Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, September 13, 2013 7:10 pm

Dean Baker on why the Wall Street criminals walked

Shorter Dean: Because the Justice Department let them:

[In a real investigation] [t]he people who put together some of the worst mortgage backed securities would be asked if they were really dumber than rocks and had no idea that many of the mortgages being put into the packages were fraudulent. If the prosecutors could demonstrate evidence of intelligent life at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley they would then ask the lower level people whether they wanted to spend years in jail or would rather explain why they thought it was a good idea to put tens of millions of dollars of fraudulent mortgages into mortgage backed securities. This would presumably lead to testimony against higher ups at these investment banks. …

There is no guarantee that these sorts of efforts would have landed top executives of financial firms behind bars. However there is no evidence that the Justice Department even began this sort of investigation. At the least, such an investigation would have resulted in prosecutions of lower level actors who clearly violated the law in issuing and passing on fraudulent mortgages.

As [Neil] Irwin said [link added -- Lex], bad business judgement is not a crime. However, it is a crime to allow bad business judgement to lead to fraud. Clearly fraudulent mortgages were a major factor in propping up the housing bubble. No one went to jail for this crime.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 7:29 pm

Brian Moynihan can say only one thing to keep himself out of prison, and it’s a lie.

This one’s for my friends and family in Charlotte.

Brian Moynihan is the CEO of Bank of America. Last May, unbeknownst to most of us, he was deposed by lawyers for insurance companies suing Bank of America and Countrywide, the “mortgage” company that BofA acquired. The insurance companies lost a metric shit-ton of money because Countrywide spent years originating a boatload of mortgages to anyone with a pulse, mortgages that were doomed to fail, and then packaged and sold them as AAA-grade bonds, which were even more attractive investments at the time because MBIA and other prominent companies had insured them.

When BofA acquired Countrywide, for no small amount of money despite the company’s obvious worthlessness at that point, Moynihan famously promised to make good on all his company’s new acquisition’s misdeeds, a promise that, if kept, could render BofA so much more insolvent that even the government wouldn’t be able to ignore it any longer. And I haven’t kept close track, so this may all be over and done with, but Moynihan also may have legal problems with BofA stockholders who have claimed they weren’t fully informed of  Countrywide’s problems at the time of the acquisition, as securities law requires.

Anyway, this little Q&A between MBIA lawyers and Moynihan  runs on to 223 pages, and if we are to take its protagonist at his word — a dangerous thing to do, as we shall see in a moment — then he not only has no business serving as the CEO of anything more important than watching moss grow, he also desperately needs full-time dementia care. (And having had friends and relatives with Alizheimer’s, I don’t throw that metaphor out  lightly.)

Moynihan essentially had three choices in answering these questions. He could tell the truth and, in all likelihood, admit under oath to securities fraud, conspiracy and a host of other crimes. Or he could lie and say these things did not happen on his watch when they manifestly did, and face perjury charges. Or he could say he didn’t recall. (I suppose he had a fourth possibility, taking the Fifth Amendment, but a quick scan suggests he either didn’t do that or else did it very obliquely.)

Well, to absolutely no one’s surprise, Brian the Job Creator chose Door No. 3. At the moment, if you Google the phrase “great amnesiacs of history” in quotes, you get no hits. I suspect that’s about to change, as Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone comments:

If you’re a court junkie, or have the misfortune (as some of us poor reporters do) of being forced professionally to spend a lot of time reading legal documents, the just-released Moynihan deposition in MBIA v. Bank of America, Countrywide, and a Buttload of Other Shameless Mortgage Fraudsters will go down as one of the great Nixonian-stonewalling efforts ever, and one of the more entertaining reads of the year.

In this long-awaited interrogation – Bank of America has been fighting to keep Moynihan from being deposed in this case for some time – Moynihan does a full Star Trek special, boldly going where no deponent has ever gone before, breaking out the “I don’t recall” line more often and perhaps more ridiculously than was previously thought possible. Moynihan seems to remember his own name, and perhaps his current job title, but beyond that, he’ll have to get back to you. …

Taibbi’s account alone is both hilarious and outrageous. Now that the semester is over, I can’t wait to read the actual deposition. (Hey, it’s how I roll.)

In the deposition, attorney Peter Calamari of Quinn Emmanuel, representing MBIA, attempts to ask Moynihan a series of questions about what exactly Bank of America knew about Countrywide’s operations at various points in time.

Early on, he asks Moynihan if he remembers the B of A audit committee discussing Countrywide. Moynihan says he “doesn’t recall any specific discussion of it.”

He’s asked again: In the broadest conceivable sense, do you recall ever attending an audit committee meeting where the word Countrywide or any aspect of the Countrywide transaction was ever discussed? Moynihan: I don’t recall.

Calamari counters: It’s a multi-billion dollar acquisition, was it not?

Moynihan: Yes, it was.

[Q:] Well, isn’t that the kind of thing you would talk about?

Moynihan: not necessarily . . .

This goes on and on for a while, with the Bank of America CEO continually insisting he doesn’t remember ever talking about Countrywide at these meetings, that you’d have to “get the minutes.” Incredulous, Calamari, a little sarcastically, finally asks Moynihan if he would say he has a good memory.

“I would – I could remember things, yes,” Moynihan deadpans. “I have a good memory.”

Calamari presses on, eventually asking him about the state of Countrywide when Moynihan became the CEO, leading to the following remarkable exchange, in which the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world claims not to know anything about the most significant acquisition in the bank’s history (emphasis mine):

Q: By January 1st, 2010, when you became the CEO of Bank Of America, CFC – and  I’m using the initials CFC, Countrywide Financial Corporation – itself was no longer engaged in any revenue-producing activities; is that right?

Moynihan: I wouldn’t be the best person to ask about that because I don’t know.

There are no sound effects in the transcript, but you can almost hear an audible gasp at this response. Calamari presses Moynihan on his answer.

“Sir,” he says, “you were CEO of Bank Of America in January, 2010, but you don’t know what Countrywide Financial Corporation was doing at that time?”

In an impressive display of balls, Moynihan essentially replies that Bank of America is a big company, and it’s unrealistic to ask the CEO to know about all of its parts, even the ones that are multi-billion-dollar suckholes about which the firm has been engaged in nearly constant litigation from the moment it acquired the company.

“We have several thousand legal entities,” is how Moynihan puts it. “Exactly what subsidiary took place [sic] is not what you do as the CEO. That is [sic] other people’s jobs to make sure.”

The exasperated MBIA lawyer tries again: If it’s true that Moynihan somehow managed to not know anything about the bank’s most important and most problematic subsidiary when he became CEO, well, did he ever make an effort to correct that ignorance?  “Do you ever come to learn what CFC was doing?” is how the question is posed.

“I’m not sure that I recall exactly what CFC was doing versus other parts,” Moynihan sagely concludes.

The deposition rolls on like this for 223 agonizing pages. The entire time, the Bank of America CEO presents himself as a Being There-esque cipher who was placed in charge of a Too-Big-To-Fail global banking giant by some kind of historical accident beyond his control, and appears to know little to nothing at all about the business he is running.

In the end, Moynihan even doubles back on his “we’ll pay for the things Countrywide did” quote. Asked if he said that to a Bloomberg reporter, Moynihan says he doesn’t remember that either, though he guesses the reporter got it right.

Well, he’s asked, assuming he did say it, does the quote accurately reflect Moynihan’s opinion?

“It is what it is,” Moynihan says philosophically.

There’s nothing surprising about any of this – it’s natural that a Bank of America executive would do everything he could to deny responsibility for Countrywide’s messes. But that doesn’t mean it’s not funny. By about the thirtieth “I don’t recall,” I was laughing out loud.

It’s also more than a little infuriating. In the pre-crash years, Countrywide was the biggest, loudest, most obvious fraud in a marketplace full of them …

One of the biggest indictments you can level against U.S. news media is that U.S. financiers were engaging in this level of world-historical theft, fraud and conspiracy right out in the open for a decade and more, and yet no one of consequence has done any hard time for it.

If we are to take Moynihan at his word, the only way you could have been more delusional and out of touch than he was to have believed on election night that Mitt Romney was going to win big. But as the deposition makes clear, taking Brian Moynihan at his word  would make a box of rocks look like a Davidson valedictorian.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 8:00 pm

BAC: Dead bank walking, feeding on the brains of the living

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:00 pm
Tags: , ,

I don’t know who Abigail Field is other than a “contributor” (which I presume means freelancer) for Fortune.com, but, boy howdy, did she find out something interesting about Bank of America’s Countrywide holdings:

Last November, a decision in a New Jersey bankruptcy case brought to light the testimony of Linda DeMartini, operational team leader for the litigation management department for Bank of America, which intended to prove the bank had the right to foreclose on a debtor’s mortgage. Instead, her testimony was key to the judge’s ruling that Bank of America (BAC) couldn’t foreclose, and along the way DeMartini made two statements that called into question the securitization of Countrywide loans. She testified that Countrywide didn’t deliver the notes to the securitization trustee, and that Countrywide notes weren’t endorsed except on a case-by-case basis generally long after securitization ostensibly occurred. Both steps are required, in one form or another, under all securitization contracts. …

To check DeMartini’s testimony, Fortune examined the foreclosures filed in two New York counties (Westchester and the Bronx) between 2006 and 2010. There were 130 cases where the Bank of New York (BK) was foreclosing on behalf of a Countrywide mortgage-backed security. In 104 of those cases, the loan was originally made by Countrywide; the other 26 were made by other banks and sold to Countrywide for securitization.

None of the 104 Countrywide loans were endorsed by Countrywide – they included only the original borrower’s signature. Two-thirds of the loans made by other banks also lacked bank endorsements. The other third were endorsed either directly on the note or on an allonge, or a rider, accompanying the note.

The lack of Countrywide endorsements, combined with the bank’s representation to the court that these documents are accurate copies of the original notes, calls into question the securitization of these loans, as well as Bank of New York’s right, as trustee, to foreclose on them. These notes ostensibly belong to over 100 different Countrywide securities and worse, they were originally made as long ago as 2002. If the lack of endorsement on these notes is typical — and 104 out of 104 suggests it is — the problem occurs across Countrywide securities and for loans that pre-date the peak-bubble mortgage frenzy.

The lack of Countrywide endorsements also corroborates DeMartini, who said that in her 10 years at Countrywide she had never seen a note with an endorsement, and that as foreclosures had been increasingly litigated, she had been handling the original notes, not just the copies scanned into the bank’s database.

Bank of America has argued that, really, everything was just fine. Only now comes word that it will be taking a settlement … and quite a nifty one at that:

BofA will pay $8.5 billion to a group of institutional investors to settle claims that the bank violated the representations and warranties when they sold the RMBS [residential mortgage-backed securities -- Lex]. They will additionally, according to their press release, “record an additional $5.5 billion provision to its representations and warranties liability for both Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSE) and non-GSE exposures in the second quarter of 2011.” So that’s a total of $14 billion.

What’s most interesting here is that Bank of America makes this settlement with the trustee for the trusts, the Bank of New York Mellon. And they’re claiming that this will resolve almost all of their Countrywide-issued RMBS, which had an original unpaid principal balance of $424 billion. …

If this holds, and all $424 billion is settled, that would represent 2-3 cents on the dollar. It would be a pretty raw deal for the investors, considering that Countrywide has been accused of not following procedures of conveying assets to the trusts, creating “non-mortgage backed securities.” Yves Smith has argued that these cases are incredibly hard to prove in court, but even she expected a settlement avoiding trial to cost in the range of 10-15 cents on the dollar. It seems like the bank is trying to sucker the public into believing that they are making a major concession with a giant settlement, when they would be wrapping up a lot of their legacy exposure relatively cheaply.

The aforementioned Yves Smith, who has covered this story as closely as anyone, says this sucks:

The so-called Bank of America settlement, in which the Charlotte bank is set to pay $8.5 billion (plus some additional expenses) to settle representation and warranty liability on 530 mortgage trusts representing $424 billion of par value, is being hailed as a possible template for other mortgage issuers and servicers.

I sure hope not, because some of the things I see in this deal look plenty troubling. …

The investors had to overcome procedural issues even to be able to litigate. And MBIA, which is suing over similar issues but didn’t have the procedural impediments, is three years into litigation with Countrywide and is not very far along. This sort of case is a war of attrition and as a result, as we have indicated, even if the facts are lousy, there is reason to think that an eventual settlement would not be all that large even relative to the value of loans being disputed (the investors need to prove not only that the reps and warranties occurred, but that they led to losses. A lot of defaults, particularly post the subprime resets, are due to job losses and reductions in income. They can’t be blamed on failing to live up to the reps and warranties).

So with all these considerations arguing for fighting a few more rounds, and BofA in the past taking a very aggressive posture on disputing these cases, why would it settle? …

Put it simply: BofA can judge what its risks are VASTLY better than the investors. There are a lot of reasons why it would make sense for BofA not to settle now. Yet it was all over this like a cheap suit. That says it must regard this settlement as a real bargain.

I understand that when all the legal, definitional and procedural nuances are threaded, BAC’s actual liability on the Countrywide acquisition would not have been $424 billion. But it still would have been a helluva lot — keep in mind that title chain was flawed in 104 out of 104 randomly selected cases of securitized mortgages examined by Fortune. It’s not impossible that the liability would dwarf the company’s market capitalization (a shade under $110B as I write), which would mean, in a world where the rule of law obtained, the death of the company.

That is not, of course, the world we live in.

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