset of the Bankruptcy estate) out of the estate. Such a transfer without proof of authority to do so implicates bankruptcy fraud (which is a serious crime punishable under United States criminal statutes), and fraud on the court in a foreclosure case where such an alleged assignment is relied upon by the foreclosing party.

As we stated in our post of November 6, the admission of US Bank that a borrower is a party to any MBS transaction and that the loan is governed by the trust documents means that the borrower is, in fact, a party to any assignment of that borrower’s loan, and should thus be permitted to seek discovery as to any alleged assignment and all issues related to the securitization of the loan. We have put this issue out in many of our cases, and will be arguing this position at both the trial and appellate levels beginning early 2014.

Jeff Barnes, Esq., http://www.ForeclosureDefenseNationwide.com

Sentiments of US District Judge, Jed S. Rakoff – We Need More Judges Like This One!

I was reading some information about the financial crisis in this country (USA), and ran across a paper written by US District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff.  If we had more Judges with the mind of this one, we would not be in nearly as bad a shape as we are in.  I have not yet figured out how the Judges justify allowing foreclosures, when they know for a fact that the Banks and their attorneys are creating fraudulent documents, committing perjury in their Courtrooms, and are breaking so many laws, that it has become the norm…  

Read what Honorable Judge Jed S. Rakoff says:  http://www.ft.com/cms/cb1e43f2-4be6-11e3-8203-00144feabdc0.pdf

11/12/13
Why Have No High Level Executives Been Prosecuted In Connection With The Financial Crisis?
by Jed S. Rakoff
(U.S. District Judge)

Five years have passed since the onset of what is sometimes called the Great Recession. While the economy has slowly improved, there are still millions of Americans leading lives of quiet desperation: without jobs, without resources, without hope.

Who was to blame? Was it simply a result of negligence, of the kind of inordinate risk-taking commonly called a “bubble,” of an imprudent but innocent failure to maintain adequate reserves for a rainy day? Or was it the result, at least in part, of fraudulent practices, of dubious mortgages portrayed as sound risks and packaged into ever-more-esoteric financial instruments, the fundamental weaknesses of which were intentionally obscured?

If it was the former – if the recession was due, at worst, to a lack of caution – then the criminal law has no role to play in the aftermath. For, in all but a few circumstances (not here relevant), the fierce and fiery weapon called criminal prosecution is directed at intentional misconduct, and nothing less. If the Great Recession was in no part the handiwork of intentionally fraudulent practices by high-level executives, then to prosecute such executives criminally would be “scapegoating” of the most shallow and despicable kind.

But if, by contrast, the Great Recession was in material part the product of intentional fraud, the failure to prosecute those responsible must be judged one of the more egregious failures of the criminal justice system in many years.Indeed, it would stand in striking contrast to the increased success that federal prosecutors have had over the past 50 years or so in bringing to justice even the highest level figures who orchestrated mammoth frauds. Thus, in the 1970’s, in the aftermath of the “junk bond” bubble that, in many ways, was a precursor of the more recent bubble in mortgage-backed securities, the progenitors of the fraud were all successfully prosecuted, right up to Michael Milken. Again, in the 1980’s, the so-called savings-and-loan crisis, which again had some eerie parallels to more recent events, resulted in the successful criminal prosecution of more than 800 individuals, right up to Charles Keating. And, again, the widespread accounting frauds of the 1990’s, most vividly represented by Enron and WorldCom, led directly to the successful prosecution of such previously respected C.E.O.’s as Jeffrey Skilling and Bernie Ebbers.

In striking contrast with these past prosecutions, not a single high level executive has been successfully prosecuted in  connection with the recent financial crisis, and given the fact that most of the relevant criminal provisions are governed by a five-year statute of limitations, it appears very likely that none will be. It may not be too soon, therefore, to ask why.

One possibility, already mentioned, is that no fraud was committed. This possibility should not be  discounted. Every case is different, and I, for one, have no opinion as to whether criminal fraud was committed in any given instance.

 But the stated opinion of those government entities asked to examine the financial crisis overall is not that no fraud was committed. Quite the contrary. For example, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, in its final report, uses variants of the word “fraud” no fewer than 157 times in describing what led to the crisis, concluding that there was a “systemic breakdown,” not just in  accountability, but also in ethical behavior. As the Commission found, the signs of fraud were everywhere to be seen, with the number of reports of suspected mortgage fraud rising 20-fold between 1998 and 2005 and then doubling again in the next four years. As early as 2004, FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker, was publicly warning of the “pervasive problem” of mortgage fraud, driven by the voracious demand for mortgagebacked securities. Similar warnings, many from within the financial community, were disregarded, not because they were  viewed as inaccurate, but because, as one high level banker put it, “A decision was made that ‘We’re going to have to hold our nose and start buying the product if we want to stay in business.’”

Without multiplying examples, the point is that, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the prevailing view of many government officials (as well as others) was that the crisis was in material respects the product of intentional fraud. In a nutshell, the fraud, they argued, was a simple one. Subprime mortgages, i.e., mortgages of dubious creditworthiness, increasingly provided the sole collateral for highly-leveraged securities that were marketed as triple-A, i.e., of very low risk. How could this transformation of a sow’s ear into a silk purse be accomplished unless someone dissembled along the way?

While officials of the Department of Justice have been more circumspect in describing the roots of the financial crisis than have the various commissions of inquiry and other government agencies, I have seen nothing to indicate their disagreement with the widespread conclusion that fraud at every level permeated the bubble in mortgage-backed securities. Rather, their position has been to excuse their failure to prosecute high level individuals for fraud in connection with the financial crisis on one or more of three grounds:

First, they have argued that proving fraudulent intent on the part of the high level management of the banks and companies involved has proved difficult. It is undoubtedly true that the ranks of top management were several levels removed from those who were putting together the collateralized debt obligations and other securities offerings that were based on dubious mortgages; and the people generating the mortgages themselves were often at other companies and thus even further removed. And I want to stress again that I have no opinion as to whether any given top executive had knowledge of the dubious nature of the underlying mortgages, let alone fraudulent intent. But what I do find surprising is that the Department of Justice should view the proving of intent as so difficult in this context. Who, for example, were generating the so-called “suspicious activity” reports of mortgage fraud that, as mentioned, increased so hugely in the years leading up to the crisis? Why, the banks themselves. A top level banker, one might argue, confronted with increasing evidence from his own and other banks that mortgage fraud was increasing, might have inquired as to why his bank’s mortgage-based securities continued to receive triple-A ratings?  And if, despite these and other reports of suspicious activity, the executive failed to make such inquiries, might it be because he did not want to know what such inquiries would reveal?  

This, of course, is what is known in the law as “willful blindness” or “conscious disregard.” It is a well-established basis on which federal prosecutors have asked juries to infer intent, in cases involving complexities, such as accounting treatments, at least as esoteric as those involved in the events leading up to the financial crisis. And while some federal courts have occasionally expressed qualifications about the use of the willful blindness approach to prove intent, the Supreme Court has consistently approved it. As that Court stated most recently in Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A., 131 S.Ct. 2060, 2068 (2011), “The doctrine of willful blindness is well established in criminal law. Many criminal statutes require proof that a defendant acted knowingly or willfully, and courts applying the doctrine of willful blindness hold that defendants cannot escape the reach of these statutes by deliberately shielding themselves from clear evidence of critical facts that are strongly suggested by the circumstances.” Thus, the Department’s claim that proving intent in the financial crisis context is particularly difficult may strike some as doubtful.

Second, and even weaker, the Department of Justice has sometimes argued that, because the institutions to whom mortgagebacked securities were sold were themselves sophisticated investors, it might be difficult to prove reliance. Thus, in  defending the failure to prosecute high level executives for frauds arising from the sale of mortgage-backed securities, the then head of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, told PBS that “in a criminal case … I have to prove not only that you made a false statement but that you intended to commit a crime, and also that the other side of the transaction relied on what you were saying. And frankly, in many of the securitizations and the kinds of transactions we’re talking about, in reality you had very sophisticated counterparties on both sides. And so even though one side may have said something was dark blue when really we can say it was sky blue, the other side of the transaction, the other sophisticated party, wasn’t relying at all on the description of the color.”

Actually, given the fact that these securities were bought and sold at lightning speed, it is by no means obvious that even a sophisticated counterparty would have detected the problems with the arcane, convoluted mortgage-backed derivatives they were being asked to purchase. But there is a more fundamental problem with the above-quoted statement from the former head of the Criminal Division, which is that it totally misstates the law.  In actuality, in a criminal fraud case the Government is never required to prove reliance, ever. The reason, of course, is that would give a crooked seller a license to lie whenever he was  dealing with a sophisticated counterparty.  The law, however, says that society is harmed when a seller purposely lies about a material fact, even if the immediate purchaser does not rely on that particular fact, because such misrepresentations create problems for the market as a whole. And surely there never was a situation in which the sale of dubious mortgage-backed securities created more of a huge problem for the marketplace, and society as a whole, than in the recent financial crisis.

The third reason the Department has sometimes given for not bringing these prosecutions is that to do so would itself harm the economy. Thus, Attorney General Holder himself told Congress that “it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute – if we do bring a criminal charge – it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.” To a federal judge, who takes an oath to apply the law equally to rich and to poor, this excuse — sometimes labeled the “too big to jail” excuse – is disturbing, frankly, in what it says about the
Department’s apparent disregard for equality under the law.

In fairness, however, Mr. Holder was referring to the prosecution of financial institutions, rather than their
C.E.O.’s. But if we are talking about prosecuting individuals, the excuse becomes entirely irrelevant; for no one that I know of has ever contended that a big financial institution would collapse if one or more of its high level executives were prosecuted, as opposed to the institution itself.

Without multiplying examples further, my point is that the Department of Justice has never taken the position that all the top executives involved in the events leading up to the financial crisis were innocent, but rather has offered one or another excuse for not criminally prosecuting them – excuses that, on inspection, appear unconvincing. So, you might ask, what’s really going on here? I don’t claim to have any inside information about the real reasons why no such prosecutions have been brought, but I take the liberty of offering some speculations, for your consideration or amusement as the case may be.

At the outset, however, let me say that I totally discount the argument sometimes made that no such prosecutions have been brought because the top prosecutors were often people who previously represented the financial institutions in question and/or were people who expected to be representing such
institutions in the future: the so-called “revolving door.” In my experience, every federal prosecutor, at every level, is seeking to make a name for him-or-herself, and the best way to do that is by prosecuting some high level person. While companies that are indicted almost always settle, individual defendants whose careers are at stake will often go to trial. And if the Government wins such a trial, as it usually does, the prosecutor’s reputation is made.My point is that whatever small influence the “revolving door” may have in discouraging certain white-collar prosecutions is more than offset, at least in the case of prosecuting high-level individuals, by the career-making benefits such prosecutions confer on the successful prosecutor.  So, one asks again, why haven’t we seen such prosecutions growing out of the financial crisis? I offer, by way of speculation, three influences that I think, along with others, have had the effect of limiting such prosecutions.

First, the prosecutors had other priorities. Some of these were completely understandable. For example, prior to 2001, the FBI had more than 1,000 agents assigned to investigating financial frauds, but after 9/11 many of these agents were shifted to anti-terrorism work. Who can argue with that?  Eventually, it is true, new agents were hired for some of the vacated spots in fraud detection; but this is not a form of detection easily learned and recent budget limitations have only exacerbated the problem.

Of course, the FBI is not the primary investigator of fraud in the sale of mortgage-backed securities; that responsibility lies mostly with the S.E.C. But at the very time the financial crisis was breaking, the S.E.C. was trying to deflect criticism from its failure to detect the Madoff fraud, and this led it to concentrate on other Ponzi-like schemes, which for awhile were, along with accounting frauds, its chief focus. More recently, the S.E.C. has been hard hit by budget limitations, and this has not only made it more difficult to assign the kind of manpower the kinds of frauds we are talking about require, but also has led S.E.C. enforcement to focus on the smaller, easily resolved cases that will beef up their statistics when they go to Congress begging for money.

As for the Department of Justice proper, a decision was made around 2009 to spread the investigation of these financial fraud cases among numerous U.S. Attorney’s Offices, many of which had little or no prior experience in investigating and prosecuting sophisticated financial frauds. At the same time, the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the greatest expertise in these kinds of cases, the Southern District of New York, was just embarking on its prosecution of insider trading cases arising from the Rajaratnam tapes, which soon proved a gold mine of good cases that absorbed a huge amount of the attention of the securities fraud unit of that office. While I want to stress again that I have no inside information, as a former chief of that unit I would venture to guess that the cases involving the financial crisis were parceled out to Assistants who also had insider trading cases. Which do you think an Assistant would devote most of her attention to:  an insider trading case that was already nearly ready to go to indictment and that might lead to a highvisibility trial, or a financial crisis case that was just getting started, would take years to complete, and had no guarantee of even leading to an indictment? Of course, she would put her energy into the insider trading case, and if she was lucky, it would go to trial, she would win, and she would then take a job with a large law firm. And in the process, the financial fraud case would get lost in the shuffle.

Alternative priorities, in short, is, I submit, one of the reasons the financial fraud cases were not brought, especially cases against high level individuals that would take many years, many investigators, and a great deal of expertise to investigate.  But a second, and less salutary, reason for not bringing such cases is the Government’s own involvement in the underlying circumstances that led to the financial crisis.

On the one hand, the government, writ large, had a hand in creating the conditions that encouraged the approval of dubious mortgages. It was the government, in the form of Congress, that repealed Glass-Steagall, thus allowing certain banks that had previously viewed mortgages as a source of interest income to become instead deeply involved in securitizing pools of mortgages in order to obtain the much greater profits available from trading. It was the government, in the form of both the executive and the legislature, that encouraged deregulation, thus weakening the power and oversight not only of the S.E.C. but also of such diverse banking overseers as the O.T.S. and the O.C.C. It was the government, in the form of the Fed, that kept interest rates low in part to encourage mortgages. It was the government, in the form of the executive, that strongly encouraged banks to make loans to low-income persons who might have previously been regarded as too risky to warrant a mortgage. It was the government, in the form of the government-sponsored entities known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that helped create the fora-time insatiable market for mortgage-backed securities. And it was the government, pretty much across the board, that acquiesced in the ever greater tendency not to require meaningful documentation as a condition of obtaining a mortgage, often preempting in this regard state regulations designed to assure greater mortgage quality and a borrower’s ability to repay.

The result of all this was the mortgages that later became known as “liars’ loans.” They were increasingly risky; but what did the banks care, since they were making their money from the securitizations; and what did the government care, since they  were helping to boom the economy and helping voters to realize their dream of owning a home.

Moreover, the government was also deeply enmeshed in the aftermath of the financial crisis. It was the government that proposed the shotgun marriages of Bank of America with Merrill Lynch, of J.P. Morgan with Bear Stearns, etc. If, in the process, mistakes were made and liabilities not disclosed, was it not partly the government’s fault?

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not alleging that the Government knowingly participated in any of the fraudulent practices alleged by the Financial Inquiry Crisis Commission and others. But what I am suggesting is that the Government was deeply involved, from beginning to end, in helping create the conditions that could lead to such fraud, and that this would give a prudent prosecutor pause in deciding whether to indict a C.E.O. who might, with some justice, claim that he was only doing what he fairly believed the Government wanted him to do.

 The final factor I would mention is both the most subtle and the most systemic of the three, and arguably the most important, and it is the shift that has occurred over the past 30 years or more from focusing on prosecuting high-level individuals to focusing on prosecuting companies and other institutions. It is true that prosecutors have brought criminal charges against companies for well over a hundred years, but, until relatively recently, such prosecutions were the exception, and prosecutions of companies without simultaneous prosecutions of their managerial agents were even rarer. The reasons were obvious. Companies do not commit crimes; only their agents do. And while a company might get the benefit of some such crimes, prosecuting the company would inevitably punish, directly or indirectly, the many employees and shareholders who were totally innocent.   Moreover, under the law of most U.S. jurisdictions, a company cannot be criminally liable unless at least one managerial agent has committed the crime in question; so why not prosecute the agent who actually committed the crime?

 In recent decades, however, prosecutors have been increasingly attracted to prosecuting companies, often even without indicting a single individual. This shift has often been rationalized as part of an attempt to transform “corporate cultures,” so as to prevent future such crimes; and, as a result, it has taken the form of “deferred prosecution agreements” or even “non-prosecution agreements,” in which the company, under threat of criminal prosecution, agrees to take various prophylactic measures to prevent future wrongdoing. But in practice, I suggest, it has led to some lax and dubious behavior on the part of prosecutors, with deleterious results.    

If you are a prosecutor attempting to discover the individuals responsible for an apparent financial fraud, you go about your business in much the same way you go after mobsters or drug kingpins: you start at the bottom and, over many months or years, slowly work your way up. Specifically, you start by “flipping” some lower level participant in the fraud whom you can show was directly responsible for making one or more false material misrepresentations but who is willing to cooperate in order to reduce his sentence, and – aided by the substantial prison penalties now available in white collar cases – you go up the ladder. For a detailed example of how this works, I recommend Kurt Eichenwald’s well-known book The Informant, which describes how FBI agents, over a period of three years, uncovered the huge price-fixing conspiracy involving high-level executives at Archer Daniels, all of whom were successfully prosecuted.

But if your priority is prosecuting the company, a different scenario takes place. Early in the investigation, you invite in counsel to the company and explain to him or her why you suspect fraud. He or she responds by assuring you that the company wants to cooperate and do the right thing, and to that end the company has hired a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, now a partner at a respected law firm, to do an internal investigation. The company’s counsel asks you to defer your investigation until the company’s own internal investigation is completed, on the condition that the company will share its results with you. In order to save time and resources, you agree. Six months later the company’s counsel returns, with a detailed report showing that mistakes were made but that the company is now intent on correcting them. You and the company then agree that the company will enter into a deferred prosecution agreement that couples some immediate fines with the imposition of expensive but internal prophylactic measures. For all practical purposes the case is now over. You are happy because you believe that you have helped prevent future crimes; the company is happy because it has avoided a devastating indictment; and perhaps the happiest of all are the executives, or former executives, who actually committed the underlying misconduct, for they are left untouched. 

I suggest that this is not the best way to proceed. Although it is supposedly justified in terms of preventing future crimes, I suggest that the future deterrent value of successfully prosecuting individuals far outweighs the prophylactic benefits of imposing internal compliance measures that are often little more than window-dressing. Just going after the company is also both technically and morally suspect. It is technically suspect because, under the law, you should not indict or threaten to indict a company unless you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt  that some managerial agent of the company committed the alleged crime; and if you can prove that, why not indict the manager?  And from a moral standpoint, punishing a company and its many innocent employees and shareholders for the crimes committed by some unprosecuted individuals seems contrary to elementary notions of moral responsibility.

These criticisms take on special relevance, however, in the instance of investigations growing out of the financial crisis, because, as noted, the Department of Justice’s position, until at least very, very recently, is that going after the suspect institutions poses too great a risk to the nation’s economic recovery. So you don’t go after the companies, at least not criminally, because they are too big to jail; and you don’t go after the individuals, because that would involve the kind of years-long investigations that you no longer have the experience or the resources to pursue.

In conclusion, I want to stress again that I have no idea whether the financial crisis that is still causing so many of us so much pain and despondency was the product, in whole or in part, of fraudulent misconduct. But if it was — as various governmental authorities have asserted it was –- then, the failure of the government to bring to justice those responsible for such colossal fraud bespeaks weaknesses in our prosecutorial system that need to be addressed.