One reason why I don’t think we should particularly accept a six-month timeline on significant action from the RMBS working group is that there’s so much already in the public record. I recognize that criminal or civil enforcement actions take voluminous legal work and due diligence, but quite a bit of it has already been done. The FCIC referred criminal fraud violations a year ago. Gretchen Morgenson notes all the evidence from private litigation that can be leveraged and used. And Pro Publica, in conjunction with NPR, offers this up today, which is somewhat tangential to what Eric Schneiderman wants to delve into because it’s post-crash conduct, but which still shows the element we’re dealing with and how many revelations are already out there:
Freddie Mac has invested billions of dollars betting that U.S. homeowners won’t be able to refinance their mortgages at today’s lower rates, according to an investigation by NPR and ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom [...]
In December, Freddie’s chief executive, Charles Haldeman, assured Congress his company is “helping financially strapped families reduce their mortgage costs through refinancing their mortgages.”
But public documents show that in 2010 and 2011, Freddie Mac set out to make gains for its own investment portfolio by using complex mortgage securities that brought in more money for Freddie Mac when homeowners in higher interest-rate loans were unable to qualify for a refinancing.
Those trades “put them squarely against the homeowner,” PIMCO’s Simon says.
Bascially, Freddie trapped its own borrowers, denying them refinances. And they stood to benefit from that, because the higher interest rates meant bigger streams of income from their MBS.
This may seem like a sidelight to the securitization bubble, but indeed, we’ve seen many instances of investment banks taking one side of a mortgage-backed securities bet, and selling investors the other side, without disclosure. That’s securities fraud. It’s been litigated. The SEC has been giving out settlements like candy for this kind of conduct. But it’s a central part of the unscrupulous behavior on Wall Street. You can see this today in the fact that the SEC is only now getting around to investigating CDOs from Deutsche Bank when Robert Khuzami, the current head of enforcement at the SEC and a co-chair of the RMBS working group, was working there as general counsel.
That brings up a whole other element about trusting the guys who swept this conduct under the rug to properly investigate it. But the larger point is that there’s a lot already on the table. In a sense, you may not need massive resources for this, because they can just pick up where others left off.
My reporting shows that Schneiderman actually has a few announcements on enforcement coming in the next few weeks. We don’t have to wait months. We can judge the seriousness of this thing pretty quickly.