Don’t Hold your Breath: New York’s Cuomo will make Reverse Mortgage reform a priority — really?

http://nypost.com/2017/01/15/cuomo-will-make-foreclosure-reform-a-priority-finally/

Gov. Cuomo and state lawmakers are finally making reverse-mortgage foreclosure reform a priority this year — following continuing coverage of a crisis by The Post.

Last week, the governor announced plans to provide reverse-mortgage holders the right to a mandatory foreclosure settlement conference with their lender, overseen by the court, just as traditional mortgage borrowers have, and to update regulations to prevent reverse-mortgage foreclosures.

The governor announced these measures amid a raft of new proposals in his State of the State speeches. His reverse-mortgage proposals have similar intent as legislation introduced last year by Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein and state Sen. Jeff Klein in the wake of a July report by The Post about a dramatic spike in foreclosures on reverse mortgages — risky home-equity loans made to senior citizens.

“Attention has been focused, by The Post particularly, highlighting some tragic situations individuals found themselves in, and it has really bumped the problem of reverse-mortgages to one of the top agenda items as we go into the legislative session,” Weinstein said.

Reverse-mortgage loans were created to allow seniors to tap equity in their homes without selling, but have turned into a nightmare for legions of New Yorkers, including Howard Beach homeowner Frederick Feil. Last July, The Post covered Feil’s struggles with his lender, Finance of America Reverse, and servicer, Reverse Mortgage Solutions, to allow him to catch up on payments missed due to illness, and keep his home.

After the story, Finance of America Reverse worked out a deal with Feil and his attorney at JASA Legal Services for the Elderly. His loan has been reinstated and he is up-to-date on property tax payments, but Feil says he’s still in foreclosure hell because Reverse Mortgage Services has not officially discontinued the foreclosure.

“You get nervous wondering what’s going on, is it settled or not? Until I get complete paperwork in my hand … the mortgage company is still driving me nuts,” Feil said.

A spokeswoman for Finance of America Reverse said she expects the necessary paperwork to be completed “in the very near future.” Reverse Mortgage Solutions did not respond to a request for comment.

Klein is drafting other bills aimed at better regulating marketing and origination of reverse mortgages, and improving default procedures. Both he and Weinstein are working on legislation to provide seniors with clear, comprehensive information before they take out reverse mortgages.

With the governor’s support, stronger protections for reverse-mortgage holders — which failed to pass last year — are likely to finally become law. But it’s unclear who will underwrite free legal services like the ones JASA provides once money from the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement — a major source of nonprofit foreclosure-prevention and assistance funds — runs out this fall.

While legislative efforts heat up, the New York State Department of Finance continues its probe of Reverse Mortgage Solutions and Champion’s reverse-mortgage operations in New York state, launched after The Post’s story last July.

Cuomo Appoints New Cop: Homeowners Hopeful That Truth Will be Revealed

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Expanding Reach, Cuomo Creates Second Cop on Financial Beat

By

ALBANY — Benjamin M. Lawsky is not the attorney general of New York State.

But one could be forgiven for being confused. Since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo installed him as superintendent of a new state agency, the Department of Financial Services, which became active in October, Mr. Lawsky has been making headlines normally associated with attorneys general.

He has forced insurers to turn over more than $100 million in unpaid death benefits to surviving family members, dispatched rafts of subpoenas to banks, and pressed lenders to curb abusive foreclosure practices.

Critics say the new financial services agency reflects Mr. Cuomo’s expansive view of his executive powers, which he has continually sought to strengthen during his 13 months in office. They also see an attempt by the governor to encroach on the turf of Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, a fellow Democrat with whom Mr. Cuomo has had a precarious relationship.

Supporters say it is an auspicious time to have two cops on the financial beat — after all, the agency, which subsumed the existing Banking and Insurance Departments, came into being as the Occupy Wall Street movement was finding its footing and focusing its critique on those very industries.

Mr. Lawsky, in his first few months on the job, is using a playbook that he helped write as a top lieutenant in the attorney general’s office when Mr. Cuomo held that post, gravitating toward headline-grabbing cases while looking for negotiated solutions with industry executives.

“We set our priorities here often simply based on what the big issues are,” Mr. Lawsky, 41, said in an interview. “Does that come from the world of Andrew Cuomo? Yes, because government shouldn’t be a waste of time. Government should be about making a difference in people’s lives.”

For his part, Mr. Schneiderman has not allowed himself to be rolled over.

Last year, he helped beat back an effort by Mr. Cuomo’s office to give Mr. Lawsky and the new agency even more expansive powers that would have cut into the heart of the attorney general’s jurisdiction. The governor’s proposal, which would have allowed Mr. Lawsky to investigate violations of the Martin Act, the sweeping state securities law used by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his successors to pursue financial malfeasance, alarmed Wall Street and even academics.

Writing in The New York Law Journal, Jonathan R. Macey, a Yale Law School professor, called it “a naked and highly suspicious power grab.”

And in a recent interview, John C. Coffee Jr., a law professor at Columbia University, put it this way: “Cuomo made his fame as attorney general, and he sort of treated that jurisdiction as portable and took it with him as governor.”

The Cuomo administration backed off, dropping the Martin Act provision. Nonetheless, the new agency, besides absorbing two major regulatory bodies, has gained a number of new powers. It has broader authority to fight fraud beyond the insurers and state-chartered banks it licenses, and its reach has extended to all manner of financial products, including student lending, credit cards and tax refund anticipation loans.

Eric R. Dinallo, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton and former state insurance superintendent, likened the new agency to the Securities and Exchange Commission, in the way it combines regulation and enforcement under one roof.

“It’s not common to have a combined regulatory and enforcement function,” he said, adding, “It’s effectively very competitive with the attorney general’s jurisdiction.”

The two agencies are publicly cordial, but behind the scenes they are much like two boxers feeling each other out in an opening round. Already, turfs are overlapping.

Mr. Schneiderman, a liberal-minded attorney general, made a national name for himself in his first year by spurning a settlement that the Obama administration and other attorneys general had been negotiating with the banking industry over foreclosure practices. Then last week, President Obama, vowing to get tougher on Wall Street, reached out to Mr. Schneiderman, naming him co-chairman of a new financial crimes unit to prosecute large-scale financial fraud.

At the same time, Mr. Cuomo, in his State of the State address this month, turned to Mr. Lawsky, not Mr. Schneiderman, on the issue, directing the Department of Financial Services to create a Foreclosure Relief Unit. And Mr. Lawsky has moved on his own to secure deals with smaller lenders on curbing abuses.

Asked whether he supported Mr. Schneiderman’s stance on the national negotiations, Mr. Lawsky was noncommittal.

“We’re not commenting at all on the ongoing negotiations because we are at least tangentially a part of them and could ultimately be called on to sign or not sign,” he said, adding, “We want to see what the final proposal is.”

Danny Kanner, a spokesman for Mr. Schneiderman, said in a statement that the two offices “will continue to work together toward our common purpose of protecting consumers, investors, and the integrity of New York’s global markets.”

“In the aftermath of the financial crisis,” the statement said, “we need more willing hands on deck, not less, to meet that critical objective.”

Mr. Lawsky said he was learning to balance the roles of regulator and enforcer. And during his years as a top aide to Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Lawsky has been known as one of the relatively few administration officials to play nicely with others.

“A lot of people like to paint me as a tough guy because I’m a former prosecutor,” he said, adding: “You are being handed a huge amount of power over people’s lives and their businesses. It’s not something you willy-nilly bang people over the head with.”

Mr. Lawsky grew up in New York and Pittsburgh, received his undergraduate and law degrees from Columbia, and worked under four United States attorneys for the Southern District of New York, prosecuting everything from insider trading to terror and mob cases. He is a runner, but last had time to train for and run a marathon — the Marine Corps Marathon — in 2009. (His time was 3:40:17.)

Perhaps his most notable early achievement has been putting pressure on health insurers to make public proposed rate increases. But his office also pointed to early relationships he has formed with both industry executives and consumer groups.

Theodore A. Mathas, chief executive of the New York Life Insurance Company, said, “Ben is approachable, he’s a good listener and he’s quickly grasped a lot of complex things we’ve thrown at him.” Michael P. Smith, president of the New York Bankers Association, said, “We are very pleased with his performance.”

On the consumer advocacy side, Charles Bell, programs director for Consumers Union, said, “We’ve been pleased that they have reached out,” adding that a group of consumer advocates was meeting with the agency monthly on a variety of topics.

Mr. Lawsky does know how to answer the tough questions. During a recent online question-and-answer session with the public, the first questioner asked: “Mr. Lawsky, are you copying the governor’s hairstyle? It seems you have a similar look.” He replied: “That never occurred to me. It’s very flattering. Thanks.”

 

NY STARTS NEW INVESTIGATION OF MEGABANKS ON MORTGAGES and FORECLOSURES

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BANKS LOOKING TO NY FED FOR PROTECTION

EDITOR’S NOTE: Maybe this will wipe that arrogant smirk off their faces. Again the investigations are renewed after it seemed they were giving up. Just as the financial regulatory agencies followed up an SEC settlement with Goldman, they all, including the SEC, started another barrage of subpoenas. Now the NY Attorney General is going the same thing, starting up anew after Andrew Cuomo, his predecessor, had dealt with the banks up to point that was good step in the right direction but fell far short of the relief needed and the restitution required.

The language of the world of prosecution has changed from “derivatives” to questionable securitization practices” signaling a large shift in the depth of their understanding of what happened and even whether the securitization of loans was and remains an illusion, leaving the homes free from encumbrance and the debts largely paid by bailout, insurance, guarantees and other hedge contracts.

IN THE END, YOU CAN’T PAY THE DEBT OFF AND THEN DECLARE IT IN DEFAULT (UNLESS THE CONTRACT ALLOWS YOU TO DO THAT AND SPELLS OUT THE PROCEDURE). THEY PAID THE DEBTS, CONTINUED THE PAYMENTS AND DECLARED DEFAULTS ON LOANS THAT WERE WERE PAID OFF AND/OR STILL RECEIVING PAYMENTS FROM THIRD PARTIES. THEY ARE TRYING TO STEAL FROM BOTH ENDS AND IT IS WORKING. IN MANY CASES BOTH WERE TRUE. THERE IS NO DEFAULT AND THERE WAS NO DEFAULT, AND THE FORECLOSURES UP TILL NOW HAVE BEEN A FARCE AND A FRAUD WITH JUDGES, UNSCHOOLED IN THE WAYS OF WALL STREET, SNOOKERED INTO PLAYING ALONG WITH IT.

BOTTOM LINE: The housing crisis could be over in twelve minutes and the budget deficit could be over in a year with a full economic recovery underway if we just stop listening to the spin of the megabanks, about how if we put them in jail the financial system will be crushed — and we start looking at real evidence about what really happened.

May 16, 2011

New York Investigates Banks’ Role in Fiscal Crisis

By

The New York attorney general has requested information and documents in recent weeks from three major Wall Street banks about their mortgage securities operations during the credit boom, indicating the existence of a new investigation into practices that contributed to billions in mortgage losses.

Officials in Eric T. Schneiderman’s, office have also requested meetings with representatives from Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, according to people briefed on the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly. The inquiry appears to be quite broad, with the attorney general’s requests for information covering many aspects of the banks’ loan pooling operations. They bundled thousands of home loans into securities that were then sold to investors such as pension funds, mutual funds and insurance companies.

It is unclear which parts of the byzantine securitization process Mr. Schneiderman is focusing on. His spokesman said the attorney general would not comment on the investigation, which is in its early stages.

Several civil suits have been filed by federal and state regulators since the financial crisis erupted in 2008, some of which have generated settlements and fines, most prominently a $550 million deal between Goldman Sachs and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But even more questions have been raised in private lawsuits filed against the banks by investors and others who say they were victimized by questionable securitization practices. Some litigants have contended, for example, that the banks dumped loans they knew to be troubled into securities and then misled investors about the quality of those underlying mortgages when selling the investments.

The possibility has also been raised that the banks did not disclose to mortgage insurers the risks in the instruments they were agreeing to insure against default. Another potential area of inquiry — the billions of dollars in credit extended by Wall Street to aggressive mortgage lenders that allowed them to continue making questionable loans far longer than they otherwise could have done.

“Part of what prosecutors have the advantage of doing right now, here as elsewhere, is watching the civil suits play out as different parties fight over who bears the loss,” said Daniel C. Richman, a professor of law at Columbia. “That’s a very productive source of information.”

Officials at Bank of America and Goldman Sachs declined to comment about the investigation; Morgan Stanley did not respond to a request for comment.

During the mortgage boom, Wall Street firms bundled hundreds of billions of dollars in home loans into securities that they sold profitably to investors. After the real estate bubble burst, the perception took hold that the securitization process as performed by the major investment banks contributed to the losses generated in the crisis.

Critics contend that Wall Street’s securitization machine masked the existence of risky home loans and encouraged reckless lending because pooling the loans and selling them off allowed many participants to avoid responsibility for the losses that followed.

The requests for information by Mr. Schneiderman’s office also seem to confirm that the New York attorney general is operating independently of peers from other states who are negotiating a broad settlement with large banks over foreclosure practices.

By opening a new inquiry into bank practices, Mr. Schneiderman has indicated his unwillingness to accept one of the settlement’s terms proposed by financial institutions — that is, a broad agreement by regulators not to conduct additional investigations into the banks’ activities during the mortgage crisis. Mr. Schneiderman has said in recent weeks that signing such a release was unacceptable.

It is unclear whether Mr. Schneiderman’s investigation will be pursued as a criminal or civil matter. In the last few months, the office’s staff has been expanding. In March, Marc B. Minor, former head of the securities division for the New Jersey attorney general, was named bureau chief of the investor protection unit in the New York attorney general’s office.

Early in the financial crisis, Andrew M. Cuomo, the governor of New York who preceded Mr. Schneiderman as attorney general, began investigating Wall Street’s role in the debacle. But those inquiries did not result in any cases filed against the major banks. Nevertheless, some material turned over to Mr. Cuomo’s investigators may turn out to be helpful to Mr. Schneiderman’s inquiry.

NY Appeals: AG may pursue Banks for Fraudulent Appraisal

Editor’s note: I think the standards used here apply to ALL private actions for appraisal fraud. With appraisal fraud proven, virtually all lending statutes are proven to have been violated. Appraisal fraud lies at the root of the mortgage mess with its sister, ratings fraud. Both are appraisals and both are ratings. Both were designed to track people into doing what they otherwise would never have done if they had the right information. If the either the investor to advanced the money or the borrower who took it knew that the appraisal was bogus and that there was going to be a hit virtually as fast as you drive a new car off the lot, they would not, as reasonable people, have completed the transaction or they would demanded more information.
From Jake Naumer: This goes to the root and branch of the problems we have today.The good news is that there is actually a TRUE and CORRECT VALUE for any property.It just seems that no one seems to know what it actually is.

Historically and emperically, true value has always been a fairly fixed relationship between total aggregate income and total aggregate property, with some deference for location and ammenities.All of the players with varying vested interests seek to distort the perception of value, through the use of manipulation and misinformation, in order to extract the profit that is created by the gap between true value and perceived value. Unfortunately, once the distortion machine was exposed by exacting market forces, robbery of the honorable rule abiding tax paying citizens was required to maintain the status quo.

It will not last.

Submitted by Jeff

People v First Am. Corp.
2010 NY Slip Op 04868
Decided on June 8, 2010
Appellate Division, First Department
Gonzalez, J.
Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.
This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.

Decided on June 8, 2010

SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION
First Judicial Department
Luis A. Gonzalez, P.J.
David B. Saxe
James M. Catterson
Rolando T. Acosta, JJ.
406796/07

1308

[*1]The People of the State of New York by Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General of the State of New York, Plaintiff-Respondent,

v

First American Corporation, et al., Defendants-Appellants.

Defendants appeal from the order of the Supreme Court, New York County (Charles Edward Ramos, J.), entered April 8, 2009, which, insofar as appealed from as limited by the briefs, denied their motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground of federal preemption.

DLA Piper LLP (US), New York (Richard F. Hans,
Patrick J. Smith, Kerry Ford
Cunningham and Jeffrey D.
Rotenberg of counsel), for
appellants.
Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General, New York
(Richard Dearing, Benjamin
N. Gutman and Nicole
Gueron of counsel), for respondent. [*2]

GONZALEZ, P.J.

This appeal calls upon us to determine whether the regulations and guidelines implemented by the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) pursuant to the Home Owner’s Lending Act of 1933 (HOLA) (12 USC § 1461 et seq.) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) (Pub L 101-73, 103 STAT 183 [codified in scattered sections of 12 USC]), preempt state regulations in the field of real estate appraisal.

The Attorney General claims that defendants engaged in fraudulent, deceptive and illegal business practices by allegedly permitting eAppraiseIT residential real estate appraisers to be influenced by nonparty Washington Mutual, Inc. (WaMu) to increase real estate property values on appraisal reports in order to inflate home prices. We conclude that neither federal statutes, nor the regulations and guidelines implemented by the OTS, preclude the Attorney General of the State of New York from pursuing litigation against defendants First American Corporation and First American eAppraiseIT, LLC. We further conclude that the Attorney General has standing to pursue his claims pursuant to General Business Law § 349.

In a complaint dated November 1, 2007, plaintiff, the People of the State of New York, commenced this action against defendants asserting claims under Executive Law § 63(12) and General Business Law § 349, and for unjust enrichment. The complaint alleges that in Spring 2006, WaMu hired two appraisal management companies, defendant eAppraiseIT and nonparty Lender’s Service, Inc., to oversee the appraisal process and provide a structural buffer against potential conflicts of interest between WaMu and the individual appraisers. The gravamen of the Attorney General’s complaint asserts that defendants misled their customers and the public by stating that eAppraiseIT’s appraisals were independent evaluations of a property’s market value and that these appraisals were conducted in compliance with the Uniform Standards and Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), when in fact defendants had implemented a system allowing WaMu’s loan origination staff to select appraisers who would improperly inflate a property’s market value to WaMu’s desired target loan amount.[FN1]

Defendants moved for dismissal of the complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211, asserting that the Attorney General is prohibited from litigating his claims because HOLA and FIERRA impliedly place the responsibility for oversight of appraisal management companies on the OTS, and asserting a failure to state a cause of action. Supreme Court denied defendants’ motion, finding that HOLA and FIRREA do not occupy the entire field with respect to real estate appraisal regulation and that the enforcement of USPAP standards under General Business Law § [*3]349 neither conflicts with federal law, nor does it impair a bank’s ability to lend and extend credit. We affirm.

The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution provides that Federal laws “shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding” (US Const, art VI, cl [2]), and it “vests in Congress the power to supersede not only State statutory or regulatory law but common law as well” (Guice v Charles Schwab & Co., 89 NY2d 31, 39 [1996], cert denied 520 US 1118 [1997]). Indeed, “[u]nder the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause (US Const, art VI, cl 2), the purpose of our preemption analysis is . . . to ascertain the intent of Congress” (Matter of People v Applied Card Sys., Inc., 11 NY3d 105, 113 [2008], cert denied
_ US _, 129 S Ct 999 [2009]).

Congressional intent to preempt state law may be established “by express provision, by implication, or by a conflict between federal and state law” (Balbuena v IDR Realty LLC, 6 NY3d 338, 356 [2006], quoting New York State Conference of Blue Cross & Blue Shield Plans v Travelers Ins. Co., 514 US 645, 654 [1995]). Express preemption occurs when Congress indicates its “pre-emptive intent through a statute’s express language or through its structure and purpose” (Altria Group, Inc. v Good, 555 US __, __, 129 S Ct 538, 543 [2008]). Absent explicit preemptive language, implied preemption occurs when “[t]he scheme of federal regulation [is] so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it . . . [o]r the Act of Congress may touch a field in which the federal interest is so dominant that the federal system will be assumed to preclude enforcement of state laws on the same subject” (Rice v Santa Fe El. Corp., 331 US 218, 230 [1947]). Further, when “[a] conflict occurs either because compliance with both federal and state regulations is a physical impossibility, or because the State law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress,” the State law is preempted (City of New York v Job-Lot Pushcart, 213 AD2d 210, 210 [1995], affd 88 NY2d 163 [1996], cert denied 519 US 871 [1996] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]).

Here, defendants do not argue, nor have they directed this Court’s attention to any language within HOLA or FIRREA that establishes, that Congress expressly created these statutes to supersede state law governing the causes of actions asserted in the Attorney General’s complaint. Defendants also have not argued that there exists a conflict between federal and State laws or regulations. Rather, defendants assert that because Congress has legislated so comprehensively, and that federal law so completely occupies the home lending field, the Attorney General is precluded from bringing claims against them under the theory of field preemption. Thus, the necessary starting point is to determine whether HOLA and FIRREA so occupy the field that these two statutes preempt any and all state laws speaking to the manner in which appraisal management companies provide real estate appraisal services.

In 1933, Congress enacted HOLA “to provide emergency relief with respect to home mortgage indebtedness at a time when as many as half of all home loans in the country were in default” (Fidelity Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn. v De la Cuesta, 458 US 141, 159 [1982] [internal [*4]quotation marks and citations omitted]). HOLA
created a general framework to regulate federally chartered savings associations that left the regulatory details to the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB). The FHLBB’s authority to regulate federal savings and loans is virtually unlimited and “[p]ursuant to this authorization, the [FHLBB] has promulgated regulations governing the powers and operations of every Federal savings and loan association from its cradle to its corporate grave” (id. at 145 [internal citations and quotation marks omitted]).

When Congress passed FIRREA in 1989, it restructured the regulation of the savings association industry by abolishing the FHLBB and vested many of its functions into the newly-created OTS (see FIRREA § 301 [12 USCA § 1461 et seq.] [establishing OTS], § 401 [12 USCA § 1437] [abolishing the FHLBB]). According to FIRREA’s legislative history

“[t]he primary purposes of the [FIRREA] are to provide affordable housing mortgage finance and housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income individuals through enhanced management of federal housing credit programs and resources; establish organizations and procedures to obtain and administer the necessary funding to resolve failed thrift cases and to dispose of the assets of these institutions . . . and, enhance the regulatory enforcement powers of the depository institution regulatory
agencies to protect against fraud, waste and insider abuse” (HR Rep 101-54 [I], at 307-308, reprinted in 1989 US Code Cong to Admin News, at 103-104).

FIRREA was also designed
“to thwart real estate appraisal abuses, [by] establish[ing] a system of uniform national real estate appraisal standards. It also requires the use of state certified or licensed appraisers for real estate related transactions with the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Fannie Mac), the RTC, or certain real estate transaction [sic] regulated by the federal financial institution regulatory agencies” (HR Rep 101-54 (I), at 311, reprinted in 1989 US Code Cong to Admin News, at 107).

Further, 12 USCS § 3331, which was enacted as part of FIRREA, states that the general purpose of this statute, is
“to provide that Federal financial and public policy interests in real estate related transactions will be protected by requiring that real estate appraisals utilized in connection with federally related [*5]transactions are performed in writing, in accordance with uniform standards, by individuals whose competency has been demonstrated and whose professional conduct will be subject to effective supervision.”

The uniform standards described in 12 USCS § 3331, are defined in 12 USCS § 3339 which requires that the OTS, as a
“Federal financial institution[] regulatory agency . . . shall prescribe appropriate standards for the performance of real estate appraisals in connection with federally related transactions [FN2] under the jurisdiction of each such agency or instrumentality. These rules shall require, at a minimum — (1) that real estate appraisals be performed in accordance with generally accepted appraisal standards as evidenced by the appraisal standards promulgated by the Appraisal Standards Board of the Appraisal Foundation; and (2) that such appraisals shall be written appraisals.”
The Appraisal Standards Board (ASB) of the Appraisal Foundation promulgates the appraisal standards mandated by 12 USC § 3339 and are called USPAP. The Appraisal Foundation is a private “not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of professional valuation [and] was established by the appraisal profession in the United States in 1987″ (Welcome to The Appraisal Foundation [The Appraisal Foundation], https://netforum.avectra.com/eWeb/StartPage.aspx?Site=TAF [accessed May 27, 2010]). The ASB is responsible for “develop[ing], interpret[ing] and amend[ing]” USPAP (Welcome to The Appraisal Foundation, https://netforum.avectra.com/eWeb/
DynamicPage.aspx?Site=TAF & WebCode=ASB [accessed May 27, 2010]). However, “[e]ach U.S. State or Territory has a State appraiser regulatory agency, which is responsible for certifying and licensing real estate appraisers and supervising their appraisal-related activities, as required by Federal law” (State Regulatory Information [The Appraisal Foundation], https://netforum.avectra.com/eWeb/DynamicPage.aspx?Site=taf & WebCode=RegulatoryInfo [accessed May 27, 2010]; see also State Appraiser Regulatory Programs > State Contact Information [Appraisal Subcommittee], https://www.asc.gov/State-Appraiser- Regulatory-Programs/StateContactInformation.aspx [accessed May 27, 2010] [listing each State appraiser regulatory agency’s website]). Further, the OTS itself has determined that

“[i]t does not appear that OTS is required by title XI of FIRREA to [*6]implement an appraisal regulation that reaches all the activities of savings and loan holding companies, at least to the extent that those activities are unrelated to the safety and soundness of savings associations or their subsidiaries. Neither the language of Title XI nor its legislative history indicate that Congress intended title XI to apply to the wide range of activities engaged in by savings and loan holding companies and their non-saving association subsidiaries” (55 Fed Reg 34532, 34534-34535 [1990], codified at 12 CFR 506, 545, 563, 564 and 571).

Indeed, the OTS encourages financial institutions
“to make referrals directly to state appraiser regulatory authorities when a State licensed or certified appraiser violates USPAP, applicable state law, or engages in other unethical or unprofessional conduct. Examiners finding evidence of unethical or unprofessional conduct by appraisers will forward their findings and recommendations to their supervisory office for appropriate disposition and referral to the state, as necessary” (OTS, Thrift Bulletin, Interagency Appraisal and Evaluation Guidelines at 10 [November 4, 1994], http://files.ots.treas. gov/84042.pdf [accessed May 27, 2010]).
In looking at the legislative history it becomes clear that Congress intended to establish

“a system of uniform real estate appraisal standards and requires the use of State certified and licensed appraisers for federally regulated transactions by July 1, 1991. . . The key . . . lies in the creation of State regulatory agencies and a Federal watchdog to monitor the standards and to oversee State enforcement. . . It is this combination of Federal and State action . . . that . . . assur[es] . . . good standards are properly enforced (135 Cong Rec S3993-01, at S4004 [April 17, 1989], 1989 WL 191505 [remarks of Senator Christopher J. Dodd]).

Thus, we conclude that neither HOLA or FIRREA preempts or precludes the Attorney General from pursuing his claims.
Having rejected defendants’ general arguments for preemption under HOLA and FIRREA, “[t]he Court’s task, then, is to decide which claims fall on the regulatory side of the ledger and which, for want of a better term, fall on the common law side” (Cedeno v IndyMac Bancorp, Inc., 2008 WL 3992304, *7, 2008 US Dist LEXIS 65337, *22 [SD NY 2008] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]). Defendants assert that the Attorney General is preempted from pursuing his claims because subsequent to FIRREA’s passage, the OTS issued extensive [*7]regulations specifically addressing the composition and construction of appraisal programs undertaken by federal savings and loans.

It is well settled that “[a]gencies delegated rulemaking authority under a statute . . . are afforded generous leeway by the courts in interpreting the statute they are entrusted to administer” (Rapanos v United States, 547 US 715, 758 [2006]). Indeed, the OTS regulations “have no less pre-emptive effect than federal statutes” (Fidelity Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn., 458 US at 153). 12 CFR 545.2, states that regulations promulgated by the OTS are “preemptive of any state law purporting to address the subject of the operations of a Federal saving association.” However, 12 CFR 560.2(a) limits the language of 12 CFR 545.2 by setting parameters to the OTS’ authority to promulgate regulations that

“preempt state laws affecting the operations of federal savings associations when deemed appropriate to facilitate the safe and sound operation of federal savings associations, to enable federal savings associations . . . to conduct their operations in accordance with the best practices of thrift institutions in the United States, or to further other purposes of the HOLA” (12 CFR 560.2[a]).
12 CFR 560.2(b) provides a non-exhaustive list of illustrative examples of the types of state laws preempted by 12 CFR 560.2(a). Further, 12 CFR 560.2(c) states that the following types of State law are not preempted

“to the extent that they only incidentally affect the lending operations of Federal savings associations . . . (1) Contract and commercial law; (2) Real property law; (3) Homestead laws specified in 12 U.S.C. 1462a(f); (4) Tort law; (5) Criminal law; and (6) Any other law that OTS, upon review, finds: (i) Furthers a vital state interest; and (ii) Either has only an incidental effect on lending operations or is not otherwise contrary to the purposes expressed in paragraph (a) of this section.”
The OTS advises that when a court is

“analyzing the status of state laws under § 560.2, the first step will be to determine whether the type of law in question is listed in paragraph (b). If so, the analysis will end there; the law is preempted. If the law is not covered by paragraph (b), the next question is whether the law affects lending. If it does, then, in accordance with paragraph (a), the presumption arises that the law is preempted. This presumption can be reversed only if the law can clearly be shown to fit within the confines of paragraph (c). For these purposes, paragraph (c) is intended to be interpreted narrowly. Any doubt should be resolved in favor of preemption” (61 Fed Reg 50951-01, 50966-50967 [1996]).
[*8]
Defendants argue that the Attorney General’s challenges to defendants’ business practices are preempted because the conduct falls within 12 CFR 560.2(b)(5), which provides examples of loan-related fees “including without limitation, initial charges, late charges, prepayment penalties, servicing fees, and overlimit fees.” Defendants also assert that their alleged conduct is within 12 CFR 560.2(b)(9), which provides

“[d]isclosure and advertising, including laws requiring specific statements, information, or other content to be included in credit application forms, credit solicitations, billing statements, credit contracts, or other credit-related documents and laws requiring creditors to supply copies of credit reports to borrowers or applicants” (id.).

Lastly, defendants assert that their alleged conduct falls within 12 CFR 560.2(b)(10) which states that “[p]rocessing, origination, servicing, sale or purchase of, or investment or participation in, mortgages” is preempted.
The Attorney General’s complaint asserts that defendants engaged in conduct proscribed by Executive Law § 63(12)[FN3] and General Business Law § 349 [FN4]. It further alleges that defendants unjustly enriched themselves by repeated use of fraudulent or illegal business practices, in that they allowed WaMu to pressure eAppraiseIT appraisers to compromise their USPAP-required independence and collude with WaMu to inflate residential appraisal values so that the appraisals would match the qualifying loan values WaMu desired.

Under the first prong of the preemption analysis, we find that this action brought pursuant to Executive Law § 63(12), General Business Law § 349(b) and on the theory of unjust [*9]enrichment is not preempted by 12 CFR 560.2(b)(5) because it involves no attempt to regulate bank-related fees. We also find, under the first prong of the preemption analysis, that there is no preemption pursuant to 12 CFR 560.2(b)(9) because these claims do not involve a state law seeking to impose or require any specific statements, information or other content to be disclosed. Although at least one case has held that claims similar to those asserted here were preempted (see Spears v Washington Mut., Inc., 2009 WL 605835 [ND Cal 2009]), we find
under the first prong of the preemption analysis that 12 CFR 660.2(b)(10) does not preclude the Attorney General’s complaint because prosecution of the alleged conduct will not affect the operations of federal savings associations (FSA) in how they process, originate, service, sell or purchase, or invest or participate in, mortgages.

The question then becomes whether the Attorney General is nevertheless precluded from litigating his claims under the second prong of the preemption analysis. Because enjoining a real estate appraisal management company from abdicating its publicly advertised role of providing unbiased valuations is not within the confines of 12 CFR 560.2(c), we answer it in the negative.

Defendants argue the OTS’s authority under HOLA and FIRREA is not limited to oversight of a FSA and that its authority under these two statues extends over the activity regulated and includes the activities of third party agents of a FSA. Defendants assert that providing real estate appraisal services is a critical component of the processing and origination of mortgages and represents a core component of the controlling federal regime. Defendants cite 12 USC § 1464(d)(7)(D) and State Farm Bank, FSB v Reardon (539 F3d 336 [6th Cir 2008]) for
support. 12 USC § 1464(d)(7) states, in pertinent part, that

“if a savings association . . . causes to be performed for itself, by contract or otherwise, any service authorized under [HOLA] such performance shall be subject to regulation and examination by the [OTS] Director to the same extent as if such services were being performed by the savings association on its own premises . . .”
Here, it is alleged eAppraiseIT and Lender’s Service, Inc., were hired by WaMu to provide appraisal services. However, defendants are incorrect in asserting that providing real estate appraisal services is an authorized banking activity under HOLA. In an opinion letter dated October 25, 2004, OTS concluded that it had the authority to regulate agents of an FSA under HOLA because

“[i]nherent in the authority of federal savings associations to exercise their deposit and lending powers and to conduct deposit, lending, and other banking activities is the authority to advertise, market, and solicit customers, and to make the public aware of the banking products and services associations offer. The authority to conduct deposit and lending activities, and to offer banking products and services, is accompanied by the power to advertise, market, and solicit customers for such products and services . . . A state may not put operational restraints on a federal savings [*10]association’s ability to
offer an authorized product or service by restricting the association’s ability to market its products and services and reach potential customers . . . Thus, OTS has authority under the HOLA to regulate the Agents the Association uses to perform
marketing, solicitation, and customer service activities” (2004 OTS Op No. P-2004-7, at 7, http://files.ots.treas.gov/560404.pdf, 2004 OTS LEXIS 6, at *15 [accessed May 27, 2010]).
State Farm Bank, FSB v Reardon (539 F3d 336 [6th Cir 2008]) follows this principle. In Reardon, the plaintiff, a FSA chartered by the OTS under HOLA, decided to offer, through its independent contractor agents, first and second mortgages and home equity loans in the State of Ohio. The Sixth Circuit concluded that although the statute at issue

“directly regulates [the plaintiff FSA’s] exclusive agents rather than [the FSA] itself . . . the activity being regulated is the solicitation and origination of mortgages, a power granted to [the FSA] by HOLA and the OTS. This is also a power over which the OTS has indicated that any state attempts to regulate will be met with preemption . . . [T]he practical effect of the [statute] is that [the FSA] must either change its structure or forgo mortgage lending in Ohio. Thus, enforcement of the [statute] against [the FSA’s] exclusive agents would frustrate the purpose of the HOLA and the OTS regulations because it indirectly prohibits [the FSA] from exercising the powers granted to it under the HOLA and the OTS regulations” (Reardon, 539 F3d at 349 [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]).
Since appraisal services are not authorized banking products or services of a FSA, defendants have failed to show that the Attorney General is preempted from pursuing his claims under 12 USC § 1464(d)(7)(D). Consequently, under the second prong of the preemption analysis, the result of the Attorney General litigating his claims against a company that independently administers a FSA’s appraisal program would “only incidentally affect the lending operations of [the FSA]” (12 CFR 560.2[c]). Thus, defendants have failed to show that OTS’s regulations and guidelines preempt or preclude the Attorney General from pursuing his claims.

Defendants assert that Cedeno v IndyMac Bancorp, Inc. (2008 WL 3992304, 2008 US Dist LEXIS 65337 [SD NY 2008]) provides this Court with persuasive authority that the federal government and its regulators alone regulate the mortgage loan origination practices of FSAs including all aspects of the appraisal programs they utilize. In Cedeno, the Southern District found preemption precluded a private individual from maintaining a cause of action against a bank. It was alleged that the bank failed to disclose to the plaintiff that it selected appraisers, appraisal companies and/or appraisal management firms who would inflate the value of [*11]residential properties in order to allow the bank to complete more real estate transactions and obtain greater profits. This practice resulted in the plaintiff being misled as to the true
equity in her home. The Southern District found that the conduct of the bank was

“directly regulated by the OTS: the processing and origination of mortgages, a loan-related fee, and the accompanying disclosure. The appraisals are a prerequisite to the lending process, and are inextricably bound to it. Because the plaintiff’s claim is not a simple breach of contract claim, but asks the Court to set substantive standards for the Associations’ lending operations and practices, it is preempted” (Cedeno, 2008 WL 3992304, *9, 2008 US Dist LEXIS 65337, at *28 [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]).

Contrary to defendants’ assertions, we find that Cedeno is not applicable here because Cedeno does not reach the question as to whether HOLA, FIRREA or OTS’s regulations and guidelines are intended to regulate the conduct of real estate appraisal companies.
Annexed to the OTS’s October 25, 2004 opinion letter is a document entitled Appendix A – Conditions. In this document, OTS requires FSAs that wish to use agents to perform marketing, solicitation, customer service, or other activities related to the FSA’s authorized banking products or services to enter into written agreements that “(4) expressly set[] forth OTS’s statutory authority to regulate and examine and take an enforcement action against the agent with respect to the activities it performs for the association, and the agent’s acknowledgment of OTS’s authority” (2004 OTS Op No. P-2004-7, at 16, http://files.ots. treas.gov/560404.pdf, 2004 OTS LEXIS 6, at *37 [accessed May 27, 2010]). We note that defendants have neither asserted that such written agreements exist nor produced such documents. Thus, we conclude that the Attorney General may proceed with his claims against defendants because his challenge to defendants’ allegedly fraudulent and deceptive business practices in providing appraisal services is not preempted by federal law and regulations that govern the operations of savings and loan associations and institution-affiliated parties.

Defendants assert that the Attorney General cannot rely upon a substantive violation of a federal law to support a claim under General Business Law § 349 because this is an improper attempt to convert alleged violations of federal law into a violation of New York law. Defendants claim that where a plaintiff seeks to rely upon a substantive violation of a federal law to support a claim under General Business Law § 349, the federal law relied upon must contain a private right of action.

However, the Attorney General is statutorily charged with the duty to “[p]rosecute and defend all actions and proceedings in which the state is interested, and have charge and control of all the legal business of the departments and bureaus of the state, or of any office thereof which requires the services of attorney or counsel, in order to protect the interest of the state” (Executive Law § 63[1]). Indeed, when the Attorney General becomes aware of allegations of persistent fraud or illegality of a business, he [*12]

“is authorized by statute to bring an enforcement action seeking an order enjoining the continuance of such business activity or of any fraudulent or illegal acts, [and] directing restitution and damages’ (Executive Law § 63 [12]). He is also authorized, when informed of deceptive acts or practices affecting consumers in New York, to bring an action in the name and on behalf of the people of the state of New York to enjoin such unlawful acts or practices and to obtain restitution of any moneys or property obtained’ thereby (General Business Law § 349 [b])” (People v Coventry First LLC, 13 NY3d 108, 114 [2009]).
It is well settled that “[o]n a motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211, the court must accept the facts as alleged in the complaint as true, accord plaintiffs the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory’” (Wiesen v New York Univ., 304 AD2d 459, 460 [2003], quoting Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88 [1994]). The Attorney General’s complaint alleges that defendants publicly claimed on their eAppraiseIT website that eAppraiseIT provides a firewall between lenders and appraisers so that customers can be assured that USPAP and FIRREA guidelines are followed and that each appraisal is being audited for compliance. The Attorney General charges that defendants deceived borrowers and investors who relied on their proclaimed independence by allowing WaMu’s loan production staff to select the appraiser based upon whether they would provide high values.

We find defendants’ assertions that the Attorney General lacks standing under General Business Law § 349 and that his complaint fails to state a cause of action are without merit. Indeed, the Attorney General’s complaint references misrepresentations and other deceptive conduct allegedly perpetrated on the consuming public within the State of New York, and “[a]s shown by its language and background, section 349 is directed at wrongs against the consuming public” (Oswego Laborers’ Local 214 Pension Fund v Marine Midland Bank, 85 NY2d 20, 24 [1995]). Therefore, we find that the Attorney General’s complaint articulates a viable cause of action under General Business Law § 349, and that this statute provides him with standing.

Consequently, we conclude that defendants have failed to demonstrate that HOLA, FIRREA or the OTS’s regulations and guidelines preempt or preclude the Attorney General from pursuing the causes of action articulated in his complaint. We additionally find that the Attorney General has standing under General Business Law § 349. We have reviewed defendants’ remaining contentions and we find them without merit.

Accordingly, the order of the Supreme Court, New York County (Charles Edward Ramos, J.), entered April 8, 2009, which, insofar as appealed from as limited by the briefs, [*13]denied defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground of federal preemption, should be affirmed, without costs.

All concur.
Order, Supreme Court, New York County (Charles Edward Ramos, J.), entered April 8, 2009, affirmed, without costs.

Opinion by Gonzalez, P.J. All concur.
Gonzalez, P.J., Saxe, Catterson, Acosta, JJ.
THIS CONSTITUTES THE DECISION AND ORDER
OF THE SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION, FIRST DEPARTMENT.

ENTERED: JUNE 8, 2010

CLERK

Footnotes

Footnote 1: USPAP is incorporated into New York law and it prohibits a State-certified or State licensed appraiser from accepting a fee for an appraisal assignment “that is contingent upon the appraiser reporting a predetermined estimate, analysis, or opinion or is contingent upon the opinion, conclusion or valuation reached, or upon the consequences resulting from the appraisal assignment” (NY Exec Law § 160-y; 19 NYCRR 1106.1).

Footnote 2: 12 USC § 3350(4) states that “[t]he term federally related transaction’ means any real estate-related financial transaction which—(A) a federal financial institutions regulatory agency or the Resolution Trust Corporation engages in, contracts for, or regulates; and (B) requires the services of an appraiser.”

Footnote 3: Executive Law § 63(12) states, in pertinent part, that “[w]henever any person shall engage in repeated fraudulent or illegal acts or otherwise demonstrate persistent fraud or illegality in the carrying on, conducting or transaction of business, the attorney general may apply, in the name of the people of the state of New York . . . for an order enjoining the continuance of such business activity or of any fraudulent or illegal acts, directing restitution and damages. . .”

Footnote 4: General Business Law § 349(b) states, in pertinent part, that “[w]henever the attorney general shall believe from evidence satisfactory to him that any person, firm, corporation or association or agent or employee thereof has engaged in or is about to engage in any of the acts or practices stated to be unlawful he may bring an action in the name and on behalf of the people of the state of New York to enjoin such unlawful acts or practices and to obtain restitution of any moneys or property obtained directly or indirectly by any such unlawful acts or practices.”

is it one of them or is it all of them? Mr. Cuomo, are you listening?

According to two EMC analysts, they were encouraged to just make up data like FICO scores if the lenders they purchased loans in bulk from wouldn’t get back to them promptly

Editors’ Note: With Bear Stearns “underwater” it is difficult to come up with scenario where there won’t be criminal charges brought against the bankers and traders who worked there. They are low-hanging fruit, easily made the scape goat and easily subject to inquiry since nobody has any allegiance to them. They have no reason to stay silent except for self-incrimination. If some are offered immunity they will sing like birds in the meadow.

On the other hand Cuomo is aiming for the wrong target and could end up losing his cases unless he aims right. If this report is correct, then Cuomo is looking for the the real criminal culprit in the ratings fraud. What is wrong with that approach is that he is attempting to single out ONE defendant out of a group. They ALL knew, as the article goes on to say, what they were doing with ratings, just as they all knew what was going on with property appraisals just as they all knew that there was no underwriting of the loans.

Underwriting, which was the process of verifying the loan data from soup to nuts was abandoned because the party initiating the loan had no dog in the race. They were using investor dollars to fund the loan. Their income was based upon closing the loan without regard to risk. In fact, as has now been acknowledged after three years of me harping on the subject, the more likely it was that the loan would fail, the higher the profit and fees to everyone.

In the world of securities, underwriting was once the product of verifying the facts and risks of an investment through “due diligence”. Like the home loans there was no due diligence underwriting. The object was to sell something that LOOKED good even though they knew the loss was a sure thing — something the investment bankers needed and wanted.

They wanted the investments to fail because they were selling it (securitizing specific loans, parts of loan pools and entire loan pools) into multiple SPV packages, effectively selling the same loans over and over again.

They were taking the yield spread caused by the lower rate the investors were willing to accept because they perceived the investment as being little or no risk. The loan interest charged to borrowers was much higher, sometimes by multiples. This causes a SPREAD, which means that in order to give the investors the dollar income they we re expecting, they could promise, based upon exhibits that were fabricated in part, that the investor would get the desired revenue.  But the income was coming from loans to borrowers at much higher “nominal” rates. In plain language they were able to invest only a portion of the investors money into funding mortgages that were guaranteed to fail. The rest of the money they kept for themselves. Each time they re-sold the security as described above, the entire proceeds were kept by the ivnestment banking house. As long as the pools failed, nobody would demand an accounting.

The investors might make claims for the losses but they were stuck with being tagged as qualified investors who should have known better, even if they were some small credit union who had no person on staff capable of performing verification or due diligence on the investment in mortgage-backed securities.

But fund managers (especially those  who received bonuses due to the higher returns they reported) were highly unlikely candidates to demand an accounting since they either had no clue or cared less as to what was REALLY done with the proceeds of their investment. AND then of course there are the fund managers who may or may not have overlooked, through negligence of intentionally, the quality of these investments. They may have received some sort of perks or kickback for investing in these dog-eared securities. Since the manager is in charge, he or she would be required to ask for things that they really don’t want to hear about.

The ratings companies were put in the exact same position as the the appraisers of the homes subject to mortgage. Play or die. Here is what we assisted you in coming up with a human and computer algorithm to arrive at the value of this investment. In securities, the value was expressed as AAA down to BBB and below. Here are the securities which we reverse engineered to fit that algorithm. Now give us the triple ratings as we agreed, take our fees which are higher now for your cooperation and don’t ask any questions. If someone did ask questions or raised alarms at the ratings agency or appraisal companies they were blacklisted.

So you tell me — is it one of them or is it all of them? Mr. Cuomo, are you listening? Contrary to the report below, this is no grey area. It is really very simple. Just because you have a pile of documentation doesn’t make it theft. Look at the result to determine the intent. That’s what you are supposed to do in Court.

More Corruption: Bear Stearns Falsified Information as Raters Shrugged

MAY 14 2010, 2:25 PM ET |  Comment

Made up FICO scores? Twenty-minute speed ratings to AAA? If government prosecutors like New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo want answers to why the mortgage-backed securities market was so screwed up, they should talk to Matt Van Leeuwen from Bear Stearn’s servicing arm EMC.

Reports indicated on Thursday that Cuomo is pursuing a criminal investigation surrounding banks supplying bad information to rating agencies about the quality of the mortgages they signed off on. But so far he hasn’t been able to prove where in the chain of blame the due diligence for the ratings broke down.

What Cuomo needs to establish is: whose shoulders does it fall on to verify the information lenders were selling to investment banks about the quality of their loans? And who was ultimately responsible for the due diligence on the loans that created toxic mortgage securities that were at heart of our financial crisis?

False Information and the Grey Area

Employed during the go-go years of 2004-2006, and speaking in an interview taped by BlueChip Films for a documentary in final production called Confidence Game, Van Leeuwen sheds some light onto the shenanigans going on during the mortgage boom that might surprise even Cuomo. As a former mortgage analyst at Dallas-based EMC mortgage, which was wholly owned by Bear Stearns, he had first-hand experience working with Bear’s mortgage-backed securitization factory. EMC was the “third-party” firm Bear was using to vet the quality of loans that would purchase from banks like Countrywide and Wells Fargo.

Van Leeuwen says Bear traders pushed EMC analysts to get loan analysis done in only one to three days. That way, Bear could sell them off fast to eager investors and didn’t have carry the cost of holding these loans on their books.

According to two EMC analysts, they were encouraged to just make up data like FICO scores if the lenders they purchased loans in bulk from wouldn’t get back to them promptly. Every mortgage security Bear Stearns sold emanated out of EMC. The EMC analysts had the nitty-gritty loan-level data and knew better than anyone that the quality of loans began falling off a cliff in 2006. But as the cracks in lending standards were coming more evident the Bear traders in New York were pushing them to just get the data ready for the raters by any means necessary.

In another case, as more exotic loans were being created by lenders, the EMC analyst didn’t even know how to classify the documentation associated with the loan. This was a data point really important to the bonds ratings. When Bear would buy individual loans from lenders the EMC analyst said they couldn’t tell if it should be labeled a no-doc or full doc loan. Van Leeuwen explains, “I wasn’t allowed to make the decision for how to classify the documentation level of the loans. We’d call analysts in Bear’s New York office to get guidance.” Time was of the essence here. “So, a snap decision would be made up there (in NY) to code a documentation type without in-depth research of the lender’s documentation standards,” says Van Leeuwen.

Two EMC analysts said instead of spending time to go back to the lender and demand clarification, like if verification of income actually backed these loans, the executives at Bear would just make the loan type fit. Why? One EMC analyst explains, “from Bear’s perspective, we didn’t want to overpay for the loans, but we don’t want to waste the resources on deep investigation: that’s not how the company makes money. That’s not our competitive advantage — it eats into profits.”

Twenty Minutes for AAA

It’s easy to paint Bear as the only villain here — but what were the rating agencies thinking?

Susan Barnes of Standards and Poor’s testified before Congress last month saying banks like Bear were responsible for due diligence in the transactions described above: “For the system to function properly, the market must rely on participants to fulfill their roles and obligations to verify and validate information before they pass it on to others, including S&P.”

Yet, was it reasonable for agencies to stand behind ratings when due diligence was done by an affiliate of Bear? That’s like buying a car from a guy whose mechanic brother said it was great, and then finding out it was a lemon.

Equally amazing was how responsive the raters were even on the big deals. Van Leeuwen says, “The raters would provide a rating on a $1 billion security in 20-30 minutes.” Describing it as “a rubber stamp,” Van Leeuwen said that the ratings agencies slavish devotion to their computer models “was vital” because it allowed Bear to “cram mortgages through the process.”

The greatest asset Bear had in its quest to squeeze every ounce of profit from the mortgage-backed securities market was the methodology of the big ratings agencies. The bankers knew what kind of loan detail was needed to get that coveted AAA rating. After they prepped the rating agencies for what they ‘thought’ they loans would look like, they would buy loans in bulk, and then spend a day scrubbing them.

Bear’s decision to cut corners and to fail to take the time to make sure the raters got correct information about the quality of loans was big no-no. But rating bonds based on fast reactions, instead of thoughtful analysis and reliable due diligence, also might place some responsibility on the agencies’ shoulders.

Mortgage Meltdown: Chickens Coming Home to Roost

It might just be that “free market” forces are going to change the landscape forever.

What if other Fortune 500 companies involved in consumer finance, electronic funds transfer, insurance and foreign exchange decide that this huge credibility gap opens the door for their own entry into the market. McDonald’s once was surveyed as a brand name and 30% of the people surveyed said they would bank with McDonald’s over other established financial insitutions. GE is heavily invovled in global financial services. They might be better able to step in and provide a credible alternative that resinstates global confidence in the finanancial markets far better than the perpetrators of the latest financial  crimes against humanity.

Auction-Rate 
Debt Market 
Faces Probe

By LIZ RAPPAPORT
April 18, 2008; Page C1

Backlash is building against Wall Street for the credit crisis.

The latest case: New York state’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, has launched a broad investigation into auction-rate securities, instruments used by municipalities, schools, closed-end mutual funds and others to raise money.

[Andrew Cuomo]

Mr. Cuomo’s office sent subpoenas to 18 institutions on Monday and Tuesday seeking information on their auction-rate-securities, including some of Wall Street’s biggest, such asUBS AG, Citigroup Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., according to a person familiar with the investigation. The New York attorney general has plans to send out additional subpoenas soon, says the person.

The $330 billion auction-rate market virtually collapsed in February when demand for the securities dried up and Wall Street firms stopped providing the support for the market they’d given in the past.

When that happened, many issuers of the securities were faced with higher interest rates. Buyers of the securities — often wealthy clients of the brokerages and corporations — were left with instruments they thought were liquid but couldn’t sell.

Mr. Cuomo’s office considers the investigation an “industry case,” meaning officials are looking into all aspects of the auction-rate business — from what municipalities or other issuers were told about auction rates as methods of cheap financing all the way down to their distribution, sales and marketing to consumers who believed they were buying a safe and easily sold investment.

Jeff Tuller, a 55-year-old, commercial real-estate broker in New York City, says he can’t access his money. He says he placed $300,000 in auction-rate securities in an account with J.P. Morgan Chase in April 2007 and November last year. He tried to liquidate about $200,000 in February to pay down a mortgage on a house in the Hamptons on Long Island, but says he was told there were no bids for the auctions and his money was stuck.

“I was very upset,” he says.

J.P. Morgan Chase declined to comment.

Auction-rate securities are long-term instruments, but they have interest rates that reset weekly or monthly in a bidding process conducted by securities dealers. During a tumultuous February, investors stopped bidding in the auctions and the securities firms stopped stepping in with their own bids, as they had done in the past. Many bonds in failed auctions reset to higher interest rates. Others, depending on the terms of the bonds, reset to low rates.

State securities regulators are investigating auction-rate securities as well, the North American Securities Administrators Association announced Thursday in a press release. Their efforts will be coordinated through a task force led by Massachusetts Securities Division director Bryan Lantagne. The task force includes members from Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Texas and Washington, according to the release.

Wall Street firms, many of which reported yet another round of write-downs and losses in the first quarter, have attempted to address their often-wealthy clients’ woes. But, they have little capital available to work with, and they’re dealing with investors whose patience is wearing thin.

Several lawsuits seeking class-action status also have been filed thus far.

UBS, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup declined to comment. A Merrill Lynch spokesman said it declines to comment on regulatory matters except to say it is company policy to cooperate with any investigations.

Municipal-bond newspaper Bond Buyer reported on Mr. Cuomo’s investigation Wednesday.

Wall Street is facing backlash on many other fronts, from questions about how firms marketed and structured complex mortgage-backed securities to concerns about the high credit ratings attached to many of these instruments.

Write to Liz Rappaport at liz.rappaport@wsj.com1

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