Ohio Attorney General Fights Against Wall Street, Joining More Attorneys General

October 11, 2010

Ohio Attorney General Fights Against Wall Street


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Back East, at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets, the view is swell. The Dow is soaring, and bankers look pleased.

But here on East Broad Street, the mood is gloomier. At least 90,000 residential and commercial foreclosure notices will be filed in Ohio this year. Pension funds for teachers, secretaries and janitors have suffered grave losses. And multitudes of the unemployed in Ohio now speak of turning to prayer.

Ohio’s attorney general, Richard Cordray, might be seen as their pinstriped avenger.

“There’s a belief here that Wall Street is a fixed casino and it’s back in business, and we’re left holding the bag,” said Mr. Cordray, whose office overlooks East Broad. “It’s important for us to show we’ll go after a company that does wrong.”

Mr. Cordray in two years in office has demonstrated a willingness to sue early and often, filing lawsuits against global financial houses, rating agencies, subprime lenders and foreclosure scammers. He has wrested about $2 billion so far, a string of gilded pelts: a $475 million Merrill Lynch settlement, $400 million from Marsh & McLennan and $725 million from the American International Group.

Last week, he filed suit against GMAC Mortgage, accusing the loan servicer of filing fraudulent affidavits in hundreds of Ohio foreclosures.

His office has returned money to investors, pension funds, schools and cities. And he has directed millions to agencies fighting foreclosure.

“We see what Washington doesn’t: the houses lying vacant, the eyesore stripped for copper piping with mattresses out back,” Mr. Cordray says. “We bailed out irresponsible banks, but we forgot about everyone else.”

It speaks to this political age that such words are more rarely heard from federal regulators, who walk quietly and carry big bailout checks. Instead state attorneys general, in this case, a sandy-haired 51-year-old Democrat who sits about 400 miles from Washington, are giving full throat to popular outrage.

If Eliot Spitzer, the former New York attorney general, was the prototype of this breed, a handful of current ones, like Mr. Cordray, Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, Lisa Madigan of Illinois, Tom Miller of Iowa and Roy Cooper of North Carolina, lay claim to his mantle. Like recessionary scouts, they spot trouble, like a rapacious foreclosure-rescue operator, a predatory credit card company or a financial firm draining a pension fund.

Ms. Coakley secured millions of dollars in mortgage modifications from Countrywide Financial and reached a $102 million settlement with Morgan Stanley over its role in financing the subprime loans that fed the housing crash in Massachusetts.

“We were the first to go after predatory loans — we’re not waiting for federal agencies to act,” Ms. Coakley said.

Some express skepticism, suggesting that such lawsuits are emotionally pleasing but economically destructive. Former Senator Michael DeWine, a Republican who is running against Mr. Cordray, a Democrat, in the November election, has implied that Mr. Cordray wields an antibusiness cudgel. Better to rely on federal regulators, others argue, to constrain global corporations.

That strikes James E. Tierney, director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia, as a bit beside the point.

“Is state action as effective as a federal regulator going after these companies? Absolutely not,” says Mr. Tierney, a former state attorney general for Maine. “But when regulators are too worried about giving offense, there’s no reason an enterprising attorney general can’t go in there,”

Born in Grove City, Ohio, Mr. Cordray was educated at Michigan State, Oxford and the University of Chicago Law School. A Supreme Court clerk, he also argued cases before the court. In 1987, he enjoyed a run as a five-time winner on the television show “Jeopardy!”

Somewhere along the way, he hankered for more. His father ran a program for mentally disabled people; his mother, a social worker, founded an organization of foster grandparents; and he wanted to enter the public sphere. Mr. Cordray began running for office.

His yearning often went unrequited; voters, he noted with a hike of the eyebrows, elected him state representative but rejected his run for Congress and an early attempt at state attorney general.

He shrugs.

“I really got my head pounded in over the years in politics,” Mr. Cordray says. “My wife thought I was nuts.”

Eventually, he downsized his ambitions, and ran successfully for Franklin County treasurer and later for state treasurer. And in 2008, he won a special election for attorney general.

Mr. Cordray is no William Jennings Bryan inveighing against the evils of monopoly capital. He can be eloquent about corporate misbehavior, in an eyes-downcast and soft-spoken fashion. (His language reads hotter on the page than it sounds in person.)

He is, however, tapping a populist tradition in Ohio. This is where politicians mounted challenges to the Standard Oil monopoly of John Rockefeller and where Senator John Sherman led a late 19th-century campaign to pass the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was the first law to require the federal government to investigate companies suspected of running cartels and monopolies.

Mr. Cordray carefully describes his allegiance to capitalism, although he says the financial crisis should explode forever the efficient-markets theory, popular with economists, that the best market is a self-correcting one. (Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” shares space on his office bookshelf with books by the urbane Keynesian John Kenneth Galbraith.)

“The notion that banks will just get things right over time is perhaps true,” Mr. Cordray says. “But over what time period, and at what terrible cost to the individual American?”

Certainly, he has not minced words in pursuing a steady stream of cases against corporations.

He accused Marsh & McLennan of conspiring to eliminate competition in the insurance business by generating fictitious quotes. He denounced three credit rating firms, Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investor Services and Standard & Poor’s, for giving inflated ratings to packages of troubled mortgages put together by the big investment houses. He says that Ohio pension funds lost close to half a billion dollars by investing in those triple-A rated securities.

And last October, he accused Bank of America officials of concealing critical facts in the acquisition of Merrill Lynch, even as that firm careened toward insolvency. Top bankers, he said, had not come remotely clean about the extent of the losses at Merrill and its bonuses.

The lawsuit against Bank of America was the first of its kind, although Mr. Cordray’s actions drew rather less press than a lawsuit filed months later by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo of New York. Mr. Cuomo, whose skill with the tactical leak, news release and the lawsuit is considerable, tends not to work closely with his fellow state attorneys general, say two officials from states other than Ohio.

Attorneys general are perhaps more successful at extracting large sums of money than in changing corporate behavior. A Goldman Sachs or Marsh & McLennan, to this view, tends to see such settlements as a cost of doing business.

“The settlements are large, but the changes in behavior don’t seem to be that large,” said Daniel C. Richman, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Columbia Law School. “These targets have massive amounts of money to pay off and continue on their merry way.”

Raise this criticism to Mr. Cordray and he nods in agreement.

“In an ideal world, if the S.E.C. had done its job, that would be much better,” he said. “Our settlements make up for the losses fractionally.”

As it happens, Mr. Cordray now faces a more existential threat. Legal challenges to corporate misbehavior are not proven electoral gold. This year, Ms. Coakley, a Democrat, fell to Republican Scott Brown in a race to fill the Senate seat of Edward M. Kennedy.

And polls show Mr. Cordray running behind in his race with Mr. DeWine. He’s no natural glad-hander — he apologizes when he realizes he has automatically extended his hand at a luncheon. More paradoxical, he finds himself at risk of being identified with “them,” which is to say the establishment that Ohio residents view as having failed them.

Again, he shrugs. He is not inclined to blame voters for his troubles.

“Politicians are kind of like adolescents, always looking in the mirror and assuming that’s what people see,” he says. “But there’s a great anxiety out there, a great unease about our future. Most people are hurting, and they don’t have the time to pay attention to us.”

4 Responses

  1. This seems like a very good move by Cordray…except it has more to do with the upcoming election than his concerns over crimes being commited against Ohioans!

    I have personally been complaining about the FRAUD that has been perpatrated on me and other Ohioans since 12/08. I started crying about the FRAUD in the origination of our loan…then I informed his office about FRAUD in the servicing of the loan. After receiving a letter from the servicer full of lies our case was closed out…even though I provided PUBLIC RECORD proof that they were lying…

    Now we are on our own to fight the FRAUD in the FORECLOSURE of the predatory loan that was fraudulently serviced…luckily I have the PROOF through public records that it is all LIES.

    So Richard Cordray you may have scored some main stream press with this timely lawsuit but not my VOTE that you will be needing to see the litigation through!

  2. so if the servicer doesn’t have authority to foreclose who does on sue?

  3. Great article !

    The time is nigh for all of us to fight for what’s right regardless of political or corporate persuasion.

    If we keep the winning momentum, criminal behavior will eventually curb, as it will become too expensive to continue the charade and blame their shameless antics on the “deadbeat” American public.

  4. Well……..”Shioot”!
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    GlobalDealBookMarketsEconomyEnergyMediaPersonal TechSmall BusinessYour Money…Business > Companies > Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation.Volume
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    $0.32At close 10/11/2010Federal Home Loan Mortgage CorporationFMCC: OTC Bulletin Board Market; Financials/Consumer Financial Services
    OTHER EXCHANGES: Mexico, Buenos Aires, More ».Updated: Aug. 18, 2010

    Freddie Mac, a publicly traded company that operates under a federal charter, is the nation’s second-largest mortgage buyer. Along with its larger rival, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac was taken over by the federal government on Sept. 8, 2008, as it faced steep losses, new questions about its accounting and a flight by investors. Many experts believe that Fannie and Freddie are likely to remain wards of the state for years.

    And, given the alarm in some quarters over the mounting budget deficit, these two giants and their vast obligations are likely to remain off the federal books although they have become one of the most expensive aftereffects of the financial meltdown. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have obligations of $3.9 trillion to investors who bought bundles of mortgages that the companies assembled.

    Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for their eradication. But few policy makers are willing to take aggressive steps that might weaken the housing market. On Dec. 24, 2009, the White House quietly disclosed that it had, in effect, given the companies a blank check by making their federal credit line unlimited; the ceiling had been $400 billion.

    Fannie and Freddie now buy about two-thirds of new mortgage loans. Nine out of 10 new mortgages receive a government guarantee of some kind. At a conference in August 2010, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner affirmed that the government would continue to play an important role in the mortgage lending system.

    But even if the current approach to guarantees is basically preserved, Fannie and Freddie are unlikely to survive in recognizable form. Taxpayers have spent more than $150 billion covering losses that the companies incurred in recent years, largely by investing in lower-quality mortgage loans to bolster profits. The companies, once broadly popular, are now badly tarnished.

    Getting rid of them, however, would not be easy. Fannie and Freddie still own vast portfolios of troubled loans. Fannie, for example, expects to lose money on the loans it acquired in every year from 2005 to 2008 — loans that still make up 47 percent of its total holdings. The companies cannot be completely shut down until those losses are absorbed, a process expected to drag on for years. The Congressional Budget Office has predicted that the final bill could reach $389 billion.

    Read More…

    Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae buy mortgages from lending institutions and then either hold them in investment portfolios or resell them as mortgage-backed securities to investors. The two companies play a vital role in providing financing for the housing markets.
    Their roles had also been controversial, due to their unusual status. As government-chartered entities, they were able to borrow money at lower rates than their competitors, as most investors took for granted that their operations were implicitly guaranteed by the government. At the same time, as publicly traded companies, they sought to maximize their revenues and returns. Critics questioned their accounting, which they said was manipulated by executives to justify their large and growing compensation.
    Freddie and Fannie had traditionally backed the “plain vanilla” end of the mortgage market, concentrating on 30-year fixed rate loans. But as the mortgage market exploded in the middle of the decade, they found themselves losing market share to the more aggressive private lenders, and made a fateful decision to expand their lending to keep up.
    As the housing market soured, both companies reported steep losses. But the mortgage meltdown also made the companies more important. When the credit markets seized up, Fannie and Freddie regained their central role in mortgage finance after losing significant market share to investment banks during the housing boom. They issued most of mortgage securities sold in the first half of 2008, after investors lost confidence in deals put together by big investment banks.
    In the spring of 2008, federal officials eased restrictions on lending by Freddie and Fannie in an effort to calm the turmoil afflicting the mortgage markets. Officials said the change could allow the two companies to invest $200 billion more in mortgages.
    But as the year progressed, Freddie and Fannie began to look less like saviors of the housing market than like the biggest casualties of the boom’s collapse.

    Related: Fannie Mae. | Mortgages and the Markets. | David B. Kellerman..

    Company Information
    Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp, formerly Freddie Mac, is engaged in purchasing residential mortgages and mortgage-related securities in the secondary mortgage market and securitizing them into mortgage-related securities that can be sold to investors. The Company purchases single-family and multifamily mortgage-related securities for its mortgage-related investments portfolio. It also purchases multifamily residential mortgages in the secondary mortgage market and hold those loans either for investment or sale. Freddie Mac finances purchases of its mortgage-related securities and mortgage loans, and manages its interest-rate and other market risks, by issuing a range of debt instruments and entering into derivative contracts in the capital markets. The Company operates in three segments: Investments, Single-family Guarantee and Multifamily.
    Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation
    8200 Jones Branch Drive McLean VA 22102
    Phone: +1 (703) 903-2000
    Fax: +1 (703) 903-2759

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