How a Lack of Financial Fraud Prosecutions Aids and Abets More Fraud
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I generally agree with Peter Henning that Eric Schneiderman’s plaintive wail for more resources for the RMBS working group, the task force looking into fraud in the mortgage securitization business, suggests that there will not be any meaningful prosecutions coming out of Washington against Wall Street. And he marshals a bunch of other evidence.
[Schneiderman's] statement is hardly a ringing endorsement of the working group’s effort because it is a common refrain to blame a lack of resources for the absence of any real progress on cases.
The fact that the transactions under investigation took place four to seven years ago does not bode well for pursuing cases against any individuals because evidence, like memories, tends to not get better with age.
The working group has issued a number of civil subpoenas as part of its effort, but apparently none have been issued on behalf of a grand jury, which is the primary vehicle for a criminal investigation. The absence of any involvement by a grand jury is another indication that criminal charges are unlikely.
This is all just common sense. All civil subpoenas means all civil litigation, and probably all settlements. A call for more resources means there aren’t enough resources. The lag time in investigation argues against anything getting done at all.
I suppose it’s possible that the Senate will get the working group the resources it needs, but that’s several months down the road, and it assumes there will be a set of budget appropriations passed for the next fiscal year, rather than a series of continuing resolutions. And it neglects all the other warning signals screaming that this is a Potemkin investigation, without anything approaching justice and accountability for acts of fraud.
Just consider this riveting profile by Bob Ivry at Bloomberg, on Sherry Hunt, a quality control specialist at Citigroup, who eventually won $31 million in a whistleblower case:
By 2006, the bank was buying mortgages from outside lenders with doctored tax forms, phony appraisals and missing signatures, she says. It was Hunt’s job to identify these defects, and she did, in regular reports to her bosses.
Executives buried her findings, Hunt says, before, during and after the financial crisis, and even into 2012.
Citigroup behaving badly as late as 2012 shows how a big bank hasn’t yet absorbed the lessons of the credit crisis despite billions of dollars in bailouts, says Neil Barofsky, former special inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
“This case demonstrates that the notion that the bailed-out banks have somehow found God and have reformed their ways in the aftermath of the financial crisis is pure myth,” he says.
It’s a good story and you should read it (Hunt found that by 2007, 60 percent of all Citigroup mortgages “were missing some form of documentation,” suggesting what we all thought, that this conduct was systemic). But the point I wanted to take from it is that Citigroup continued to commit mortgage fraud, a bastardization of the mortgage lending system, into this year. After all the alleged investigations, and big-name settlements and consent decrees, and vows not to do it again, fraud remains business as usual in the big banks. Why? Because there’s been nothing close to a deterrent for these banks that would cause them to rethink their business models and change their ways. In a way, those responsible for the lack of prosecutions are aiding and abetting ongoing crimes. They have simply negated the criminal justice system as a method for accountability. So there is none.
Nothing has changed inside the banks. In fact, they’ve gone back to their familiar tricks of lobbying against more regulations and higher penalties, according to a shouldn’t-be-so-surprised Center for Responsible Lending, which approved of the foreclosure fraud settlement.
The point of holding bankers accountable is no different from holding bank robbers accountable. If you don’t, you just end up with more robbed banks.