Truth Coming Home to Roost: JPM Knew the Loans Were Bad

In a statement shortly after he sued JPMorgan Chase, Mr. Schneiderman [Attorney general, New York state] said the lawsuit was a template “for future actions against issuers of residential mortgage-backed securities that defrauded investors and cost millions of Americans their homes.”

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Editor’s Comment and Analysis: It’s been a long pull to get the real information about the misbehavior of the mega banks and their officers. But Schneiderman, Attorney general of the State of New York, is drilling down to where this really needs to go. And others, tired of receiving hollow assurances from the mega banks are suing — with specific knowledge and proof that is largely unavailable to borrowers — a good reason to watch these suits carefully.

Both internal emails and interviews have revealed that they repeatedly were warned by outside analysts of the perils of the mortgage lending process. The officers of JPM chose to change the reports to make them look more appealing to investors who gave up the pension money of their pensioners in exchange for what turns out to be bogus mortgage bonds issued by a non-existent or unfunded entity that never touched a dime of the investors’ money and never received ownership or backing from real loans with real security instruments (mortgages and deeds of trust).

A lawsuit filed by Dexia, a Belgian-French bank is being closely watched with justified trepidation as the onion gets pealed away. The fact that the officers of JPM and other mega banks were getting reports from outside analysts and took the trouble to change the reports and change the make-up of the bogus mortgage bonds leads inevitably to a single conclusion — the acts were intentional, they were not reckless mistakes, they weren’t gambling. They were committing fraud and stealing the pension money of investors and getting ready to become the largest landowners in the country through illegal, fraudulent, wrongful foreclosure actions that should have been fixed when TARP was first proposed.

The Dexia lawsuit focuses on JPM, WAMU and Bear Stearns, acquired by JPM with government help. The failure to provide bailout relief to homeowners at the same time sent the economy into a downward spiral. Had the Federal reserve and US Treasury department even ordered a spot check as to what was really happening, the “difficult” decisions in 2008 would have been averted completely.

Receivership and breakdown of the large banks would have produced a far more beneficial result to the financial system, and is still, in my opinion, inevitable. Ireland is doing it with their major bank as announced yesterday and other countries have done the same thing. Instead of the chaos and trouble that the banks have policy makers afraid of creating, those countries are coming out of the recession with much stronger numbers and a great deal more confidence in the marketplace.

The practice note here is that lawyers should look at the blatant lies the banks told to regulators, law enforcement and even each other. The question is obvious — if the banks were willing to lie to the big boys, what makes you think that ANYTHING at ground level for borrowers was anything but lies?  They went to their biggest customers and lied in their faces. They certainly did the same in creating the illusion of a real estate closing at ground level.

Lawyers should question everything and believe nothing. Normal presumptions and assumptions do not apply. Keep your eye on the money, who paid whom, and when and getting the proof of payment and proof of loss. You will find that no money exchanged hands except when the investors put up money for the bonds that were supposed to be mortgage backed, and the money that was sent down the pipe via wire transfer to the closing agent under circumstances where the “lender” was not even permitted to touch the money, much less use it in their own name for funding.

The diversion of money away from the REMICs and the diversion of title away from the REMICs leaves each DOCUMENTED loan as non-existent, with the note evidence of a transaction in which no value exchanged hands, and the mortgage securing the obligations of the invalid note.

The diversion of the documents away from the flow of money leaves the borrower and lenders with a real loan that, except for the wire transfer receipts, that was undocumented and therefore not secured. Yet nearly all borrowers would grant the mortgage if fair market value and fair terms were used. Millions of foreclosures would have been thwarted by settlements, modifications and agreements had the investors been directly involved.

Instead the subservicers rejected hundreds of thousands of perfectly good proposals for modification that would have saved the home, mitigated the damages to investors, and left the bank liable to investors for the rest of the money they took that never made it into the money chain and never made it into the REMIC.

Add to this mixture the rigging of LIBOR and EuroBOR, the receipt of trillions in mitigating payments kept by the banks that should have been paid and credited to the investors, and it is easy to see, conceptually, how the amount demanded in nearly all foreclosure cases is wrong.

Discovery requests should include, in addition to third party insurance and CDS payments, the method used to compute new interest rates and whether they were using LIBOR ( most of them did) and what adjustments they have made resulting from the revelation that LIBOR was rigged — especially since it was the same mega banks that were rigging the baseline rate of interbank lending.

Once you are in the door, THEN you can do not only your own computations on resetting payments, but you can demand to see all the transactions so that the applied interest rate was used against the alleged principal. At that point you will know if a loan receivable account even exists and if so, who owns it — and a fair guess is that it is not now nor was it ever any of the parties who have “successfully” completed foreclosure, thus creating a corruption of title in the marketplace for real estate that has never happened before.

E-Mails Imply JPMorgan Knew Some Mortgage Deals Were Bad

By JESSICA SILVER-GREENBERG

When an outside analysis uncovered serious flaws with thousands of home loans, JPMorgan Chase executives found an easy fix.

Rather than disclosing the full extent of problems like fraudulent home appraisals and overextended borrowers, the bank adjusted the critical reviews, according to documents filed early Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. As a result, the mortgages, which JPMorgan bundled into complex securities, appeared healthier, making the deals more appealing to investors.

The trove of internal e-mails and employee interviews, filed as part of a lawsuit by one of the investors in the securities, offers a fresh glimpse into Wall Street’s mortgage machine, which churned out billions of dollars of securities that later imploded. The documents reveal that JPMorgan, as well as two firms the bank acquired during the credit crisis, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, flouted quality controls and ignored problems, sometimes hiding them entirely, in a quest for profit.

The lawsuit, which was filed by Dexia, a Belgian-French bank, is being closely watched on Wall Street. After suffering significant losses, Dexia sued JPMorgan and its affiliates in 2012, claiming it had been duped into buying $1.6 billion of troubled mortgage-backed securities. The latest documents could provide a window into a $200 billion case that looms over the entire industry. In that lawsuit, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has accused 17 banks of selling dubious mortgage securities to the two housing giants. At least 20 of the securities are also highlighted in the Dexia case, according to an analysis of court records.

In court filings, JPMorgan has strongly denied wrongdoing and is contesting both cases in federal court. The bank declined to comment.

Dexia’s lawsuit is part of a broad assault on Wall Street for its role in the 2008 financial crisis, as prosecutors, regulators and private investors take aim at mortgage-related securities. New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, sued JPMorgan last year over investments created by Bear Stearns between 2005 and 2007.

Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, has criticized prosecutors for attacking JPMorgan because of what Bear Stearns did. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in October, Mr. Dimon said the bank did the federal government “a favor” by rescuing the flailing firm in 2008.

The legal onslaught has been costly. In November, JPMorgan, the nation’s largest bank, agreed to pay $296.9 million to settle claims by the Securities and Exchange Commission that Bear Stearns had misled mortgage investors by hiding some delinquent loans. JPMorgan did not admit or deny wrongdoing.

“The true price tag for the ongoing costs of the litigation is terrifying,” said Christopher Whalen, a senior managing director at Tangent Capital Partners.

The Dexia lawsuit centers on complex securities created by JPMorgan, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual during the housing boom. As profits soared, the Wall Street firms scrambled to pump out more investments, even as questions emerged about their quality.

With a seemingly insatiable appetite, JPMorgan scooped up mortgages from lenders with troubled records, according to the court documents. In an internal “due diligence scorecard,” JPMorgan ranked large mortgage originators, assigning Washington Mutual and American Home Mortgage the lowest grade of “poor” for their documentation, the court filings show.

The loans were quickly sold to investors. Describing the investment assembly line, an executive at Bear Stearns told employees “we are a moving company not a storage company,” according to the court documents.

As they raced to produce mortgage-backed securities, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns also scaled back their quality controls, the documents indicate.

In an initiative called Project Scarlett, Washington Mutual slashed its due diligence staff by 25 percent as part of an effort to bolster profit. Such steps “tore the heart out” of quality controls, according to a November 2007 e-mail from a Washington Mutual executive. Executives who pushed back endured “harassment” when they tried to “keep our discipline and controls in place,” the e-mail said.

Even when flaws were flagged, JPMorgan and the other firms sometimes overlooked the warnings.

JPMorgan routinely hired Clayton Holdings and other third-party firms to examine home loans before they were packed into investments. Combing through the mortgages, the firms searched for problems like borrowers who had vastly overstated their incomes or appraisals that inflated property values.

According to the court documents, an analysis for JPMorgan in September 2006 found that “nearly half of the sample pool” – or 214 loans – were “defective,” meaning they did not meet the underwriting standards. The borrowers’ incomes, the firms found, were dangerously low relative to the size of their mortgages. Another troubling report in 2006 discovered that thousands of borrowers had already fallen behind on their payments.

But JPMorgan at times dismissed the critical assessments or altered them, the documents show. Certain JPMorgan employees, including the bankers who assembled the mortgages and the due diligence managers, had the power to ignore or veto bad reviews.

In some instances, JPMorgan executives reduced the number of loans considered delinquent, the documents show. In others, the executives altered the assessments so that a smaller number of loans were considered “defective.”

In a 2007 e-mail, titled “Banking overrides,” a JPMorgan due diligence manager asks a banker: “How do you want to handle these loans?” At times, they whitewashed the findings, the documents indicate. In 2006, for example, a review of mortgages found that at least 1,154 loans were more than 30 days delinquent. The offering documents sent to investors showed only 25 loans as delinquent.

A person familiar with the bank’s portfolios said JPMorgan had reviewed the loans separately and determined that the number of delinquent loans was far less than the outside analysis had found.

At Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, employees also had the power to sanitize bad assessments. Employees at Bear Stearns were told that they were responsible for “purging all of the older reports” that showed flaws, “leaving only the final reports,” according to the court documents.

Such actions were designed to bolster profit. In a deposition, a Washington Mutual employee said revealing loan defects would undermine the lucrative business, and that the bank would suffer “a couple-point hit in price.”

Ratings agencies also did not necessarily get a complete picture of the investments, according to the court filings. An assessment of the loans in one security revealed that 24 percent of the sample was “materially defective,” the filings show. After exercising override power, a JPMorgan employee sent a report in May 2006 to a ratings agency that showed only 5.3 percent of the mortgages were defective.

Such investments eventually collapsed, spreading losses across the financial system.

Dexia, which has been bailed out twice since the financial crisis, lost $774 million on mortgage-backed securities, according to court records.

Mr. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, said that overall losses from flawed mortgage-backed securities from 2005 and 2007 were $22.5 billion.

In a statement shortly after he sued JPMorgan Chase, Mr. Schneiderman said the lawsuit was a template “for future actions against issuers of residential mortgage-backed securities that defrauded investors and cost millions of Americans their homes.”

TBTF Banks Bigger than Ever — How is that possible in a recession?

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Editor’s Comment: 

The pernicious effect of the banks and the difficulty of regulating them across transnational and state borders has led to a growing nightmare that history will repeat itself sooner than later.

This is to rocket science — it is recognition. We have median income still declining in what is still by most measures a recession that is about to get worse. Yet the largest banks are reporting record profits. What that means is that Wall Street is making more money “trading paper” than the rest of the country is making doing actual commerce — i.,e. the making and selling of goods of services.

This is another inversion of common sense. But it is explainable. 4 years ago I predicted that as the recession depressed the earnings of most companies the banks would nonetheless show increased profits. The reason was simply that using Bermuda, Bahamas, Cayman Islands the banks siphoned off most of the credit market liquidity through the tier 2 yield spread premium. The tier 2 YSP was really the money the banks made by selling crappy loans as good loans from aggregators to the investors — and then failed to document any part of the real transactions where money exchanged hands. In some case the YSP “trading profit” exceed the amount of the loan.

So now they are able to feed those “trading profits” back into their system a little at a time reporting ever increasing profits while the the real world goes to hell. So tell, me, what is it going to take to get you to to go to the streets, write the letters and demand that justice be done and allow, for the first time, investors and borrowers to get together and reach settlements in lieu of foreclosures? Don’t you see that whether you are rich or poor, renting or owning, that all of this is going to bring down your wealth and buying power. The Federal Reserve has already tripled the U.S. Currency money supply giving all the benefit to the TBTF banks. It seems to me that as group the American citizens are far more too big to fail than any industry or company.

Evil prospers when good people do nothing. 

Big Five Banks larger than before crisis, bailout

WASHINGTON —

Two years after President Barack Obama vowed to eliminate the danger of financial institutions becoming “too big to fail,” the nation’s largest banks are bigger than they were before the credit crisis.

Five banks — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs — held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, equal to 56 percent of the U.S. economy, according to the Federal Reserve.

Five years earlier, before the financial crisis, the largest banks’ assets amounted to 43 percent of U.S. output. The Big Five today are about twice as large as they were a decade ago relative to the economy, sparking concern that trouble at a major bank would rock the financial system and force the government to step in as it did during the 2008 crunch.

“Market participants believe that nothing has changed, that too-big-to-fail is fully intact,” said Gary Stern, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

That specter is eroding faith in Obama’s pledge that taxpayer-funded bailouts are a thing of the past. It also is exposing him to criticism from Federal Reserve officials, Republicans and Occupy Wall Street supporters, who see the concentration of bank power as a threat to economic stability.

As weaker firms collapsed or were acquired, a handful of financial giants emerged from the crisis and have thrived. Since then, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo have continued to swell, if less dramatically, thanks to internal growth and acquisitions from European banks shedding assets amid the euro crisis.

The industry’s evolution defies the president’s January 2010 call to “prevent the further consolidation of our financial system.” Embracing new limits on banks’ trading operations, Obama said then that taxpayers wouldn’t be well “served by a financial system that comprises just a few massive firms.”

Simon Johnson, a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, blames a “lack of leadership at Treasury and the White House” for the failure to fulfill that promise. “It’d be safer to break them up,” he said.

The Obama administration rejects the criticism, citing new safeguards to head off further turmoil in the banking system. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the U.S. “financial system is significantly stronger than it was before the crisis.” He credits a flurry of new regulations, including tougher capital and liquidity requirements that limit risk-taking by the biggest banks, authority to take over failing big institutions, and prohibitions on the largest banks acquiring competitors.

The government’s financial system rescue, beginning with the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program, angered millions of taxpayers and helped give rise to the tea-party movement. Banks and bailouts remain unpopular: By a margin of 52 to 39 percent, respondents in a February Pew Research Center poll called the bailouts “wrong” and 68 percent said banks have a mostly negative effect on the country.

The banks say they have increased their capital backstops in response to regulators’ demands, making them better able to ride out unexpected turbulence. JPMorgan, whose chief executive officer, Jamie Dimon, this month acknowledged public “hostility” toward bankers, boasts of a “fortress balance sheet.” Bank of America, which was about 50 percent larger at the end of 2011 than five years earlier, says it has boosted capital and liquidity while increasing to 29 months the amount of time the bank could operate without external funding.

“We’re a much stronger company than we were heading into the crisis,” said Jerry Dubrowski, a Bank of America spokesman. The bank, based in Charlotte, says it plans to shrink by year-end to $1.75 trillion in risk-weighted assets, a measure regulators use to calculate how much capital individual banks must hold.

Still, the banking industry has become increasingly concentrated since the 1980s. Today’s 6,291 commercial banks are less than half the number that existed in 1984, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The trend intensified during the crisis as JPMorgan acquired Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual; Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch; and Wells Fargo took over Wachovia in deals encouraged by the government.

“One of the bad outcomes, the adverse outcomes of the crisis, was the mergers that were of necessity undertaken when large banks were at-risk,” said Donald Kohn, vice chairman of the Federal Reserve from 2006-2010. “Some of the biggest banks got a lot bigger, and the market got more concentrated.”

In recent weeks, at least four current Fed presidents — Esther George of Kansas City, Charles Plosser of Philadelphia, Jeffrey Lacker of Richmond and Richard Fisher of Dallas — have voiced similar worries about the risk of a renewed crisis.

The annual report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas was devoted to an essay by Harvey Rosenblum, head of the bank’s research department, “Why We Must End Too Big to Fail — Now.”

A 40-year Fed veteran, Rosenblum wrote in the report released last month: “TBTF institutions were at the center of the financial crisis and the sluggish recovery that followed. If allowed to remain unchecked, these entities will continue posing a clear and present danger to the U.S. economy.”

The alarms come almost two years after Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank financial-regulation act. The law required the largest banks to draft contingency plans or “living wills” detailing how they would be unwound in a crisis. It also created a financial-stability council headed by the Treasury secretary, charged with monitoring the system for excessive risk-taking.

The new protections represent an effort to avoid a repeat of the crisis and subsequent recession in which almost 9 million workers lost their jobs and the U.S. government committed $245 billion to save the financial system from collapse.

The goal of policy makers is to ensure that if one of the largest financial institutions fails in the next crisis, shareholders and creditors will pay the tab, not taxpayers.

“Two or three years from now, Goldman Sachs should be like MF Global,” said Dennis Kelleher, president of the nonprofit group Better Markets, who doubts the government would allow a company such as Goldman to repeat MF Global’s Oct. 31 collapse.

Dodd-Frank, the most comprehensive rewriting of financial regulation since the 1930s, subjected the largest banks to higher capital requirements and closer scrutiny. The law also barred federal officials from providing specific types of assistance that were used to prevent such firms from failing in 2008. Instead, the Fed will work with the FDIC to put major banks and other large institutions through the equivalent of bankruptcy.

“If a large financial institution should ever fail, this reform gives us the ability to wind it down without endangering the broader economy,” Obama said before signing the act on July 21, 2010. “And there will be new rules to make clear that no firm is somehow protected because it is too big to fail.”

Officials at the Treasury Department, the Fed and other agencies have spent the past two years drafting detailed regulations to make that vision a reality.

Yet the big banks stayed big or, in some cases, grew larger. JPMorgan, which held $2 trillion in total assets when Dodd-Frank was signed, reached $2.3 trillion by the end of 2011, according to Federal Reserve data.

For Lacker, the banks’ living wills are the key to placing the financial system on sounder footing. Done right, they may require institutions to restructure to make their orderly resolution during a crisis easier to accomplish, he said.

Neil Barofsky, Treasury’s former special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, calls the idea of winding down institutions with more than $2 trillion in assets “completely unrealistic.”

It’s likely that more than one bank would face potential failure during any crisis, he said, which would further complicate efforts to gracefully collapse a giant bank. “We’ve made almost no progress on ending too big to fail,” he said.

TAKE THE MONEY AND THEN TAKE THE HOUSE TOO: WHAT A DEAL!

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New Questions Raised in Mortgage Financing

EDITOR’S COMMENT: I worked on Wall Street and I was an investment banker. I know the mentality. If money is sitting there, they will take it and worry about it later. This article is the tip of the iceberg and it belongs on Page 1. I agree with the NY Times editorial staff about how important this article is. It didn’t get blocked because it was about Bear Stearns, which is defunct. But the story is the same for all the mega banks. They screwed the investors, stole the money, then screwed the investors again, along with the homeowners, and stole the house. And it is still going on.

The “secret pocketing of money” is no secret amongst those who work on Wall Street. To them it was a game and they won and each time a news article comes out missing the point again they have another laugh. Unfortunately the regulators and legislators are buying the spin in the media instead of investigating the facts.

Fictitious “Bonds” (i.e., non-existent) were sold by fictitious “trusts” or “SPV’s” (i.e. non-existent) on the CLAIM that each SPV or Trust consisted of a fictitious pool (i.e., non-existent) each pool containing fictitious “assets” consisting of the fictitious (i.e. non-existent) obligations of homeowners who had been “loaned money” from a fictitious company pretending to be a bank or lender. The practice on Wall Street was called “selling forward” which means you are selling something you don’t have, like selling short, which is selling a stock before you buy it.

THEN a fictitious transaction (i.e., non-existent) was recorded and reported between the party pretending to be a lender but who was acting, at most, as a mortgage broker (unregistered and unregulated). This was the promissory note and mortgage deed or deed of trust. The transaction described in the note and mortgage never happened and was never meant to happen. All the “securitized”loans were table funded, so none of the “lenders” were creditors. They were fee based servicers. The REAL transaction was never committed to writing or recorded or reported.

 

The pretender at the closing merely transmitted a flat data file like a spread sheet with various pieces of data that the originator inserted manually. If they changed the date of the loan from the closing date tot eh recording date, they now had a second loan to sell to a second loan aggregator, who knew what was going on because they were giving the orders on what to write, when to write it and who to send it to.

The ACTUAL TRANSACTION between the homeowner and the ACTUAL source of funds was never disclosed to either the lender nor the borrower nor ever committed to writing. Hence the representation that there ever was a secured loan was false, and through no fault of the borrower. The documentation from the closing was neither lost nor destroyed but often described as one or both. The sole reason they didn’t want to produce the original documentation was that it would not conform to the deal proposed to the investor and did not conform to the deal made with the borrower. Better to say you lost it or accidentally destroyed it than to admit criminal fraud.

The effect was obvious. The investment bank took the money from the investors and the money paid by borrowers and the money paid by third parties through insurance, credit default swaps, and under cover of cross collateralization and over-collateralization kept the money, obscuring the fact that they were neither paying nor allocating money received to the investor who was the payee of the money nor the borrower who was the obligee.

Thus neither one knew the true status of the loan. The investor was kept in the dark about the continuing receipt of money by the investment firm, and the borrower was kept in the dark (a) about the real lender not being paid money that came in and which was required to be paid against the borrower’s obligation and (b) about the ALLOCATION or ACCOUNTING for the money that the investment bank was receiving and disbursing in the name of the payor (borrower) and payee (lender/investor).

On an arbitrary basis, computations were made an strategies employed to give the appearance of a normal mortgage market but in fact that was all a fiction. The end result is that the investors and insurers were defrauded out of billions fo dollars on losses that never occurred and paid to parties who had no insurable or ownership interest. The very existence of Notice of Default, Acceleration and Notices of Sale, Complaints for foreclosure was and remains a fiction that cannot be supported by the facts. The strategy employed by the pretender lenders is to use the documents describing fictitious transactions as a substitute for alleging real facts and THEN introducing the documents as proof of those facts alleged.

Judges relying on their law school days or when they practiced law before this historical scheme was developed, are ruling on the basis of presumed facts that do not exist. They are presuming those facts based upon documents that describe transactions that do not exist. The sole hook on which they hang their hat is whether the borrower received the benefit of the loan. But Judges to themselves, the judicial system and most importantly the title recording system a disservice when they presume that the documents are anything more than ink on paper without any value, derived or otherwise.

LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL

By LOUISE STORY

Banks have been fighting with disgruntled bond investors and insurers for months, arguing that they do not need to buy back soured mortgages they placed inside securities before the financial crisis.

Now, it turns out, some of those banks may have secretly collected partial payments on those same mortgages several years ago and pocketed that money.

At least that is a theory being pursued by plaintiffs’ lawyers in some of the largest mortgage bond lawsuits, in which banks are accused of filling mortgage bonds with loans that did not belong there.

The theory surfaced in a recently unsealed lawsuit against a mortgage unit at Bear Stearns, the failed investment bank that is now part of JPMorgan Chase.

In the suit, the Ambac Assurance Corporation, which insured some mortgage bonds created by Bear Stearns, contends that the bank was partly compensated by loan originators for mortgages that became delinquent shortly after they were packaged into securities. Bear Stearns’s mortgage desk kept the payments, according to the suit, rather than apply them to the bonds that contained the delinquent loans.

Interviews with more than a dozen former workers at several big banks, including Lehman Brothers and Deutsche Bank, suggest that several banks received millions of dollars at a time in such payments, known as early-payment-default settlements.

But the money trail of these settlements is murky. It is unclear how much of the money was added to bankers’ profits — and bonuses — and how much was forwarded to buy out bad loans from mortgage bonds.

Whether or not the settlement payments were shared with mortgage investors, they are likely to be used in court to show that Wall Street banks knew about the growing stream of mortgages that had missed payments within their first 90 days, a common sign of mortgage fraud. That sort of evidence may matter to government investigators at places like the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is looking into whether banks misrepresented the sorts of mortgages placed in bonds.

At Bear Stearns, there seems to have been some knowledge of the failing loans, according to the Ambac case. Ambac says there is evidence of more than 100 early-default settlements for batches of loans that soured quickly. An example in that case describes an $11 million payment for one batch of loans. For another batch of “at least 12 loans,” there was a $2.6 million payment.

Ambac’s case was filed in federal court, but a judge there ruled this week that the case belonged in a different jurisdiction. Erik Haas, a lawyer for Ambac, said the company planned to refile in state court.

JPMorgan Chase, which bought Bear Stearns three years ago, said Ambac was a sophisticated investor that knowingly took risks in its deals.

“We do not believe Ambac’s claims are meritorious and intend to defend Bear vigorously,” said Jennifer Zuccarelli, a JPMorgan spokeswoman. Ms. Zuccarelli would not comment on Bear Stearns’s use of settlement payments.

Banks like JPMorgan face lawsuits brought by insurance companies and large asset managers that had purchased mortgage bonds when housing was booming. These investors want to return the bonds to the banks and get their money back. The banks disagree, saying the buyers of these securities were sophisticated investors who bought the bonds with open eyes and should have understood the risks.

Some lawyers in those cases said the accusation against Bear Stearns, if true, would be a stunning instance of wrongdoing, because it would indicate that its mortgage operation essentially double-dipped: selling a mortgage into a mortgage bond at full price and also pocketing a settlement for that same mortgage when it went sour.

“If they knew the loans were defaulting, the money should have been passed on to investors,” said Jerry Silk, a lawyer with Bernstein Litowitz who is representing numerous mortgage investors in suits against banks. “We’ve heard this a lot, and we’re trying to prove it. It would be a home run for us.”

The search for a home run has compelled mortgage bond investors to look back to when they first bought their investments. Around 2005, the number of mortgages that went bad began rising. Bankers were in the middle, between the firms that originated the loans and the investors who bought bonds with them.

Mortgage originators at that time did not have enough cash to buy back the loans in full. So banks offered a deal: if the originators gave them a partial cash payment, or a discount on future loan purchases, the banks would drop their requests that originators repurchase the delinquent loans.

This helped the mortgage companies preserve cash, and it appeased the bankers. But, in many cases, it is unclear if the partial payments benefited holders of the mortgage trusts that held the relevant mortgages.

It seems there was no standard accounting of the payments among the various banks, particularly in cases where banks received future discounts or other benefits instead of cash.

At the mortgage company New Century, for instance, banks agreed to reduce the number of souring loans they returned to the originator in exchange for the right to buy some of the originator’s next batch of loans, according to testimony given to Michael Missal, a lawyer with K&L Gates who prepared New Century’s bankruptcy report.

That deal with New Century was valuable to banks because they needed more mortgages to keep their lucrative mortgage bond machines going.

It is also unclear whether the banks had a legal obligation to pass the benefits from early-default settlements to the mortgage investors.

Workers who negotiated some of these settlements at Bear Stearns or at other Wall Street firms said last week that they did not know where the payments ended up. “The further and further I get from that business, the more I realized how siloed we were,” said one former mortgage salesman at Lehman Brothers who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “No one knew what anyone else was doing.”

A former Bear Stearns worker, who negotiated such settlements between it and originators, said: “I was the messenger of the bad news. I was going back to these originators to say ‘Listen, we purchased some of these and they’re having problems.’ ”

“But,” this worker said, after he received the settlements, “I had no visibility into where the money went when I sent it up the food chain.”

Even Ambac’s lawyers at first did not know the extent of the payments at issue, but the company filed an amended complaint describing them after learning some new information from the producer of a coming documentary about Bear Stearns, “Confidence Game.”

Tracing such payments is tricky because of the large number of players in the mortgage machine: mortgage originators sold loans to banks, and then the banks packaged them into mortgage bonds to sell to mortgage investors. The originators did not generally communicate with mortgage investors, so neither side knows exactly what Wall Street’s middlemen did with the money or side agreements.

Tom Capasse, a principal at Waterfall Asset Management in New York, ran models to spot early signs of trouble in the bonds he purchased. He said that about 75 percent of the time that he found a problem, the bank that created the deal came forward without prompting and repurchased the bonds.

But a quarter of the time, Mr. Capasse said, he had to report a missed payment and raise questions about the loans for them to be repurchased by the bank. Banks, he said, might not have minded if other investors did not report such problems. “Banks were facing a death spiral in terms of early mortgage defaults,” he said, “so they just didn’t buy them back.”

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