Miami Sues JPMorgan Over Discriminatory Lending Practices

As further corroboration of the articles on this site and an infinite number of mainstream and not-so-mainstream sites, the banks sold mortgage bonds to investors under the presumption that the risk of loss was nearly zero. If done properly, securitization works. It gives a greater opportunity to more people to get home loan and other kinds of credit financing. And we now know that the primary target of many campaigns was to get new “customers” to take a loan (even if the bank wouldn’t give them a bank account) and in a huge number of cases consisted of those people who were faced with language, education and cultural challenges. Any fool would know that if you are going to do business who are restricted by such challenges, things are not likely to turn out as planned. The City of Miami thinks there is something wrong with that plan. So do I.

It is easy to see why scam artists would target such people. They are easy to convince because the con man convinces them he or she is trustworthy. The “customer” comes to rely on the seller for information about whatever it is he or she is selling. In conventional terms it might be selling insurance on a weekly payment basis or selling an annuity for a large down payment made from the proceeds of life insurance. The insurance turns out not to be real or, in less pernicious cases, the insurance doesn’t cover nearly what was promised by the seller. In any event the Seller makes money because the customer gives money to him or her. The money goes into his or her pocket and they are able to live off their ill-gotten gains.

All this gets a whole lot less obvious when the “seller” is trying to “give” money to the customer and have the customer sign loan papers. Why would anyone give up the money knowing that the loan has a larger risk of failing because the customer is challenged in some ways that make it less likely they will have employment, less likely they will have savings and less likely that they will be able to pay the interest, much less the principal amount “loaned?” It sounds like a fool’s errand — lending money to people who are not likely to pay the money back. And yet, the banks did exactly that and employed tens of thousands (10,000 convicted felons in Florida alone) to sell such loans.

The key question is not whether the banks did it to make money. The answer is obvious. Of course they were making money — but how when they were getting agreements to pay the loan from people who would never pay it back — often because after the teaser period was over it was obvious on its face that nobody in their financial circumstance could pay more than their entire household income? The only rational answer is that the banks had no risk and that they made all their money on the front end AND when the loan failed by betting against the loans they were selling to unsuspecting investors. And the only way they could pull off that maneuver is to intervene in the lending process such that the investor and borrower never meet up. And the only way they could avoid disgorgement of their illegally obtained profits from “proprietary trading” and “fees” is to foreclose on as many mortgages as possible.

So when you take the entire program on its face, you can see that foreclosure was an integral part of their profit model because it cuts off the rights of borrowers, investors, insurers etc. from demanding disgorgement of illegally obtained compensation that was never disclosed at closing — an absolute requirement under the Truth in Lending Act. And they knew the day would come when everything would collapse and the proof of that is that they were betting on exactly that to happen.

And they knew that they would be destroying documents, “losing” documents etc such that they would be fabricating those documents with such advanced technology that the borrower never realized that he was being shown a document he had never seen before, much less signed. And finally, they knew they would be fined and censured. No matter — they simply used investor money again to pay fines and damages that were caused by the banks put are being paid by still unsuspecting investors. (except for people like Vincent Fiorillo bond manager at DoubleLine who has had enough of this game).

The Miami suit needs to result in discovery that digs deep into the books of JPMorgan to see just how much money was made on each of those bad loans (bad for both the investors and the borrowers) to see just how much money they made, how they made it and how much they made. The results will astonish most casual observers. The bottom line is that the banks made profits that were higher than anytime in history but they weren’t really “profits.” They were proceeds of theft.

It should all be disgorged and the communities that were decimated by the Bank should be restored. That is the RIGHT thing, especially when you learn that many of the “loans” were the result of hard sell, midnight visits signing piles of documents the customer had no way of understanding and no opportunity to read even if they could understand them. Add to that the refi’s were really homes that were paid off or  nearly paid off. If they had just been left alone, the same people would have actual positive net worth and would never have faced foreclosure.

JPMorgan sued by Miami over mortgage discrimination

  • At issue are alleged predatory lending practices in minority neighborhoods since at least 2004 which Miami blames for causing waves of foreclosures in the housing bust. After issuing high-cost loans to minorities, JPMorgan (JPM -0.3%), says the city, refused to refinance on the same eased terms extended to others.
  • The lawsuit follows a similar one launched a few weeks ago by Los Angeles.  Wells Fargo, Citi, and BofA face similar charges.
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JPMorgan to Pay $13 BILLION in Mortgage Settlement: Which Homes are Affected?

The banks have paid tens of billions of dollars in settlements with Federal and State agencies and law enforcement. Where did the money go? But more importantly the real question arises out of the investigation and the question Elizabeth Warren keeps asking — which homes were found to have defective notes and mortgages as alleged by investors in their lawsuits against the investment banks? Which homes did the agency investigation find were foreclosed by parties who were strangers to the transaction. I agree with Sen. Warren who thinks that nothing could be more important to answer as required public informations hand the finding already made by investigators and admitted by the banks to be illegal Foreclosures on defective mortgage liens based on enforceable notes.

Practitioners should be filing requests for public information disclosures and issuing subpoenas to the investigators and agencies to find out what was revealed in the investigation. As Warren has already revealed, the number might be as high as 95%. Nobody wants to reveal the details because they all reveal what I have said all along — none, or nearly none of the the mortgages were actually securitized, none of those mortgages were ever valid liens on the property, none of the notes were enforceable, no money was due from the borrower to the banks trying to collect, none of the Foreclosures were legal, which means that legally all of the foreclosed homeowners still legally own their homes because the Foreclosures were void, not voidable.

Deutsch and Goldman Lose Bid to Dismiss FHFA Lawsuit for Fraud

What’s the Next Step? Consult with Neil Garfield

For assistance with presenting a case for wrongful foreclosure, please call 520-405-1688, customer service, who will put you in touch with an attorney in the states of Florida, California, Ohio, and Nevada. (NOTE: Chapter 11 may be easier than you think).

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Administrative Process May Provide a Lift to Borrowers

Editor’s Comment: Following on the heals of a similar ruling against JPMorgan Chase, Judge Denise Cote, denied the motion to dismiss the lawsuit of the Federal Housing Finance Agency that overseas Fannie and Freddie.

Simply put the agency is charging the investment banks with intentionally misrepresenting the underwriting standards that were in use during the mortgage meltdown. To put it more simply, the fraud we know that occurred at ground zero (the “closing” table) is being traced up the line to the banks that were pulling the strings and causing the fraud.

The allegations of course are insufficient in and of themselves to use as proof of anything. They are unproven allegations in a civil court suit in Federal Court in Manhattan. BUT there is an interesting argument to be made here that should not be ignored. I did a lot of work in administrative law when I was practicing full-time.

The procedure that any agency follows in filing such a lawsuit is something that should be pointed out when you are making arguments about fraud in the origination or assignments of loans.

In order for an agency to file suit, there must be a “finding” that the facts alleged in the complaint are true. In order for that to happen there must be an investigation and it must be brought before a committee or board for a finding of probable cause.

Normally the finding of probable cause would result in an administrative action brought before a hearing officer that would result in either acquittal of the offending suspect (respondent) or fines, penalties or even revocation of their right to do business with the agency or under the auspices of the agency.

Here the action is brought in civil court which must mean that the findings were strong enough to go beyond probable cause to establish in the findings of the agency that these violations did occur beyond a reasonable doubt. Hence, it could be argued, given the structure and process of administrative actions, that the investment banks have already been found by administrative agencies to be fraudulent.

Then you go to the facts alleged and see what those facts were (see article on JPMorgan denial of dismissal for copy of the complaint). Where there are similarities, you can allege the same thing and apply it to the origination of the loan and the so-called assignments and claims of securitization. AND you can say that there has already been an administrative finding that the fraud occurred, which is persuasive authority at a minimum.

In these cases the investment banks are accused of intentionally lying about the underwriting standards used in origination of the loans — something we have been saying here for  years.

That means it was no mistake that they failed to put the name of the real payee on the note and mortgage and it was no mistake that they failed to reference the REMIC or the pooling and servicing agreement which set the terms of repayment, sometimes in direct contradiction to the terms expressed in the note that they induced the borrower to sign. The information was intentionally withheld from the borrower and promptly used with Fannie and Freddie knowing ti was false, as to verifications of value, income viability etc. (see previous post).

In essence the FHFA is saying the same thing that the investors are saying, which is the same thing that the borrowers are saying — these origination documents are worthless scraps of paper replete with deficiencies, lies and misrepresentations, unsupported by consideration and unenforceable.

The defense of the investment banks is that they HAVE been enforcing the notes and mortgages (Deeds of trust). They are saying that since the courts have let most of the cases go to foreclosure, the documents must be valid and enforceable. If improper underwriting standards had been used, or more properly stated, if underwriting standards were ignored, then the borrower would have had a right to rescission, which the courts have largely rejected. It is circular reasoning but it works, for the most part when it is a single homeowner against a big bank.

But when it is institution against institution its not so easy to pull the wool over the judge’s eyes. AND unlike the borrowers, the FHFA is not plagued with guilt over whether they were stupid to begin with and therefore deserve the punishment of taking the largest loss of their lives.

The answer to that is that the banks were only able to “enforce” as a result of the ignorance of the judges, lawyers and borrowers as to the truth behind the facts of each loan origination, assignment etc.

By Jonathan Stempel, Reuters

A U.S. judge rejected bids by Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) and Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE) to dismiss a federal regulator’s lawsuits accusing them of misleading Fannie Mae (FNMA.OB) and Freddie Mac (FMCC.OB) into buying billions of dollars of risky mortgage debt.

In separate decisions on Monday, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in Manhattan said the Federal Housing Finance Agency may pursue fraud claims over some of the banks’ representations in offering materials regarding mortgage underwriting standards.

The FHFA had sued over certificates that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, known as government-sponsored enterprises, had bought between September 2005 and October 2007.

Goldman underwrote about $11.1 billion of the certificates, and Deutsche Bank roughly $14.2 billion, the regulator has said.

Michael DuVally, a Goldman spokesman, declined to comment, as did Deutsche Bank spokeswoman Renee Calabro. Trials in both cases are scheduled to begin in September 2014.

Last year, the FHFA filed 18 lawsuits against banks and finance companies over mortgage losses suffered by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on roughly $200 billion of securities.

Cote handles 16 of the lawsuits, and previously refused to dismiss its cases against Bank of America Corp’s (BAC.N) Merrill Lynch unit, JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) and UBS AG (UBSN.VX).

In her Deutsche Bank ruling, the judge said that while the offering materials said representations were “preliminary” and “subject to change,” their use suggested that the German bank “fully intended the GSEs to rely on” them.

Meanwhile, Cote rejected what she called Goldman’s “legally dubious” claim not to be liable over prospectus supplements it did not write, saying “it is difficult to square with the fact that the bank’s name is prominently displayed on each.”

She dismissed some claims over representations concerning owner-occupied homes and loan values.

The FHFA became the conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after federal regulators seized the mortgage financiers on September 7, 2008.

In May, Deutsche Bank agreed to pay $202.3 million in a separate federal probe, in which its MortgageIT unit admitted it had lied to the U.S. government over whether its loans were eligible for federal mortgage insurance.

Cote said it is too soon to decide liability over MortgageIT activity that predated its 2007 takeover by Deutsche Bank.

The cases are Federal Housing Finance Agency v. Deutsche Bank AG et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-06192; and Federal Housing Finance Agency v. Goldman Sachs & Co et al in the same court, No. 11-06198.

(Reporting By Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by John Wallace, Tim Dobbyn and M.D. Golan)

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.

OCC AND FEDERAL RESERVE DEMAND BANKS START REVIEW PROCESS ON OVER 4 MILLION LOANS

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“This is the ultimate discovery mechanism that the Banks have been avoiding for 6 years. If it is used properly, at the end of the day everyone will know everything they need to know — where the money came from and where it went, where the documents came from and where they went, who signed them and with what authority, with what knowledge etc. You can ask for proof of the formation and current existence of the trust, its status and an accounting from the Trust for money in and out. If the Banks are forced to actually give up this information both the investors and the borrowers are going to see exactly how they have been screwed.” Neil Garfield, livinglies.me

THE MORE INFORMATION YOU ALREADY HAVE (FROM THE COMBO TITLE AND SECURITIZATION REPORT, LOAN LEVEL ACCOUNTING, FORENSIC ANALYSIS ETC), THE MORE POINTED YOUR QUESTIONS. DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

SEE IMPORTANT WHITE PAPER: National Consumer Law Firm Servicers Why They Foreclose

YOU MUST WRITE DEMAND FOR REVIEW

EDITOR’S NOTE: In an important step (maybe), the Federal regulators are now showing their ire at the Banks who entered into consent decrees in which they were ordered to conduct thorough audits of the accounts they claim they service or own. The Banks have not done it for the same reason they have fought so hard to resist discovery attempts in court — the results will be devastating to the position of the Banks in their court filings, their SEC filings and their reports to regulators. There are several elements listed but the complete list of items are in the actual orders that are posted on this Blog and at OCC website.

A key component I think in this process is that you demand that they explain discrepancies that you have already found and that you ask them about other things that you believe apply to your loan. It is very much like a QWR. You can use the QWR form free on this blog as a form and adapt it. Get a lawyer to draft it and I would suggest that it go out under a lawyer’s letterhead. Make sure the lawyer is licensed in the jurisdiction in which the property is located.

The Banks are already behind schedule on this and they are continuing to stone wall — because in the past it has always worked with the agency accepting far less than what was ordered. You can make the difference by demanding answers and when you don’t get them reporting it to the OCC and Federal Reserve. But better yet, these documents and the method that was used to audit the accounts, must be made available to you. You can demand them from the servicer, the purported owner of the loan, the Federal reserve and the OCC (or OTS if that applies).

I would recommend that in your discovery you ask them to produce their responses to this requirement in the OCC orders, that you question them in interrogatories as to who is in charge of the audit process at the Bank, what their plan is (and provide a copy), who is involved in the audit process at the Bank, what independent consultants they have used — note that they all announced they would use independent consultants), requests for admission based upon their failure to comply with the OCC, OTS and Federal Reserve Consent Decrees, and notices for deposition of the people who are identified as being in charge of the audit process for the Bank. It isn’t enough that they say they outsourced it. Who at the Bank signed the outsource contract? What did the contract say and who has it? To whom does the outsource contractor report? You get the idea, I hope.

Whatever opposition the Bank raises to these questions and demands for discovery should be reported to the regulators as direct proof that the Banks are refusing to comply with the intent of the Order — which is to allow borrowers to know the facts about their mortgage loan — or to be more precise the facts about the origination and chain of events before, during and after the transaction in which their obligation arose.

Here are some questions I would like to see answered on each closing:

  1. Using UCC as guideline, who was the creditor at the time of the closing?
  2. Where did the money for the closing come from?
  3. Where did the money go (the money that was paid by borrower, by third parties, etc.)
  4. How much money was received from each category of insurance and credit enhancement? By whom was it received?
  5. What reports were issued to investors? What accounting?
  6. Relative to the initial money borrowed from investors, what is the current balance due to those investors? How was this figure determined? By whom?
  7. Is the Bank or Servicer claiming to be an agent of the investors?
  8. What entity is authorized to sign a satisfaction of mortgage (or release and reconveyance) by virtue of the fact that the amount due to that entity has been paid?
  9. What are the duties of the trustee with respect to foreclosure on your property?
  10. What fees and profits were paid to the servicer, trustees, and other third parties in connection with processing your loan origination, processing payments from all sources, and processing foreclosure?
  11. Have any documents been filed in court or in the title registry that contained signatures of people who were unauthroized to sign on behalf of the entity receiving the benefit of the document filed?
  12. Have any documents been filed in court or the title registry that contained the signatures of people who had no knowledge of the contents of the document or any data or information supporting the contents of the document?
  13. Have any documents been filed in court or the title registry that contained information that was untrue? OK, how about information that the servicer or Bank doesn’t know if it was true or not?
  14. What is the procedure by which information was obtained to initiate foreclosure? Who was in charge of that?
  15. What is the procedure by which information was obtained to draft affidavits filed in court? who was in charge of that?
  16. What is the procedure by which modifications are considered? Who is in charge of that?
  17. What evidence exists that the investors were told of the existence of a modification offer?
  18. What method was used to evaluate the relative merits of foreclosure versus modification? By whom?
  19. What are the financial reasons for turning down a modification or short-sale? How is that determined? By whom?
  20. What are the legal reasons for turning down a modification or short-sale? How is that determined? By whom?

Regulators Begin Offering Foreclosure Reviews to Borrowers

By Lorraine Woellert

(Updates with industry and regulator comments starting in the sixth paragraph.)

Nov. 1 (Bloomberg) — U.S. mortgage servicers have begun offering case reviews to borrowers who may have suffered financial injury from errors and misrepresentations during foreclosure proceedings in 2009 and 2010, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

The reviews, announced by the OCC in a statement today, are required under a settlement regulators reached with 14 of the biggest mortgage-servicing firms to resolve complaints over mishandled home seizures. The OCC was joined by the Federal Reserve and the Office of Thrift Supervision in the reaching the April accord with companies including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co.

The companies have hired independent consultants to review foreclosure actions to determine whether borrowers were harmed and recommend appropriate remediation where necessary, the OCC said today. Letters explaining the review process are being sent to an estimated 4.5 million eligible borrowers, who may request reviews through April 30, 2012, the agency said.

“The challenge is substantial, but the steps we have required the servicers to take are vitally important to resolving these issues in a way that respects the rights of those who have been harmed and helps to restore confidence in the system,” John Walsh, acting Comptroller of the Currency, said in the OCC’s statement.

A record 2.87 million homeowners received foreclosure filings in 2010, surpassing the 2.82 million total for 2009, according to Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac Inc.

The first letters went out today, according to Joe Evers, the OCC’s deputy comptroller for large banks. Borrowers also can request a review at www.independentforeclosurereview.com.

Mortgage servicers will run an advertising campaign later this year and work with housing counselors to get word out to eligible borrowers, said Paul Leonard, a Financial Services Roundtable lobbyist who is serving as a spokesman for the firms.

It’s impossible to predict how many borrowers might be awarded compensation or when they might receive it, Leonard said today on a conference call. Regulators will make the final decision on whether borrowers have suffered harm and the amount of any remediation, he said.

The Fed and the OCC, which absorbed the OTS in July, haven’t offered said what might constitute harm to borrowers. Consultants will review company records and homeowner information to make decisions about compensation, according to Evers.

“Between the two sets of information, they should be able to determine if there’s injury or harm,” he told reporters on a conference call.

Robo-signing

Companies are being required to conduct the reviews under terms of the consent agreement they reached with regulators to resolve claims that they botched foreclosure paperwork amid the wave of foreclosures stemming from the subprime mortgage crisis. Reports of document robo-signing prompted several lenders to temporarily suspend foreclosures last year.

Servicers signing the accords included JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup, Ally Financial Inc.’s GMAC unit, Aurora Bank FSB, EverBank Financial Corp., HSBC Holdings Plc, OneWest, MetLife Inc., PNC Financial Services Group Inc., Sovereign Bank, SunTrust Banks Inc. and US Bancorp.

In addition to compensating harmed borrowers, the banks agreed to improve their foreclosure, loan modification and refinancing procedures by hiring staff, upgrading tracking systems, assigning each borrower a single point of contact, and policing lawyers and vendors.

State attorneys general and the U.S. Justice Department are continuing their own talks with servicers to seek additional relief for homeowners.

–Editor: Gregory Mott

To contact the reporter on this story: Lorraine Woellert in Washington at lwoellert@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lawrence Roberts at lroberts13@bloomberg.net

FRAUD: The Significance of the Game Changing FHFA Lawsuits

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FHFA ACCUSES BANKS OF FRAUD: THEY KNEW THEY WERE LYING

“FHFA has refrained from sugar coating the banks’ alleged conduct as mere inadvertence, negligence, or recklessness, as many plaintiffs have done thus far.  Instead, it has come right out and accused certain banks of out-and-out fraud.  In particular, FHFA has levied fraud claims against Countrywide (and BofA as successor-in-interest), Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan (including EMC, WaMu and Long Beach), Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch (including First Franklin as sponsor), and Morgan Stanley (including Credit Suisse as co-lead underwriter).  Besides showing that FHFA means business, these claims demonstrate that the agency has carefully reviewed the evidence before it and only wielded the sword of fraud against those banks that it felt actually were aware of their misrepresentations.”

It is no stretch to say that Friday, September 2 was the most significant day for mortgage crisis litigation since the onset of the crisis in 2007.  That Friday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), as conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, sued almost all of the world’s largest banks in 17 separate lawsuits, covering mortgage backed securities with original principal balances of roughly $200 billion.  Unless you’ve been hiking in the Andes over the last two weeks, you have probably heard about these suits in the mainstream media.  But here at the Subprime Shakeout, I like to dig a bit deeper.  The following is my take on the most interesting aspects of these voluminous complaints (all available here) from a mortgage litigation perspective.

Throwing the Book at U.S. Banks

The first thing that jumps out to me is the tenacity and aggressiveness with which FHFA presents its cases.  In my last post (Number 1 development), I noted that FHFA had just sued UBS over $4.5 billion in MBS.  While I noted that this signaled a shift in Washington’s “too-big-to-fail” attitude towards banks, my biggest question was whether the agency would show the same tenacity in going after major U.S. banks.  Well, it’s safe to say the agency has shown the same tenacity and then some.

FHFA has refrained from sugar coating the banks’ alleged conduct as mere inadvertence, negligence, or recklessness, as many plaintiffs have done thus far.  Instead, it has come right out and accused certain banks of out-and-out fraud.  In particular, FHFA has levied fraud claims against Countrywide (and BofA as successor-in-interest), Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan (including EMC, WaMu and Long Beach), Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch (including First Franklin as sponsor), and Morgan Stanley (including Credit Suisse as co-lead underwriter).  Besides showing that FHFA means business, these claims demonstrate that the agency has carefully reviewed the evidence before it and only wielded the sword of fraud against those banks that it felt actually were aware of their misrepresentations.

Further, FHFA has essentially used every bit of evidence at its disposal to paint an exhaustive picture of reckless lending and misleading conduct by the banks.  To support its claims, FHFA has drawn from such diverse sources as its own loan reviews, investigations by the SEC, congressional testimony, and the evidence presented in other lawsuits (including the bond insurer suits that were also brought by Quinn Emanuel).  Finally, where appropriate, FHFA has included successor-in-interest claims against banks such as Bank of America (as successor to Countrywide but, interestingly, not to Merrill Lynch) and J.P. Morgan (as successor to Bear Stearns and WaMu), which acquired potential liability based on its acquisition of other lenders or issuers and which have tried and may in the future try to avoid accepting those liabilities.    In short, FHFA has thrown the book at many of the nation’s largest banks.

FHFA has also taken the virtually unprecedented step of issuing a second press release after the filing of its lawsuits, in which it responds to the “media coverage” the suits have garnered.  In particular, FHFA seeks to dispel the notion that the sophistication of the investor has any bearing on the outcome of securities law claims – something that spokespersons for defendant banks have frequently argued in public statements about MBS lawsuits.  I tend to agree that this factor is not something that courts should or will take into account under the express language of the securities laws.

The agency’s press release also responds to suggestions that these suits will destabilize banks and disrupt economic recovery.  To this, FHFA responds, “the long-term stability and resilience of the nation’s financial system depends on investors being able to trust that the securities sold in this country adhere to applicable laws. We cannot overlook compliance with such requirements during periods of economic difficulty as they form the foundation for our nation’s financial system.”  Amen.

This response to the destabilization argument mirrors statements made by Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), both in a letter urging these suits before they were filed and in a conference call praising the suits after their filing.  In particular, Miller has said that failing to pursue these claims would be “tantamount to another bailout” and akin to an “indirect subsidy” to the banking industry.  I agree with these statements – of paramount importance in restarting the U.S. housing market is restoring investor confidence, and this means respecting contract rights and the rule of law.   If investors are stuck with a bill for which they did not bargain, they will be reluctant to invest in U.S. housing securities in the future, increasing the costs of homeownership for prospective homeowners and/or taxpayers.

You can find my recent analysis of Rep. Miller’s initial letter to FHFA here under Challenge No. 3.  The letter, which was sent in response to the proposed BofA/BoNY settlement of Countrywide put-back claims, appears to have had some influence.

Are Securities Claims the New Put-Backs?

The second thing that jumps out to me about these suits is that FHFA has entirely eschewed put-backs, or contractual claims, in favor of securities law, blue sky law, and tort claims.  This continues a trend that began with the FHLB lawsuits and continued through the recent filing by AIG of its $10 billion lawsuit against BofA/Countrywide of plaintiffs focusing on securities law claims when available.  Why are plaintiffs such as FHFA increasingly turning to securities law claims when put-backs would seem to benefit from more concrete evidence of liability?

One reason may be the procedural hurdles that investors face when pursuing rep and warranty put-backs or repurchases.  In general, they must have 25% of the voting rights for each deal on which they want to take action.  If they don’t have those rights on their own, they must band together with other bondholders to reach critical mass.  They must then petition the Trustee to take action.  If the Trustee refuses to help, the investor may then present repurchase demands on individual loans to the originator or issuer, but must provide that party with sufficient time to cure the defect or repurchase each loan before taking action.  Only if the investor overcomes these steps and the breaching party fails to cure or repurchase will the investor finally have standing to sue.

All of those steps notwithstanding, I have long argued that put-back claims are strong and valuable because once you overcome the initial procedural hurdles, it is a fairly straightforward task to prove whether an individual loan met or breached the proper underwriting guidelines and representations.  Recent statistical sampling rulings have also provided investors with a shortcut to establishing liability – instead of having to go loan-by-loan to prove that each challenged loan breached reps and warranties, investors may now use a statistically significant sample to establish the breach rate in an entire pool.

So, what led FHFA to abandon the put-back route in favor of filing securities law claims?  For one, the agency may not have 25% of the voting rights in all or even a majority of the deals in which it holds an interest.  And due to the unique status of the agency as conservator and the complex politics surrounding these lawsuits, it may not have wanted to band together with private investors to pursue its claims.

Another reason may be that the FHFA has had trouble obtaining loan files, as has been the case for many investors.  These files are usually necessary before even starting down the procedural path outlined above, and servicers have thus far been reluctant to turn these files over to investors.  But this is even less likely to be the limiting factor for FHFA.  With subpoena power that extends above and beyond that of the ordinary investor, the government agency may go directly to the servicers and demand these critical documents.  This they’ve already done, having sent 64 subpoenas to various market participants over a year ago.  While it’s not clear how much cooperation FHFA has received in this regard, the numerous references in its complaints to loan level reviews suggest that the agency has obtained a large number of loan files.  In fact, FHFA has stated that these lawsuits were the product of the subpoenas, so they must have uncovered a fair amount of valuable information.

Thus, the most likely reason for this shift in strategy is the advantage offered by the federal securities laws in terms of the available remedies.  With the put-back remedy, monetary damages are not available.  Instead, most Pooling and Servicing Agreements (PSAs) stipulate that the sole remedy for an incurable breach of reps and warranties is the repurchase or substitution of that defective loan.  Thus, any money shelled out by offending banks would flow into the Trust waterfall, to be divided amongst the bondholders based on seniority, rather than directly into the coffers of FHFA (and taxpayers).  Further, a plaintiff can only receive this remedy on the portion of loans it proves to be defective.  Thus, it cannot recover its losses on defaulted loans for which no defect can be shown.

In contrast, the securities law remedy provides the opportunity for a much broader recovery – and one that goes exclusively to the plaintiff (thus removing any potential freerider problems).  Should FHFA be able to prove that there was a material misrepresentation in a particular oral statement, offering document, or registration statement issued in connection with a Trust, it may be able to recover all of its losses on securities from that Trust.  Since a misrepresentation as to one Trust was likely repeated as to all of an issuers’ MBS offerings, that one misrepresentation can entitle FHFA to recover all of its losses on all certificates issued by that particular issuer.

The defendant may, however, reduce those damages by the amount of any loss that it can prove was caused by some factor other than its misrepresentation, but the burden of proof for this loss causation defense is on the defendant.  It is much more difficult for the defendant to prove that a loss was caused by some factor apart from its misrepresentation than to argue that the plaintiff hasn’t adequately proved causation, as it can with most tort claims.

Finally, any recovery is paid directly to the bondholder and not into the credit waterfall, meaning that it is not shared with other investors and not impacted by the class of certificate held by that bondholder.  This aspect alone makes these claims far more attractive for the party funding the litigation.  Though FHFA has not said exactly how much of the $200 billion in original principal balance of these notes it is seeking in its suits, one broker-dealer’s analysis has reached a best case scenario for FHFA of $60 billion flowing directly into its pockets.

There are other reasons, of course, that FHFA may have chosen this strategy.  Though the remedy appears to be the most important factor, securities law claims are also attractive because they may not require the plaintiff to present an in-depth review of loan-level information.  Such evidence would certainly bolster FHFA’s claims of misrepresentations with respect to loan-level representations in the offering materials (for example, as to LTV, owner occupancy or underwriting guidelines), but other claims may not require such proof.  For example, FHFA may be able to make out its claim that the ratings provided in the prospectus were misrepresented simply by showing that the issuer provided rating agencies with false data or did not provide rating agencies with its due diligence reports showing problems with the loans.  One state law judge has already bought this argument in an early securities law suit by the FHLB of Pittsburgh.  Being able to make out these claims without loan-level data reduces the plaintiff’s burden significantly.

Finally, keep in mind that simply because FHFA did not allege put-back claims does not foreclose it from doing so down the road.  Much as Ambac amended its complaint to include fraud claims against JP Morgan and EMC, FHFA could amend its claims later to include causes of action for contractual breach.  FHFA’s initial complaints were apparently filed at this time to ensure that they fell within the shorter statute of limitations for securities law and tort claims.  Contractual claims tend to have a longer statute of limitations and can be brought down the road without fear of them being time-barred (see interesting Subprime Shakeout guest post on statute of limitations concerns.

Predictions

Since everyone is eager to hear how all this will play out, I will leave you with a few predictions.  First, as I’ve predicted in the past, the involvement of the U.S. Government in mortgage litigation will certainly embolden other private litigants to file suit, both by providing political cover and by providing plaintiffs with a roadmap to recovery.  It also may spark shareholder suits based on the drop in stock prices suffered by many of these banks after statements in the media downplaying their mortgage exposure.

Second, as to these particular suits, many of the defendants likely will seek to escape the harsh glare of the litigation spotlight by settling quickly, especially if they have relatively little at stake (the one exception may be GE, which has stated that it will vigorously oppose the suit, though this may be little more than posturing).  The FHFA, in turn, is likely also eager to get some of these suits settled quickly, both so that it can show that the suits have merit with benchmark settlements and also so that it does not have to fight legal battles on 18 fronts simultaneously.  It will likely be willing to offer defendants a substantial discount against potential damages if they come to the table in short order.

Meanwhile, the banks with larger liability and a more precarious capital situation will be forced to fight these suits and hope to win some early battles to reduce the cost of settlement.  Due to the plaintiff-friendly nature of these claims, I doubt many will succeed in winning motions to dismiss that dispose entirely of any case, but they may obtain favorable evidentiary rulings or dismissals on successor-in-interest claims.  Still, they may not be able to settle quickly because the price tag, even with a substantial discount, will be too high.

On the other hand, trial on these cases would be a publicity nightmare for the big banks, not to mention putting them at risk a massive financial wallop from the jury (fraud claims carry with them the potential for punitive damages).  Thus, these cases will likely end up settling at some point down the road.  Whether that’s one year or four years from now is hard to say, but from what I’ve seen in mortgage litigation, I’d err on the side of assuming a longer time horizon for the largest banks with the most at stake.

Article taken from The Subprime Shakeout – www.subprimeshakeout.com
URL to article: the-government-giveth-and-it-taketh-away-the-significance-of-the-game-changing-fhfa-lawsuits.html

GLOVES OFF? Massive Wave Of Lawsuits To Be Filed By The US Against America’s Biggest Banks

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ANOTHER BANK BAILOUT???

Massive Wave Of Lawsuits To Be Filed By The US Against America’s Biggest Banks As Soon As Tomorrow

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 09/01/2011 22:30 -0400

FROM www.zerohedge.com

In a move that could either send BAC stock limit down overnight or send it soaring (we are still trying to figure out just what is going on here), the NYT has broken major news that the US is preparing to go nuclear on more than a dozen big banks among which Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, in an attempt for Fannie and Freddie to recoup $30 billion if not much more. The lawsuit is expected to hit the docket in the next few days: “The suits stem from subpoenas the finance agency issued to banks a year ago. If the case is not filed Friday, they said, it will come Tuesday, shortly before a deadline expires for the housing agency to file claims.” Now, taken at face value, this would mean that Bank of America can kiss its ass goodbye as unlike the Walnut Place litigation, this will take place in Federal Court where Article 77 is not applicable. Yet there is something that gives us pause: namely logic, captured by the following words: “While I believe that F.H.F.A. is acting responsibly in its role as conservator, I am afraid that we risk pushing these guys off of a cliff and we’re going to have to bail out the banks again,” said Tim Rood, who worked at Fannie Mae until 2006 and is now a partner at the Collingwood Group, which advises banks and servicers on housing-related issues.” In other words: if the banks are sued, and if justice prevails, the end of the world is nigh and cue TARP 2 – XXX. Now where have we heard that argument over, and over, and over before.

From the NYT:

The suits will argue the banks, which assembled the mortgages and marketed them as securities to investors, failed to perform the due diligence required under securities law and missed evidence that borrowers’ incomes were inflated or falsified. When many borrowers were unable to pay their mortgages, the securities backed by the mortgages quickly lost value.

Fannie and Freddie lost more than $30 billion, in part as a result of the deals, losses that were borne mostly by taxpayers.

In July, the agency filed suit against UBS, another major mortgage securitizer, seeking to recover at least $900 million, and the individuals with knowledge of the case said the new litigation would be similar in scope.

Private holders of mortgage securities are already trying to force the big banks to buy back tens of billions in soured mortgage-backed bonds, but this federal effort is a new chapter in a huge legal fight that has alarmed investors in bank shares. In this case, rather than demanding that the banks buy back the original loans, the finance agency is seeking reimbursement for losses on the securities held by Fannie and Freddie.

The prestory is by now known by everyone:

Besides the angry investors, 50 state attorneys general are in the final stages of negotiating a settlement to address abuses by the largest mortgage servicers, including Bank of America, JPMorgan and Citigroup. The attorneys general, as well as federal officials, are pressing the banks to pay at least $20 billion in that case, with much of the money earmarked to reduce mortgages of homeowners facing foreclosure.

And last month, the insurance giant American International Group filed a $10 billion suit against Bank of America, accusing the bank and its Countrywide Financial and Merrill Lynch units of misrepresenting the quality of mortgages that backed the securities A.I.G. bought.

Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan all declined to comment. Frank Kelly, a spokesman for Deutsche Bank, said, “We can’t comment on a suit that we haven’t seen and hasn’t been filed yet.”

The response? Why Paulson-esque Mutual Assured Destruction:

But privately, financial service industry executives argue that the losses on the mortgage-backed securities were caused by a broader downturn in the economy and the housing market, not by how the mortgages were originated or packaged into securities. In addition, they contend that investors like A.I.G. as well as Fannie and Freddie were sophisticated and knew the securities were not without risk.

Investors fear that if banks are forced to pay out billions of dollars for mortgages that later defaulted, it could sap earnings for years and contribute to further losses across the financial services industry, which has only recently regained its footing.

The total litigation amount will not be in the trillions… but will certainly be in the tens if not hundreds of billions.

While the banks put together tens of billions of dollars in mortgage securities backed by risky loans, the Federal Housing Finance Agency is not seeking the total amount in compensation because some of the mortgages are still good and the investments still carry some value. In the UBS suit, the agency said it owned $4.5 billion worth of mortgages, with losses totaling $900 million. Negotiations between the agency and UBS have yielded little progress.

Bottom line: the gloves are coming off, and while we want to believe that this is the final nail in BAC’s coffin (Quinn Emanuel is counsel for the FHFA), we do have a nagging feeling that the US will not purposefully do everything in its power to destroy its banking sector.

BLOOMBERG: HOA V BOA: Homeowner Associations Step Up the Pressure on Banks

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Homeowner Associations Wake Up to Collections and Profit!!

FORECLOSING ON THE BANK!!

EDITOR’S COMMENT: Becker and Poliakoff in South Florida is probably the largest law firm representing homeowner associations in the U.S. Once upon a time I was a competitor in Florida when I represented several hundred associations. It was Becker, Poliakoff and Streitfeld until Jeffrey Streitfeld went on the Bench to become a Circuit Judge — and I might add, one of the best.

Some time ago I predicted that homeowner associations would wake up to the realities:

  1. The banks have a strategy where they don’t officially take responsibility for the property until they are forced to do so. They do this because they don’t want to pay HOA dues, maintenance and special assessments. They also avoid taxes sometimes, but that is a different  ball of wax. 
  2. Associations are realizing that they have rights to collect on homes where the homeowners dues, maintenance payments and special assessments have not been paid while the bank is the de facto owner of the property. 
  3. In many cases, when confronted with an aggressive and knowledgeable law firm, long steeped in HOA matters, the bank simply folds, pays up and everyone goes on their way. But in other cases, the bank still drags their feet leading to both a solution and an opportunity for the association: FORECLOSURE ON THE BANK. And Becker and Poliakoff and other attorneys representing associations have caught onto the fact that there is money in those mountains of paper. 
  4. As shown below, foreclosing on the banks not only recovers money where the bank finally pays up, but actually results in the sheriffs sale of the property at a legitimate auction in which the association need only bid the amount of its lien. Some people don’t realize that the lien of the association for unpaid dues, maintenance or special assessments is a perfected lien, if filed properly, and subject tot he exact same foreclosure process as any mortgage.
  5. When the bank pays, they pay interest, costs of filing, and attorney fees, which is a big ouch.
  6. When they don’t pay, the association gets a declaration from the Judge that the property is owned de facto by the bank, and then enters a final judgment of foreclosure, which results in the sale.
  7. If the Association is the winning bidder, they get the house. So if the unpaid dues are $10,000, the association gets it. And if the house even in a down market is worth $80,000, the Association turns around, sells the property at an attractive distressed price, nets $70,000 which can do a lot to correct their budget and to wash out the unpaid assessments on that particular condo, town-home, coop or HOA dwelling unit. There are some wrinkles here, but I don’t want to give the banks any help.
  8. This is why I have suggested that distressed homeowners actually partner with the associations in the foreclosure of their own home. Under the right configuration of facts and documents and pleadings and judgment, the homeowner can strip the mortgages (which are probably invalid anyway) as an encumbrance on their residential dwelling unit. The homeowner can exercise a right of redemption after the foreclosure sale eliminated the non-creditor pretender lenders from the title chain, pay off the HOA balance, and start paying dues, maintenance and special assessments. I suspect that Becker and Poliakoff is headed exactly in that direction and I applaud them for it.

Homeowner Associations in Need of Cash Sue to Force Foreclosures

By John Gittelsohn – Aug 23, 2011 9:01 PM MT

Ben Solomon, an attorney with Association Law Group, left, and Jane Losson, a board member of the Vintage East Condominium Association, stand for a photograph in Miami Beach, Florida. Photographer: Mark Elias/Bloomberg

Ben Solomon, an attorney with Association Law Group stands for a photograph while Jane Losson, a board member of the Vintage East Condominium Association, talks on the phone in the kitchen of repossessed unit in Miami Beach, Florida. Photographer: Mark Elias/Bloomberg

Members of the Vintage East Condominium Association in Miami Beach got tired of waiting for JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) to foreclose on unit 9, so they sued the bank in February to take control of the property.

In June, more than four years after the owner stopped making payments, a judge ruled that JPMorgan lost its claim to the $144,000 mortgage. The apartment is now on the market for $87,500, and the association may stave off insolvency with proceeds from the sale and a new owner who pays monthly dues, said Jane Losson, a board member at the complex. Four of the 11 other owners at the property are also behind on dues.

“I find it an outrage that the bank had decided to do nothing and the other owners got stuck,” Losson, who’s had her Vintage East condo since 2004, said in a telephone interview. “If we get this unit sold, we’ll have a little money.”

Financially troubled condo associations are taking banks to court as foreclosure delays enable delinquent homeowners to stay in their buildings for years, often without paying dues that keep boards running. The groups start by pressuring lenders to speed up home seizures and take over payment of the monthly fees. In extreme situations, like the Vintage East case, associations may force banks to give up rights to the property.

“The lenders are stalling foreclosures,” Ben Solomon, the Miami Beach attorney for the Vintage East association, said in a telephone interview. “Our complaints say the banks abandoned their interest and either need to accept responsibility for the title or walk away.”

‘Mortgage Terminator’

Solomon, whose Association Law Group represented homeowner boards in 16 Florida counties with 15,000 delinquent owners, also won what he calls “mortgage terminator” lawsuits in claims against Bank of America Corp. (BAC), Citigroup Inc. (C), Deutsche Bank AG (DB) and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), according to court records.

About 60 million people, or one in five Americans, live in residences with condo or homeowner associations, according to the Community Associations Institute, a trade group in Falls Church, Virginia. States with some of the highest foreclosure rates — Florida, Nevada, California and Arizona — are also among those with the biggest share of populations in homeowner associations, said Frank Rathbun, spokesman for the 30,000- member trade group. The associations maintain residents’ common interests such as parking lots, roofs, landscaping and trash removal.

“About 50 percent of our members said the housing crisis and economic downturn have had a severe or serious impact on their association,” Rathbun said in a telephone interview.

Pushing Banks

About one in three Californians live in that state’s 45,000 condo and homeowner associations, said Kelly Richardson, an attorney who specializes in homeowner association law.

“Banks have been slow catching up to reality,” Richardson, with the firm of Richardson Harman Ober PC in Pasadena, said in a telephone interview. “When pushed, they’ll step up to the plate, but you have to push them.”

In Nevada — the state with the highest rate of foreclosure filings, according to RealtyTrac Inc. — delinquent homeowners owe associations about $150 million in back dues, said Steven Parker, president of Red Rock Financial Services, which collects debts for associations in Nevada and five other states.

“It’s probably at least $1 billion for the whole country,” Parker, whose company is a unit of FirstService Corp. (FSV), said in a telephone interview from Las Vegas. “Prior to foreclosure, we get almost nothing from banks. After the foreclosure, probably 30 percent of what we’re collecting is from banks.”

Drop in Foreclosures

U.S. foreclosure filings — notices of default, auction or seizure — fell to their lowest level in almost four years in July, as lenders and government agencies increased efforts to keep delinquent borrowers in their homes and paperwork delays slowed repossessions, RealtyTrac reported Aug. 11.

Filings have plunged for 10 straight months after state attorneys general began probing a practice known as “robo- signing,” in which lenders and servicers pushed through default documents without verifying their accuracy. The decline has been steepest in Florida and other so-called judicial states that require courts to approve foreclosures.

The bank delays have left homes in the delinquency process longer. U.S. homeowners facing foreclosure averaged 587 days without making a mortgage payment in June, up from 251 days in January 2008, according to Lender Processing Services Inc. (LPS), a real estate information company in Jacksonville, Florida.

Florida Delinquencies

In Florida, where 14 percent of homes with a mortgage have a foreclosure notice, the average delinquent borrower hadn’t made a payment for 719 days, or almost two years, LPS data show.

As of June 30, 18.68 percent of home loans in Florida were more than three months delinquent or in foreclosure, the most of any state and more than double the U.S. average of 7.85 percent, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported this week.

“Florida’s numbers continue to drive national numbers,” Jay Brinkmann, chief economist of the Washington-based trade group, said at an Aug. 22 news conference.

Banks often hold off on a foreclosure as long as they can to avoid paying dues, property taxes and occupancy costs, said John Rickel, chief executive officer of Association Dues Assurance Corp., a St. Clair Shores, Michigan, company that collects fees for community associations in 20 states.

“We probably have 100 to 300 banks that we’re trying to collect from right at the moment,” Rickel said in a telephone interview. “We’re always 100 percent successful in collecting against banks because they do have the funds available.”

Limiting Collections

Associations’ rights vary based on state law. In Nevada, the groups have “super priority,” which means they can collect up to nine months of back dues plus costs when a residence sells, even after a foreclosure. In other states, such as Arizona, homeowner associations can sue to garnish wages of delinquent residents, even if they have lost the property.

Florida law limits homeowner associations from collecting more than 12 months of back dues or 1 percent of the outstanding mortgage, whichever is less, after a foreclosure. That cap often doesn’t apply to banks, said Frank Silcox, president of LM Funding LLC, a Tampa, Florida-based company that advances cash to condo associations in exchange for the lien rights on past- due accounts.

“Our attorneys look for a reason the foreclosing bank isn’t entitled to the minimum,” Silcox said in a telephone interview. “Nine out of 10 times, we get the bank to pay.”

In one Miami Beach condo case, LM Funding collected $52,000 — counting late fees, 18 percent interest and collection costs — instead of about $3,000 the bank would have paid under the state limit, he said.

$148,000 in Dues

About 40 percent of LM Funding’s collections come from banks, with the balance from individual homeowners and through short sales, when the lender agrees to sell a property for less than the mortgage balance, Silcox said.

Bonnie Jordan, manager of the Bermuda Dunes Condo Residence Association in Orlando, said LM Funding advanced her $150,000 and recovered an additional $148,000 in back dues, helping the 336-unit development pay its bills after owners of 115 units went into foreclosure.

“We had $375,000 in bad debt,” said Jordan, whose complex charges monthly fees of $250 to $357. “LM Funding is recouping every dime for us.”

While banks present a potentially lucrative source of delinquent dues, they’re also a challenging target because they use legal tactics to prolong the foreclosure process, said Ellen Hirsch de Haan, an attorney with Becker & Poliakoff PA in Clearwater, Florida, who represents homeowner associations.

Canceling Hearings

“The banks are setting and then canceling hearings before the final judgment is eventually entered,” she said in an e- mail, “then setting and canceling the sale date, then failing to record the certificate of title, thereby postponing the actual transfer of title to the bank for months, or even years.”

Bank of America, with 1.1 million mortgages at least 90 days delinquent, addresses non-performing loans as fast as possible while complying with the law, Jumana Bauwens, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank, wrote in an e-mail. Bank of America loans in which borrowers were at least three months late were valued at $32.5 billion as of March 31, up from $26.97 billion a year earlier, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data compiled by Bloomberg.

“After exhausting all home-retention efforts, it is in the best interest of servicers and investors to move the foreclosure process along while abiding by Florida laws,” Bauwens said in the e-mail. “On average, homeowners are delinquent 18 months prior to a foreclosure sale. In judicial states like Florida, the process is longer.”

Bank Trustees

To compel banks to act, Solomon’s lawsuits start by suing the homeowner for unpaid dues as a way of seeking title to the property. Then he files a claim against the bank, contending the non-performing loan restricts the association’s right to sell the property because the mortgage is worth more than the home.

The bank defendant is usually a trustee for the loan that was sold into a mortgage-backed security, a legal structure that can leave the party responsible for a mortgage unclear.

Citigroup and Deutsche Bank declined to challenge lawsuits brought by Solomon because both banks were trustees, not the servicers of the delinquent loans, bank representatives said.

In March 2010, Citigroup lost a lawsuit over a Miami Beach condo with a $136,000 mortgage, according to court filings. Danielle Romero-Apsilos, a spokeswoman for the New York-based bank, declined to comment, saying Citigroup wasn’t the servicer.

Deutsche Bank

Deutsche Bank in September forfeited its right to a unit with a $149,300 mortgage to the Palm Aire Gardens Condominium Association Inc. in Pompano Beach, Florida.

“Litton Loan Servicing, the loan servicer for the loan, and not Deutsche Bank as trustee, was responsible for all foreclosure activity relating to the loan,” John Gallagher, a Deutsche Bank spokesman in New York, said in an e-mail.

Donna Marie Jendritza, a spokeswoman for Litton in Houston, declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing privacy restrictions. Litton, which Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is selling to Ocwen Financial Corp., wasn’t named in the complaint or other court documents.

“We sue whoever holds the mortgage,” Solomon said. “The bottom line is the bank had a loan and the mortgage got terminated.”

No Defense

Palm Aire Gardens also won title to a unit with a $184,410 mortgage after Wells Fargo failed to mount a defense because it no longer owned the loan, a transfer that wasn’t reflected in property records, said Tom Goyda, a spokesman. The bank would have defended the mortgage if it hadn’t sold the loan, he said.

The San Francisco-based bank had $9.6 billion in mortgages more than 90 days delinquent and $11.4 billion in non-performing mortgages on one- to four-family homes as of June 30, Goyda said.

JPMorgan, the lender in the Vintage East case, had $2.5 billion in second-quarter costs tied to faulty mortgages and foreclosures, it reported July 14.

“There have been so many flaws in mortgages that it’s been an unmitigated disaster,” Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said in a conference call that day. “We just really need to clean it up for the sake of everybody. And everybody is going to sue everybody else, and it’s going to go on for a long time.”

Vintage East

Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan in Chicago, declined to comment on the Vintage East lawsuit or other cases in which the bank lost properties to homeowner associations.

The bank’s mortgage at Vintage East was on a studio apartment with $24,000 in unpaid back dues, said Losson, the board member. Other residents of the Art Deco complex, built in 1937 two blocks from the beach, loaned the association money to pay for roof and building repairs and wrote personal checks to cover insurance payments, she said.

“We’re still in precarious condition, but we can see our way out now,” said Losson, who estimated the condo association was owed $60,000 in delinquent dues. “We went up against JPMorgan Chase and we won. It’s a good story. There’s a way out of the morass.”

To contact the reporter on this story: John Gittelsohn in Los Angeles at johngitt@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kara Wetzel at kwetzel@bloomberg.net.

Injured Reservist Hurley Loses Michigan House in Foreclosure While He Was at War

ONE ON ONE WITH NEIL GARFIELD ONE ON ONE WITH NEIL GARFIELD

COMBO ANALYSIS TITLE AND SECURITIZATION

A Reservist in a New War, Against Foreclosure

EDITOR’S NOTE: This case highlights many of the defects that exist, but which are still being ignored in the marketplace, in the courts and in the media.

Start first with the premise that regardless of the facts, if the owner is in active duty his home cannot be foreclosed and that Deutsch, Morgan Stanley and its subsidiary Saxon Mortgage did it anyway. It’s the law and it should be the law. And the pretender lenders admit that the foreclosure was wrong, which is no great admission since a Federal Judge said it anyway. Somehow, they are struggling with the concept that a wrongful foreclosure is somehow made right by selling the property again.

And by the way, that same law CAPS interest at 6%. So if the loan involved something more than an interest rate of 6%, the notice of default would be wrong even if it came from a creditor. I believe the same holds true for other kinds of debt, but I’m not positive of that. If the notice of default was wrong, then the rest of the foreclosure is void or voidable in most states.

There was an auction in which SOMEBODY showed up and bid on the house. They didn’t use money to pay for the house. They merely represented themselves to be the creditor and so they submitted a “credit bid.” This is allowed when, like in the old days, the creditor was readily identified and could hardly be expected to pay cash on a debt that was owed to themselves. But in this case, there was no creditor at the auction and yet the “credit bid” was accepted.

So in a nutshell, someone — not the borrower — got a free house. Despite statutes and rules to the contrary, title was issued in the name of either the bidder or another third party with nothing to do with this transaction, just to obfuscate title even further. Eventually the house was again “sold” for $76,000 no doubt to some friend of a friend of the people involved.

According to most states, the foreclosure of property by the wrong the party is slander of title entitling the owner to damages. Also, if the bidding process was defective then the issuance of title resulting from the “auction” is void or voidable. That means whoever bought the house for $76,000 may have a good cause of action against whoever sold it to him, but it doesn’t mean that he owns the house.

To own a house or any real property, there must be an unbroken chain of title leading to you. Here the chain of title was mangled beyond recognition because of presumptions that the pretender lenders were creditors and because of the presumption that the mortgage was in default, both of which are both untrue and unsupported by any evidence.

An interesting question would be to ask where the the $76,000 went if in fact it was ever paid.

The bottom line, in my opinion is that Sergeant Hurley should get his house back, pure and simple along with money damages and attorney fees, costs and possibly punitive damages.

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NY Times

By DIANA B. HENRIQUES

While Sgt. James B. Hurley was away at war, he lost a heartbreaking battle at home.

In violation of a law intended to protect active military personnel from creditors, agents of Deutsche Bank foreclosed on his small Michigan house, forcing Sergeant Hurley’s wife, Brandie, and her two young children to move out and find shelter elsewhere.

When the sergeant returned in December 2005, he drove past the densely wooded riverfront property outside Hartford, Mich. The peaceful little home was still there — winter birds still darted over the gazebo he had built near the water’s edge — but it almost certainly would never be his again. Less than two months before his return from the war, the bank’s agents sold the property to a buyer in Chicago for $76,000.

Since then, Sergeant Hurley has been on an odyssey through the legal system, with little hope of a happy ending — indeed, the foreclosure that cost him his home may also cost him his marriage. “Brandie took this very badly,” said Sergeant Hurley, 45, a plainspoken man who was disabled in Iraq and is now unemployed. “We’re trying to piece it together.”

In March 2009, a federal judge ruled that the bank’s foreclosure in 2004 violated federal law but the battle did not end there for Sergeant Hurley.

Typically, banks respond quickly to public reports of errors affecting military families. But today, more than six years after the illegal foreclosure, Deutsche Bank Trust Company and its primary co-defendant, a Morgan Stanley subsidiary called Saxon Mortgage Services, are still in court disputing whether Sergeant Hurley is owed significant damages. Exhibits show that at least 100 other military mortgages are being serviced for Deutsche Bank, but it is not clear whether other service members have been affected by the policy that resulted in the Hurley foreclosure.

A spokesman for Deutsche Bank declined to comment, noting that Saxon had handled the litigation on its behalf. A spokesman for Morgan Stanley, which bought Saxon in 2006, said that Saxon had revised its policy to ensure that it complied with the law and was willing to make “reasonable accommodations” to settle disputes, “especially for our servicemen and women.” But the Hurley litigation has continued, he said, because of a “fundamental disagreement between the parties over damages.”

In court papers, lawyers for Saxon and the bank assert the sergeant is entitled to recover no more than the fair market value of his lost home. His lawyers argue that the defendants should pay much more than that — including an award of punitive damages to deter big lenders from future violations of the law. The law is called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and it protects service members on active duty from many of the legal consequences of their forced absence.

Even though some of the nation’s military families have been sending their breadwinners into war zones for almost a decade, some of the nation’s biggest lenders are still fumbling one the basic elements of this law — its foreclosure protections.

Under the law, only a judge can authorize a foreclosure on a protected service member’s home, even in states where court orders are not required for civilian foreclosures, and the judge can act only after a hearing where the military homeowner is represented. The law also caps a protected service member’s mortgage rate at 6 percent.

By 2005, violations of the civil relief act were being reported all across the country, some involving prominent banks like Wells Fargo and Citigroup. Publicity about the violations spared some military families from foreclosure, prompted both banks to promise better compliance and put lenders on notice that service members were entitled to special relief.

But the message apparently did not get through. By 2006, a Marine captain in South Carolina was doing battle with JPMorgan Chase to get the mortgage interest rate reductions the act requires. Chase eventually reviewed its policies and, earlier this month, acknowledged it had overcharged thousands of military families on their mortgages and improperly foreclosed on 14 of them. After a public apology, Chase began mailing out about $2 million in refunds and working to reverse the foreclosures.

For armed forces in a war zone, a foreclosure back home is both a family crisis and a potentially deadly distraction from the military mission, military consumer advocates say.

“It can be devastating,” said Holly Petraeus, the wife of Gen. David Petraeus and the leader of a team that is creating an office to serve military families within a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“It is a terrible situation for the family at home and for the service member abroad, who feels helpless,” Mrs. Petraeus said. “I would hope that the recent problems will be a wake-up call for all banks to review their policies and be sure they comply with the act.”

Chase’s response, however belated, is in sharp contrast to the approach taken by Deutsche Bank and Saxon in the Hurley case.

Sergeant Hurley bought the land in 1994 and “was developing this property into something special,” he said in a court affidavit. He put a double-wide manufactured home on the site and added a deck, hunting blinds, floating docks and storage buildings.

According to his lawyers, his financial troubles began in the summer of 2004, when his National Guard unit sent him to California to be trained to work as a power-generator mechanic in Iraq. Veterans of that duty advised him to buy certain tools not readily available in the war zone, he said in his affidavit. With that expense and his reduced income, he said, he fell behind on his mortgage — a difficulty many part-time soldiers faced when reserve and National Guard units were mobilized.

Believing he was protected by the civil relief act — as, indeed, he was, as of Sept. 11, 2004 — his family repeatedly informed Saxon that Sergeant Hurley had been sent to Iraq. But Saxon refused to grant relief without copies of his individual military orders, which he did not yet have.

Although Saxon’s demand would have been legitimate if Sergeant Hurley had been seeking a lower interest rate, the law did not require him to provide those orders to invoke his foreclosure protections.

Nevertheless, Saxon referred the case to its law firm, Orlans Associates in Troy, Mich., which completed the foreclosure without the court hearing required by law. The law firm filed an affidavit with the local sheriff saying there was no evidence Sergeant Hurley was on military duty. At a sheriff’s sale in October 2004, the bank bought the property for $70,000, less than the $100,000 the sergeant owed on the mortgage.

Orlans acknowledged in a court filing that one of its lawyers learned in April 2005 that Sergeant Hurley had been on active duty since the previous October. Nevertheless, neither Saxon nor the law firm backtracked to ensure the foreclosure had been legal or took steps to prevent the seized property from being sold, according to the court record. Lawyers for Orlans Associates did not respond to a request for comment.

When Sergeant Hurley sued in May 2007, the defendants initially argued that he was not allowed to file a private lawsuit to enforce his rights under the civil relief act. Federal District Judge Gordon J. Quist agreed and threw the case out in the fall of 2008.

That drew a fierce reaction from Col. John S. Odom, Jr., a retired Air Force lawyer in Shreveport, La., who is working with Sergeant Hurley’s local lawyer, Matthew R. Cooper, of Paw Paw, Mich.

Colonel Odom, recognized by Congress and the courts as an expert on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, knew Judge Quist had missed a decision that overturned the one he had cited in his ruling. In December 2008, Colonel Odom appealed the ruling.

In March 2009, Judge Quist reversed himself, reinstated the Hurley case, ruled that the foreclosure had violated the civil relief act and found that punitive damages would be permitted, if warranted.

Despite that legal setback, the defendants soldiered on. As the court docket grew, they argued against allowing Sergeant Hurley to seek compensatory or punitive damages in the case. Judge Quist ruled last month that punitive damages were not warranted — a ruling Colonel Odom has said he has challenged in court and, if necessary, will appeal.

“Nothing says you screwed up as clearly as a big punitive damages award,” he said. “They are a deterrence that warns others not to do the same thing.”

When the trial on damages begins in early March, Sergeant Hurley will have been fighting for almost four years over the illegal foreclosure, a fight he could not have waged without a legal team that will probably only be paid if the court orders the defendants to cover the legal bills.

Regardless of the trial outcome, Sergeant Hurley’s dream home is likely to remain as far beyond his reach as it was when he was in Iraq. Its new owner has refused to entertain any offers for it and recently bought an adjoining lot.

Sergeant Hurley said he still loved the wooded refuge he drives past almost every day. “I was hoping I could get the property back,” he said. “But they tell me there’s just no way.” [Editor’s Comment: Yes there is]

SECRET BANKING ELITE: WHERE THE REAL DECISIONS ARE MADE

COMBO Title and Securitization Search, Report, Documents, Analysis & Commentary COMBO Title and Securitization Search, Report, Documents, Analysis & Commentary

Notable Quotes:

“The men share a common goal: to protect the interests of big banks in the vast market for derivatives, one of the most profitable — and controversial — fields in finance. They also share a common secret: The details of their meetings, even their identities, have been strictly confidential.”

“big banks influence the rules governing derivatives through a variety of industry groups. The banks’ latest point of influence are clearinghouses like ICE Trust, which holds the monthly meetings with the nine bankers in New York.”

“The banks also required ICE to provide market data exclusively to Markit, a little-known company that plays a pivotal role in derivatives. Backed by Goldman, JPMorgan and several other banks, Markit provides crucial information about derivatives, like prices.”

“None of the three clearinghouses would divulge the members of their risk committees when asked by a reporter. But two people with direct knowledge of ICE’s committee said the bank members are:

  • Thomas J. Benison of JPMorgan Chase & Company;
  • James J. Hill of Morgan Stanley;
  • Athanassios Diplas of Deutsche Bank;
  • Paul Hamill of UBS;
  • Paul Mitrokostas of Barclays;
  • Andy Hubbard of Credit Suisse;
  • Oliver Frankel of Goldman Sachs;
  • Ali Balali of Bank of America; and
  • Biswarup Chatterjee of Citigroup.”

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EDITOR’S ANALYSIS: For those of us tracking the strategies employed in courtrooms across the country and various foreclosure tactics, it has been obvious that there has been a single governing hand that is controlling the action. Hidden under the rubric of a risk control committee, this group actually makes all key decisions that affect the largest segment of the marketplace and thus the rest of the markets. These banks are operating for themselves, not in the interests of performing the service that Wall Street was always intended to do — create increasingly fluid access to the capital markets for businesses to innovate, start, grow, finance and merge.

They operate without any regulation. Quite the contrary. The decisions from this group actually effect both legislation that is proposed and passed and the rules and regulations of agencies that are supposed to be acting as referees to make sure the players don’t run amok. They dictate to government rather than the other way around and they create the strategies affect every individual in this country and many other countries. They are in essence a single virtual bank acting as though they are separate, each with profit centers that are strictly controlled by this elite group.

The upcoming WikiLeaks disclosures may have some references to this group which is comprised of the largest banks in the world and which exclude other large banks from membership, like Bank of New York/Mellon. Together they control the direction of the recession and how power is exercised by governments and central bankers around the world. That is because together they control nominal wealth many times the total currency in the world and “market value” that is roughly equal, at a minimum, to 2/3 of the GDP of the entire world.

We are at a crossroad whether we want to admit it or not. Either we simply give up and let bankers rule the world, or we stop them, disassemble them and bring them down to a size where they can be and are in fact regulated. But the choice is not up to government which now is owned by them as well. The choice is entirely up to the people — all the people — who ultimately, for the moment, have the power to dismiss the exercise of this kind of ultra vires power and bring things back to normal. Whatever we do, we are headed for turbulent times. The only real question is whether those turbulent times will be leading us down a path of abandoning our nation of laws or whether it will be as Teddy Roosevelt did, devoted to taking back the power for the people, by the people.

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A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Trading in Derivatives

By LOUISE STORY

On the third Wednesday of every month, the nine members of an elite Wall Street society gather in Midtown Manhattan.

The men share a common goal: to protect the interests of big banks in the vast market for derivatives, one of the most profitable — and controversial — fields in finance. They also share a common secret: The details of their meetings, even their identities, have been strictly confidential.

Drawn from giants like JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the bankers form a powerful committee that helps oversee trading in derivatives, instruments which, like insurance, are used to hedge risk.

In theory, this group exists to safeguard the integrity of the multitrillion-dollar market. In practice, it also defends the dominance of the big banks.

The banks in this group, which is affiliated with a new derivatives clearinghouse, have fought to block other banks from entering the market, and they are also trying to thwart efforts to make full information on prices and fees freely available.

Banks’ influence over this market, and over clearinghouses like the one this select group advises, has costly implications for businesses large and small, like Dan Singer’s home heating-oil company in Westchester County, north of New York City.

This fall, many of Mr. Singer’s customers purchased fixed-rate plans to lock in winter heating oil at around $3 a gallon. While that price was above the prevailing $2.80 a gallon then, the contracts will protect homeowners if bitterly cold weather pushes the price higher.

But Mr. Singer wonders if his company, Robison Oil, should be getting a better deal. He uses derivatives like swaps and options to create his fixed plans. But he has no idea how much lower his prices — and his customers’ prices — could be, he says, because banks don’t disclose fees associated with the derivatives.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know if I got a fair price, or what they’re charging me,” Mr. Singer said.

Derivatives shift risk from one party to another, and they offer many benefits, like enabling Mr. Singer to sell his fixed plans without having to bear all the risk that oil prices could suddenly rise. Derivatives are also big business on Wall Street. Banks collect many billions of dollars annually in undisclosed fees associated with these instruments — an amount that almost certainly would be lower if there were more competition and transparent prices.

Just how much derivatives trading costs ordinary Americans is uncertain. The size and reach of this market has grown rapidly over the past two decades. Pension funds today use derivatives to hedge investments. States and cities use them to try to hold down borrowing costs. Airlines use them to secure steady fuel prices. Food companies use them to lock in prices of commodities like wheat or beef.

The marketplace as it functions now “adds up to higher costs to all Americans,” said Gary Gensler, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates most derivatives. More oversight of the banks in this market is needed, he said.

But big banks influence the rules governing derivatives through a variety of industry groups. The banks’ latest point of influence are clearinghouses like ICE Trust, which holds the monthly meetings with the nine bankers in New York.

Under the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, many derivatives will be traded via such clearinghouses. Mr. Gensler wants to lessen banks’ control over these new institutions. But Republican lawmakers, many of whom received large campaign contributions from bankers who want to influence how the derivatives rules are written, say they plan to push back against much of the coming reform. On Thursday, the commission canceled a vote over a proposal to make prices more transparent, raising speculation that Mr. Gensler did not have enough support from his fellow commissioners.

The Department of Justice is looking into derivatives, too. The department’s antitrust unit is actively investigating “the possibility of anticompetitive practices in the credit derivatives clearing, trading and information services industries,” according to a department spokeswoman.

Indeed, the derivatives market today reminds some experts of the Nasdaq stock market in the 1990s. Back then, the Justice Department discovered that Nasdaq market makers were secretly colluding to protect their own profits. Following that scandal, reforms and electronic trading systems cut Nasdaq stock trading costs to 1/20th of their former level — an enormous savings for investors.

“When you limit participation in the governance of an entity to a few like-minded institutions or individuals who have an interest in keeping competitors out, you have the potential for bad things to happen. It’s antitrust 101,” said Robert E. Litan, who helped oversee the Justice Department’s Nasdaq investigation as deputy assistant attorney general and is now a fellow at the Kauffman Foundation. “The history of derivatives trading is it has grown up as a very concentrated industry, and old habits are hard to break.”

Representatives from the nine banks that dominate the market declined to comment on the Department of Justice investigation.

Clearing involves keeping track of trades and providing a central repository for money backing those wagers. A spokeswoman for Deutsche Bank, which is among the most influential of the group, said this system will reduce the risks in the market. She said that Deutsche is focused on ensuring this process is put in place without disrupting the marketplace.

The Deutsche spokeswoman also said the banks’ role in this process has been a success, saying in a statement that the effort “is one of the best examples of public-private partnerships.”

Established, But Can’t Get In

The Bank of New York Mellon’s origins go back to 1784, when it was founded by Alexander Hamilton. Today, it provides administrative services on more than $23 trillion of institutional money.

Recently, the bank has been seeking to enter the inner circle of the derivatives market, but so far, it has been rebuffed.

Bank of New York officials say they have been thwarted by competitors who control important committees at the new clearinghouses, which were set up in the wake of the financial crisis.

Bank of New York Mellon has been trying to become a so-called clearing member since early this year. But three of the four main clearinghouses told the bank that its derivatives operation has too little capital, and thus potentially poses too much risk to the overall market.

The bank dismisses that explanation as absurd. “We are not a nobody,” said Sanjay Kannambadi, chief executive of BNY Mellon Clearing, a subsidiary created to get into the business. “But we don’t qualify. We certainly think that’s kind of crazy.”

The real reason the bank is being shut out, he said, is that rivals want to preserve their profit margins, and they are the ones who helped write the membership rules.

Mr. Kannambadi said Bank of New York’s clients asked it to enter the derivatives business because they believe they are being charged too much by big banks. Its entry could lower fees. Others that have yet to gain full entry to the derivatives trading club are the State Street Corporation, and small brokerage firms like MF Global and Newedge.

The criteria seem arbitrary, said Marcus Katz, a senior vice president at Newedge, which is owned by two big French banks.

“It appears that the membership criteria were set so that a certain group of market participants could meet that, and everyone else would have to jump through hoops,” Mr. Katz said.

The one new derivatives clearinghouse that has welcomed Newedge, Bank of New York and the others — Nasdaq — has been avoided by the big derivatives banks.

Only the Insiders Know

How did big banks come to have such influence that they can decide who can compete with them?

Ironically, this development grew in part out of worries during the height of the financial crisis in 2008. A major concern during the meltdown was that no one — not even government regulators — fully understood the size and interconnections of the derivatives market, especially the market in credit default swaps, which insure against defaults of companies or mortgages bonds. The panic led to the need to bail out the American International Group, for instance, which had C.D.S. contracts with many large banks.

In the midst of the turmoil, regulators ordered banks to speed up plans — long in the making — to set up a clearinghouse to handle derivatives trading. The intent was to reduce risk and increase stability in the market.

Two established exchanges that trade commodities and futures, the InterContinentalExchange, or ICE, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, set up clearinghouses, and, so did Nasdaq.

Each of these new clearinghouses had to persuade big banks to join their efforts, and they doled out membership on their risk committees, which is where trading rules are written, as an incentive.

None of the three clearinghouses would divulge the members of their risk committees when asked by a reporter. But two people with direct knowledge of ICE’s committee said the bank members are: Thomas J. Benison of JPMorgan Chase & Company; James J. Hill of Morgan Stanley; Athanassios Diplas of Deutsche Bank; Paul Hamill of UBS; Paul Mitrokostas of Barclays; Andy Hubbard of Credit Suisse; Oliver Frankel of Goldman Sachs; Ali Balali of Bank of America; and Biswarup Chatterjee of Citigroup.

Through representatives, these bankers declined to discuss the committee or the derivatives market. Some of the spokesmen noted that the bankers have expertise that helps the clearinghouse.

Many of these same people hold influential positions at other clearinghouses, or on committees at the powerful International Swaps and Derivatives Association, which helps govern the market.

Critics have called these banks the “derivatives dealers club,” and they warn that the club is unlikely to give up ground easily.

“The revenue these dealers make on derivatives is very large and so the incentive they have to protect those revenues is extremely large,” said Darrell Duffie, a professor at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, who studied the derivatives market earlier this year with Federal Reserve researchers. “It will be hard for the dealers to keep their market share if everybody who can prove their creditworthiness is allowed into the clearinghouses. So they are making arguments that others shouldn’t be allowed in.”

Perhaps no business in finance is as profitable today as derivatives. Not making loans. Not offering credit cards. Not advising on mergers and acquisitions. Not managing money for the wealthy.

The precise amount that banks make trading derivatives isn’t known, but there is anecdotal evidence of their profitability. Former bank traders who spoke on condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements with their former employers said their banks typically earned $25,000 for providing $25 million of insurance against the risk that a corporation might default on its debt via the swaps market. These traders turn over millions of dollars in these trades every day, and credit default swaps are just one of many kinds of derivatives.

The secrecy surrounding derivatives trading is a key factor enabling banks to make such large profits.

If an investor trades shares of Google or Coca-Cola or any other company on a stock exchange, the price — and the commission, or fee — are known. Electronic trading has made this information available to anyone with a computer, while also increasing competition — and sharply lowering the cost of trading. Even corporate bonds have become more transparent recently. Trading costs dropped there almost immediately after prices became more visible in 2002.

Not so with derivatives. For many, there is no central exchange, like the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq, where the prices of derivatives are listed. Instead, when a company or an investor wants to buy a derivative contract for, say, oil or wheat or securitized mortgages, an order is placed with a trader at a bank. The trader matches that order with someone selling the same type of derivative.

Banks explain that many derivatives trades have to work this way because they are often customized, unlike shares of stock. One share of Google is the same as any other. But the terms of an oil derivatives contract can vary greatly.

And the profits on most derivatives are masked. In most cases, buyers are told only what they have to pay for the derivative contract, say $25 million. That amount is more than the seller gets, but how much more — $5,000, $25,000 or $50,000 more — is unknown. That’s because the seller also is told only the amount he will receive. The difference between the two is the bank’s fee and profit. So, the bigger the difference, the better for the bank — and the worse for the customers.

It would be like a real estate agent selling a house, but the buyer knowing only what he paid and the seller knowing only what he received. The agent would pocket the difference as his fee, rather than disclose it. Moreover, only the real estate agent — and neither buyer nor seller — would have easy access to the prices paid recently for other homes on the same block.

An Electronic Exchange?

Two years ago, Kenneth C. Griffin, owner of the giant hedge fund Citadel Group, which is based in Chicago, proposed open pricing for commonly traded derivatives, by quoting their prices electronically. Citadel oversees $11 billion in assets, so saving even a few percentage points in costs on each trade could add up to tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

But Mr. Griffin’s proposal for an electronic exchange quickly ran into opposition, and what happened is a window into how banks have fiercely fought competition and open pricing. To get a transparent exchange going, Citadel offered the use of its technological prowess for a joint venture with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which is best-known as a trading outpost for contracts on commodities like coffee and cotton. The goal was to set up a clearinghouse as well as an electronic trading system that would display prices for credit default swaps.

Big banks that handle most derivatives trades, including Citadel’s, didn’t like Citadel’s idea. Electronic trading might connect customers directly with each other, cutting out the banks as middlemen.

So the banks responded in the fall of 2008 by pairing with ICE, one of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s rivals, which was setting up its own clearinghouse. The banks attached a number of conditions on that partnership, which came in the form of a merger between ICE’s clearinghouse and a nascent clearinghouse that the banks were establishing. These conditions gave the banks significant power at ICE’s clearinghouse, according to two people with knowledge of the deal. For instance, the banks insisted that ICE install the chief executive of their effort as the head of the joint effort. That executive, Dirk Pruis, left after about a year and now works at Goldman Sachs. Through a spokesman, he declined to comment.

The banks also refused to allow the deal with ICE to close until the clearinghouse’s rulebook was established, with provisions in the banks’ favor. Key among those were the membership rules, which required members to hold large amounts of capital in derivatives units, a condition that was prohibitive even for some large banks like the Bank of New York.

The banks also required ICE to provide market data exclusively to Markit, a little-known company that plays a pivotal role in derivatives. Backed by Goldman, JPMorgan and several other banks, Markit provides crucial information about derivatives, like prices.

Kevin Gould, who is the president of Markit and was involved in the clearinghouse merger, said the banks were simply being prudent and wanted rules that protected the market and themselves.

“The one thing I know the banks are concerned about is their risk capital,” he said. “You really are going to get some comfort that the way the entity operates isn’t going to put you at undue risk.”

Even though the banks were working with ICE, Citadel and the C.M.E. continued to move forward with their exchange. They, too, needed to work with Markit, because it owns the rights to certain derivatives indexes. But Markit put them in a tough spot by basically insisting that every trade involve at least one bank, since the banks are the main parties that have licenses with Markit.

This demand from Markit effectively secured a permanent role for the big derivatives banks since Citadel and the C.M.E. could not move forward without Markit’s agreement. And so, essentially boxed in, they agreed to the terms, according to the two people with knowledge of the matter. (A spokesman for C.M.E. said last week that the exchange did not cave to Markit’s terms.)

Still, even after that deal was complete, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange soon had second thoughts about working with Citadel and about introducing electronic screens at all. The C.M.E. backed out of the deal in mid-2009, ending Mr. Griffin’s dream of a new, electronic trading system.

With Citadel out of the picture, the banks agreed to join the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s clearinghouse effort. The exchange set up a risk committee that, like ICE’s committee, was mainly populated by bankers.

It remains unclear why the C.M.E. ended its electronic trading initiative. Two people with knowledge of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s clearinghouse said the banks refused to get involved unless the exchange dropped Citadel and the entire plan for electronic trading.

Kim Taylor, the president of Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s clearing division, said “the market” simply wasn’t interested in Mr. Griffin’s idea.

Critics now say the banks have an edge because they have had early control of the new clearinghouses’ risk committees. Ms. Taylor at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange said the people on those committees are supposed to look out for the interest of the broad market, rather than their own narrow interests. She likened the banks’ role to that of Washington lawmakers who look out for the interests of the nation, not just their constituencies.

“It’s not like the sort of representation where if I’m elected to be the representative from the state of Illinois, I go there to represent the state of Illinois,” Ms. Taylor said in an interview.

Officials at ICE, meantime, said they solicit views from customers through a committee that is separate from the bank-dominated risk committee.

“We spent and we still continue to spend a lot of time on thinking about governance,” said Peter Barsoom, the chief operating officer of ICE Trust. “We want to be sure that we have all the right stakeholders appropriately represented.”

Mr. Griffin said last week that customers have so far paid the price for not yet having electronic trading. He puts the toll, by a rough estimate, in the tens of billions of dollars, saying that electronic trading would remove much of this “economic rent the dealers enjoy from a market that is so opaque.”

“It’s a stunning amount of money,” Mr. Griffin said. “The key players today in the derivatives market are very apprehensive about whether or not they will be winners or losers as we move towards more transparent, fairer markets, and since they’re not sure if they’ll be winners or losers, their basic instinct is to resist change.”

In, Out and Around Henhouse

The result of the maneuvering of the past couple years is that big banks dominate the risk committees of not one, but two of the most prominent new clearinghouses in the United States.

That puts them in a pivotal position to determine how derivatives are traded.

Under the Dodd-Frank bill, the clearinghouses were given broad authority. The risk committees there will help decide what prices will be charged for clearing trades, on top of fees banks collect for matching buyers and sellers, and how much money customers must put up as collateral to cover potential losses.

Perhaps more important, the risk committees will recommend which derivatives should be handled through clearinghouses, and which should be exempt.

Regulators will have the final say. But banks, which lobbied heavily to limit derivatives regulation in the Dodd-Frank bill, are likely to argue that few types of derivatives should have to go through clearinghouses. Critics contend that the bankers will try to keep many types of derivatives away from the clearinghouses, since clearinghouses represent a step towards broad electronic trading that could decimate profits.

The banks already have a head start. Even a newly proposed rule to limit the banks’ influence over clearing allows them to retain majorities on risk committees. It remains unclear whether regulators creating the new rules — on topics like transparency and possible electronic trading — will drastically change derivatives trading, or leave the bankers with great control.

One former regulator warned against deferring to the banks. Theo Lubke, who until this fall oversaw the derivatives reforms at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said banks do not always think of the market as a whole as they help write rules.

“Fundamentally, the banks are not good at self-regulation,” Mr. Lubke said in a panel last March at Columbia University. “That’s not their expertise, that’s not their primary interest.”

AND the indictments start

“This will go on for a long time and a lot of people will be indicted,”

“The government continues to show that it simply doesn’t understand how this market operated,”
Editor’s Note: If you read this carefully, you get a flavor of how the derivative scam adventure involved everyone except its victims. Mind you, there is nothing wrong and probably everything right about derivatives. The problem is not the instrument, it is how it was used and who used it. Banks shouldn’t be allowed to underwrite, sell, trade and take investment positions contrary to the interests of the clients who buy those securities.  No trading in derivatives should be subject to the description “opaque debt investment. All trading needs to be transparent when it comes to underwriters. And complex derivatives should not be used as a cover for fraud.


Conspiracy of Banks Rigging States Came With Crash (Update1)

By Martin Z. Braun and William Selway

May 18 (Bloomberg) — A telephone call between a financial adviser in Beverly Hills and a trader in New York was all it took to fleece taxpayers on a water-and-sewer financing deal in West Virginia. The secret conversation was part of a conspiracy stretching across the U.S. by Wall Street banks in the $2.8 trillion municipal bond market.

The call came less than two hours before bids were due for contracts to manage $90 million raised with the sale of West Virginia bonds. On one end of the line was Steven Goldberg, a trader with Financial Security Assurance Holdings Ltd. On the other was Zevi Wolmark, of advisory firm CDR Financial Products Inc. Goldberg arranged to pay a kickback to CDR to land the deal, according to government records filed in connection with a U.S. Justice Department indictment of CDR and Wolmark.

West Virginia was just one stop in a nationwide conspiracy in which financial advisers to municipalities colluded with Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Wachovia Corp. and 11 other banks.

They rigged bids on auctions for so-called guaranteed investment contracts, known as GICs, according to a Justice Department list that was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on March 24 and then put under seal. Those contracts hold tens of billions of taxpayer money.

California to Pennsylvania

The workings of the conspiracy — which stretched from California to Pennsylvania and included more than 200 deals involving about 160 state agencies, local governments and non- profits — can be pieced together from the Justice Department’s indictment of CDR, civil lawsuits by governments around the country, e-mails obtained by Bloomberg News and interviews with current and former bankers and public officials.

“The whole investment process was rigged across the board,” said Charlie Anderson, who retired in 2007 as head of field operations for the Internal Revenue Service’s tax-exempt bond division. “It was so commonplace that people talked about it on the phones of their employers and ignored the fact that they were being recorded.”

Anderson said he referred scores of cases to the Justice Department when he was with the IRS. He estimates that bid rigging cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Anderson said prosecutors are lining up conspirators to plead guilty and name names.

“This will go on for a long time and a lot of people will be indicted,” he said in a telephone interview.

Bidding Encouraged

The U.S. Treasury Department encourages public bidding for GIC contracts to ensure that localities are paid proper market rates. Banks that conspired in the bid rigging for GICs paid kickbacks to CDR ranging from $4,500 to $475,000 per deal in at least 10 different transactions, government court-filed documents say.

A GIC is similar to a certificate of deposit, but its rates aren’t advertised publicly. Instead, towns rely on advisory firms such as CDR to solicit competing offers.

In the bid-rigging deals, CDR gave false information to municipalities and fed information to bankers allowing them to win with lower interest rates than they were otherwise willing to pay, the indictment says. Banks took their illegal gains from the additional returns and paid CDR kickbacks, according to the indictment.

Not Guilty Plea

Wolmark, 54, who was indicted by a federal grand jury in Manhattan on antitrust, conspiracy and wire fraud charges, to which he pleaded not guilty, declined to comment when reached by telephone at CDR’s office. Goldberg, who hasn’t been charged, declined to comment, says his attorney, John Siffert.

Court records in the broadest-ever criminal investigation of public finance shed new light on how Wall Street’s biggest banks were cheating cities and towns during the same decade in which they were setting the stage for a global economic collapse.

As the banks were steering the world’s financial system to the brink of catastrophe by loading more than $1 trillion of subprime mortgage loans into opaque debt investments, they were also duping public officials across the U.S.

Many of the same bankers and advisers who sold public officials interest-rate swap deals that backfired for taxpayers are now subjects of the criminal antitrust investigation involving GICs.

The swaps are derivatives designed to keep monthly interest payments low as lending rates change. Municipal- derivative units of the largest U.S. banks also sold the contracts, public records across the nation show.

Key Witness

Derivatives are financial instruments used to hedge risks or for speculation. They’re derived from stocks, bonds, loans, currencies and commodities, or linked to specific events like changes in the weather or interest rates. Options and futures are the most common types of derivatives.

A key witness in the government’s case is a former banker whom the government hasn’t named, according to a civil lawsuit filed by Baltimore, Maryland, and six other municipal borrowers against Bank of America, JPMorgan and nine other banks. The banker is providing evidence against his peers.

The witness, who was employed by Bank of America Corp. starting in 1999, has laid out the inner workings of the scheme in confidential meetings with investigators, according to the civil lawsuit.

Bank of America, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, has also been providing prosecutors with evidence since at least 2007. The bank voluntarily reported its own illegal activity and agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department’s antitrust division, according to a press release from the company.

Amnesty Agreement

In exchange, the government promised in an amnesty agreement not to prosecute the bank. Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton in San Francisco said in an e-mail the firm is continuing to cooperate.

The banker who has been cooperating with the Justice Department said he overheard his colleagues change Bank of America’s bids after coaching from brokers or other banks bidding on the same deal, according to information that the firm provided to plaintiffs in the civil case filed by seven municipalities.

At least five former bankers with New York-based JPMorgan, the second-biggest U.S. bank by assets, conspired with CDR to rig bidding on investment deals sold to local governments, according to the Justice Department list now under seal.

At least three other former JPMorgan bankers are targets of the investigation, according to filings with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Six bankers with Bank of America, the biggest U.S. lender, are also named in the sealed Justice Department list as participants.

16 Companies

Eighteen employees at 16 other companies, including units of General Electric Co., UBS AG and FSA, then a unit of Brussels lender Dexia SA, are also cited as co-conspirators by the Justice Department, according to the list under seal. None have been charged in the case.

Citigroup spokesman Alex Samuelson, Dexia spokesman Thierry Martiny, GE spokesman Ned Reynolds, JPMorgan spokesman Brian Marchiony, UBS spokesman Doug Morris, and Ferris Morrison, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo & Co., which acquired Wachovia in 2008, declined to comment.

Former CDR employees Douglas Goldberg, Daniel Naeh and Matthew Rothman, pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan in February and March to wire fraud and conspiracy to rig bids.

In October, CDR was charged with criminal conspiracy and fraud, along with Chief Executive Officer David Rubin, 48, vice president Evan Zarefsky and Wolmark. They pleaded not guilty. Rubin, who was also charged with making fraudulent bank transactions, faces as much as $3 million in fines and more than 30 years in jail if convicted.

No Law Broken

Rubin declined to comment in a telephone call.

“Mr. Rubin doesn’t think that CDR broke the law in any of these transactions,” said Laura Hoguet, his attorney in New York.

Daniel Zelenko, a lawyer for Zarefsky in New York, said he was confident his client will prevail at trial.

“The government continues to show that it simply doesn’t understand how this market operated,” Zelenko said in an e- mail.

During more than three years of investigation, federal prosecutors amassed nearly 700,000 tape recordings and 125 million pages of documents and e-mails regarding public finance deals.

$400 Billion

Municipalities and states raise $400 billion a year by selling bonds. They invest much of those proceeds in GICs, sold by banks or insurance companies. Those accounts hold taxpayer money and earn interest before public agencies spend it.

Banks and advising firms illegally siphoned money from taxpayers by paying artificially low interest rates in the GICs, the CDR indictment says. The money was intended to build schools, hospitals, roads and sewers and refinance higher-cost debt.

The bid-rigging schemes were orchestrated by CDR and other advisory firms, according to the indictment and the civil suits. Advisers are unregulated private firms hired by local governments to consult on public finance deals — and are almost always paid by the banks that arrange the transactions or manage the GICs.

Wilshire Boulevard

CDR, which was located on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, California, during the transactions under investigation, has provided advice on more than $158 billion in public transactions since it was founded in 1986, according to its website.

CDR helped arrange deals in which financial firms took millions of dollars in profits from GICs, Bloomberg News reported in October 2006. Almost all of the deals were shams: As much as $7 billion in bond-issue proceeds were invested in GICs but never spent for the intended purpose of providing services to taxpayers.

CDR signed off on interest-rate swaps to municipalities, as banks took hidden fees sometimes 10 times as much as they charged on fixed-rate bond deals, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. For the public, the swaps were fraught with risks.

In the past decade, banks have peddled swaps the world over, from Jefferson County, Alabama — which was forced to the brink of bankruptcy — to the hill towns of the Umbria region of Italy. Many of these swaps soured when the credit crisis began in 2007.

Getting Out

Dozens of municipalities have paid banks billions to get out of swap contracts. The agency that oversees the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge said it spent $105 million to escape its deal in July 2009.

“They were gouging the municipalities,” said retired IRS investigator Anderson, 59. “Beside the excessive fees, some of the swap deals just didn’t work. It was just awful. The same people were involved in the GIC end of the market.”

Bid rigging not only cheated cities and towns, it also illegally denied the IRS required taxes from GIC income, Anderson said. The evidence is clear in telephone recordings made on GIC desks, he said. “We could hear people talking about how everyone knew who was going to win the bid. You could tell it was just everyday business.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission is conducting a probe of bid rigging from its Philadelphia office that’s parallel to the Justice Department investigation.

More Probes

State attorneys general in California, Connecticut and Florida are also investigating. Bank of America, JPMorgan, Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE, and Zurich-based UBS have disclosed in regulatory filings that they may be sued by the SEC.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has raided at least two of CDR’s competitors, Pottstown, Pennsylvania-based Investment Management Advisory Group Inc., known as Image, and Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based Sound Capital Management. Neither has been charged.

Robert Jones, a managing director of Image, declined to comment, after answering a call to the firm’s office. Johan Rosenberg of Sound Capital didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Tape recordings cited in a letter by Justice Department prosecutor Rebecca Meiklejohn show how those deals worked. In two GIC bids for the Utah Housing Corp., CDR’s Zarefsky advised an unidentified trader that his firm could lower its offer by “a dime,” or 10 basis points (a basis point is 0.01 percentage point).

‘A Couple Bucks’

The West Valley City-based housing agency accepted contracts with GE’s FGIC Capital Market Services division for 5.15 percent and 3.41 percent in 2001, public records show. Zarefsky didn’t return calls seeking comment.

“I can actually probably save you a couple bucks here,” Zarefsky told the trader, according to the letter citing the tape recording.

The Utah agency, which finances mortgages for low-income residents, didn’t know that financial firms were cheating it out of money that could have been used to help home buyers, said Grant Whitaker, who runs the agency. “It sounds like somebody got a better deal than we did,” he said in a telephone interview.

Such deals could produce large illegal profits by banks, said Bartley Hildreth, public finance professor at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

A New Wrinkle

“Just a basis point on many of these deals is tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Wall Street has faced accusations of reaping excessive fees on investment deals with public officials. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Lehman Brothers, which filed for bankruptcy in 2008, Merrill Lynch & Co. and other securities firms agreed by 2000 to pay more than $170 million to settle SEC charges that they had sold overpriced Treasury bonds to municipalities.

The so-called yield burning drove down the returns that local governments earned and trimmed required payments to the IRS. The firms neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing.

Even as the banks were settling with regulators, they devised another way to burn yield, this time by skimming money from GICs, according to the indictment, which said the conspiracy went from 1998 to at least 2006.

In the lawsuit against Bank of America and JPMorgan filed in New York in June 2009, the city of Baltimore, two Mississippi universities and four other municipal borrowers say that bankers from those two companies colluded in bidding for GIC contracts in Pennsylvania.

Holiday Party

At a holiday party sponsored by advising firm Image at Sparks Steak House in Manhattan early in the past decade, the Pennsylvania deals were discussed by the Bank of America trader who is cooperating with prosecutors and Sam Gruer of JPMorgan, the civil antitrust lawsuit says.

The Bank of America trader told Gruer that he was happy that the two banks weren’t “kicking each other’s teeth out” on bidding for certificates of deposits for bond proceeds, the suit says. That information was provided by Bank of America to the plaintiffs.

Gruer, who was informed by prosecutors in 2007 that he was a target of the investigation, declined to comment.

Coaching a Bidder

The trader who is now a federal witness joined Bank of America after being recommended by Image, according to information that the bank turned over to the Baltimore-led plaintiffs. He was assigned by Phil Murphy, who headed the municipal trading desk, to be Bank of America’s point person for investment contracts bid by Image, the lawsuit says.

Image coached Bank of America in winning an investment contract in Pennsylvania, according to an internal e-mail exchange in May 2001 between Bank of America trader Dean Pinard and Image’s Peter Loughhead that was obtained by Bloomberg News. The e-mail was provided to Bloomberg by a person who got it from Bank of America and asked to remain unidentified.

Loughead, who ran bids for Image, advised Pinard on how much to offer for managing the cash fund for a $10 million bond issued by the sewer authority of Springfield Township, York County, 100 miles (161 kilometers) west of Philadelphia.

‘Don’t Fall on Any Swords’

Pinard said in the e-mail to Loughead that Bank of America was willing to pay the town as much as $40,000 upfront to win the deal. Loughead wrote that the bank didn’t need to pay that much.

“Don’t fall on any swords,” Loughead wrote to Pinard the day before bids were submitted. He suggested that the bank could win the contract with a bid of slightly more than $30,000. The next day, Bank of America offered $31,000. It won the bidding, authority records show.

Loughead didn’t return calls seeking comment. Pinard didn’t respond to telephone requests for an interview and no one responded to a knock on the door at his Charlotte home.

Image ensured that Bank of America would dominate GIC deals in Pennsylvania by soliciting sham bids from other banks to make the process look legitimate, according to testimony from the trader cooperating with the Justice Department.

Bank of America would return the favor to Image by submitting so-called courtesy bids at the adviser’s request, allowing JPMorgan to win some of the deals, according to information that Bank of America gave plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Switching Jobs

Bank of America has cooperated with the municipalities that were suing the bank as part of its 2007 amnesty agreement with the Justice Department.

Traders such as FSA’s Goldberg often had worked for several banks and insurance companies that had a role in GIC contracts, according to employment records with Finra, the self-regulator of U.S. securities firms. CDR employees went on to work in the derivative departments of Deutsche Bank AG and UBS, the records show.

Before joining Bank of America, Pinard, 40, worked at Wheat, First Securities Inc. in Philadelphia with two bankers who would later join Image, according to broker registration records.

“Few people understand this part of public finance,” Georgia State’s Hildreth said. “It is a very small band of brothers who know the market. So, of course, they are going to reap the benefits.”

34 States

For nearly a decade, CDR founder Rubin, Wolmark, and Zarefsky helped fix prices on investment deals that cheated taxpayers in at least 34 states, according to their indictments and records filed in the case.

FSA’s Goldberg, who received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from St. John’s University in Queens, New York, worked with CDR employees on GIC deals, according to the indictment and public records. Goldberg worked from 1999 to 2001 at GE, which gets 35 percent of its revenue from financial services.

Goldberg was referred to only as “Marketer A” in the CDR indictment. “Marketer A” was then later identified as FSA’s Steven Goldberg in the Justice Department list of co- conspirators.

At GE, Goldberg worked with Dominick Carollo, a senior investment officer for FGIC, and Peter Grimm, who worked there from 2000 until at least 2006, according to court documents and public records. GE sold FGIC in 2003 to a group led by mortgage insurer PMI Group Inc.

Funneling Kickbacks

Goldberg and Grimm worked with CDR to increase their gains on GIC deals, according to the CDR indictment and conspirator list. Carollo left GE in 2003, joining the derivatives unit of Royal Bank of Canada. Grimm and Carollo didn’t respond to telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Goldberg continued to participate in the conspiracy after he left for FSA in 2001 and used swap deals with Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada and UBS to funnel kickbacks to CDR, according to the indictments and the Justice Department list of conspirators. Royal spokesman Kevin Foster said the company is cooperating the government.

FSA, Royal Bank of Canada and UBS all worked on public finance deals in West Virginia that prosecutors say involved bid rigging.

At least three times, Goldberg conspired with CDR to pick up deals with West Virginia agencies, according to a guilty plea by former CDR employee Rothman and other records filed in federal court in Manhattan. Among them was a $147 million investment contract with the West Virginia School Building Authority.

‘Raw Greed’

That state’s schools need every penny they can get, said Mark Manchin, executive director of the school authority. With 17 percent of West Virginians below the poverty line in 2008, the state was 45th among the 50 U.S. states, according to a 2009 Census Bureau report. Manchin said some students study in dilapidated, century-old buildings.

“It’s just raw greed at the expense of the most vulnerable,” he said in a telephone interview. “With deteriorating facilities all over the state, that money is what we use to build schools.”

Bank of America’s municipal derivatives division, which was formed in 1998, worked on the 14th floor of the Hearst Tower in Charlotte. The space was so tight that the banker who’s cooperating with the Justice Department said he could hear others in the office change their bids when they got word from financial advisers, according to information Bank of America gave Baltimore.

Bank of America’s Murphy told the banker helping prosecutors that Image would use sham auctions to steer deals to Bank of America if the employee told Image that he “wanted to win” and “would work with” Image, according to the civil suit filed by Baltimore. Murphy declined to comment.

Verbal Cues

They would use verbal cues to communicate. The banker would ask whether the bid was a “good fit” to get information on competing bids from Image. Sometimes Image’s Martin Stallone said Bank of America’s bids were “aggressive,” or too high, and had to be reworked.

At other times, Stallone would ask the banker to bid a specific number, according to the civil suit.

Stallone didn’t respond to messages left for him at work or to a list of questions faxed and e-mailed to Image.

Like Financial Security Assurance, Bank of America also paid kickbacks to brokers for their help in getting deals, according to the Baltimore lawsuit, which based its allegations on information provided by Bank of America.

On June 28, 2002, Douglas Campbell, a former municipal derivatives salesman at Bank of America, wrote in an e-mail to his boss, then managing director Murphy, that he had paid $182,393 to banks and brokers not tied to any particular deals.

‘Better Relationship’

Three payments totaling $57,393 went to CDR, which played no role in any transaction connected to that amount. A copy of the e-mail was contained in a North Carolina lawsuit filed by Murphy against Bank of America in 2003.

“The CDR fees have been part of the ongoing attempt to develop a better relationship with our major brokers,” Campbell wrote.

The bid rigging in GIC contracts has reduced public funding for schools and housing across the U.S.

“If this was going on in a small state like West Virginia, it must have been huge elsewhere,” the state’s Assistant Attorney General Doug Davis said.

To contact the reporters on this story: William Selway in San Francisco at wselway@bloomberg.net; Martin Z. Braun in New York at mbraun6@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: May 18, 2010 08:55 EDT

Goldman and JPM Still Playing with Other People’s Money

The five biggest U.S. commercial banks in the derivatives market — JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup and Wells Fargo & Co. — account for 97 percent of the notional value of derivatives held in the banking industry [$605 trillion], according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Goldman Sachs Demands Collateral It Won’t Dish Out

By Michael J. Moore and Christine Harper

March 15 (Bloomberg) — Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., two of the biggest traders of over-the- counter derivatives, are exploiting their growing clout in that market to secure cheap funding in addition to billions in revenue from the business.

Both New York-based banks are demanding unequal arrangements with hedge-fund firms, forcing them to post more cash collateral to offset risks on trades while putting up less on their own wagers. At the end of December this imbalance furnished Goldman Sachs with $110 billion, according to a filing. That’s money it can reinvest in higher-yielding assets.

“If you’re seen as a major player and you have a product that people can’t get elsewhere, you have the negotiating power,” said Richard Lindsey, a former director of market regulation at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission who ran the prime brokerage unit at Bear Stearns Cos. from 1999 to 2006. “Goldman and a handful of other banks are the places where people can get over-the-counter products today.”

The collapse of American International Group Inc. in 2008 was hastened by the insurer’s inability to meet $20 billion in collateral demands after its credit-default swaps lost value and its credit rating was lowered, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at the time of the bailout, testified on Jan. 27. Goldman Sachs was among AIG’s biggest counterparties.

AIG Protection

Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer David Viniar has said that his firm’s stringent collateral agreements would have helped protect the firm against a default by AIG. Instead, a $182.3 billion taxpayer bailout of AIG ensured that Goldman Sachs and others were repaid in full.

Over the last three years, Goldman Sachs has extracted more collateral from counterparties in the $605 trillion over-the- counter derivatives markets, according to filings with the SEC.

The firm led by Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein collected cash collateral that represented 57 percent of outstanding over-the-counter derivatives assets as of December 2009, while it posted just 16 percent on liabilities, the firm said in a filing this month. That gap has widened from rates of 45 percent versus 18 percent in 2008 and 32 percent versus 19 percent in 2007, company filings show.

“That’s classic collateral arbitrage,” said Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York who previously worked as treasurer at Morgan Stanley and chief financial officer at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. “You always want to enter into something where you’re getting more collateral in than what you’re putting out.”

Using the Cash

The banks get to use the cash collateral, said Robert Claassen, a Palo Alto, California-based partner in the corporate and capital markets practice at law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP.

“They do have to pay interest on it, usually at the fed funds rate, but that’s a low rate,” Claassen said.

Goldman Sachs’s $110 billion net collateral balance in December was almost three times the amount it had attracted from depositors at its regulated bank subsidiaries. The collateral could earn the bank an annual return of $439 million, assuming it’s financed at the current fed funds effective rate of 0.15 percent and that half is reinvested at the same rate and half in two-year Treasury notes yielding 0.948 percent.

“We manage our collateral arrangements as part of our overall risk-management discipline and not as a driver of profits,” said Michael DuVally, a spokesman for Goldman Sachs. He said that Bloomberg’s estimates of the firm’s potential returns on collateral were “flawed” and declined to provide further explanation.

JPMorgan, Citigroup

JPMorgan received cash collateral equal to 57 percent of the fair value of its derivatives receivables after accounting for offsetting positions, according to data contained in the firm’s most recent annual filing. It posted collateral equal to 45 percent of the comparable payables, leaving it with a $37 billion net cash collateral balance, the filing shows.

In 2008 the cash collateral received by JPMorgan made up 47 percent of derivative assets, while the amount posted was 37 percent of liabilities. The percentages were 47 percent and 26 percent in 2007, according to data in company filings.

“JPMorgan now requires more collateral from its counterparties” on derivatives, David Trone, an analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd., wrote in a note to investors following a meeting with Jes Staley, chief executive officer of JPMorgan’s investment bank.

Citigroup Collateral

By contrast, New York-based Citigroup Inc., a bank that’s 27 percent owned by the U.S. government, paid out $11 billion more in collateral on over-the-counter derivatives than it collected at the end of 2009, a company filing shows.

Brian Marchiony, a spokesman for JPMorgan, and Alexander Samuelson, a spokesman for Citigroup, both declined to comment.

The five biggest U.S. commercial banks in the derivatives market — JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup and Wells Fargo & Co. — account for 97 percent of the notional value of derivatives held in the banking industry, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

In credit-default swaps, the world’s five biggest dealers are JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank AG and London-based Barclays Plc, according to a report by Deutsche Bank Research that cited the European Central Bank and filings with the SEC.

Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan had combined revenue of $29.1 billion from trading derivatives and cash securities in the first nine months of 2009, according to Federal Reserve reports.

The U.S. Congress is considering bills that would require more derivatives deals be processed through clearinghouses, privately owned third parties that guarantee transactions and keep track of collateral and margin. A clearinghouse that includes both banks and hedge funds would erode the banks’ collateral balances, said Kevin McPartland, a senior analyst at research firm Tabb Group in New York.

When contracts are negotiated between two parties, collateral arrangements are determined by the relative credit ratings of the two companies and other factors in the relationship, such as how much trading a fund does with a bank, McPartland said. When trades are cleared, the requirements have “nothing to do with credit so much as the mark-to-market value of your current net position.”

“Once you’re able to use a clearinghouse, presumably everyone’s on a level playing field,” he said.

Dimon, Blankfein

Still, banks may maintain their advantage in parts of the market that aren’t standardized or liquid enough for clearing, McPartland said. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs’s Blankfein both told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in January that they support central clearing for all standardized over-the-counter derivatives.

“The percentage of products that are suitable for central clearing is relatively small in comparison to the entire OTC derivatives market,” McPartland said.

A report this month by the New York-based International Swaps & Derivatives Association found that 84 percent of collateral agreements are bilateral, meaning collateral is exchanged in two directions.

Banks have an advantage in dealing with asset managers because they can require collateral when initiating a trade, sometimes amounting to as much as 20 percent of the notional value, said Craig Stein, a partner at law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP in New York who represents hedge-fund clients.

JPMorgan Collateral

JPMorgan’s filing shows that these initiation amounts provided the firm with about $11 billion of its $37.4 billion net collateral balance at the end of December, down from about $22 billion a year earlier and $17 billion at the end of 2007. Goldman Sachs doesn’t break out that category.

A bank’s net collateral balance doesn’t get included in its capital calculations and has to be held in liquid products because it can change quickly, according to an executive at one of the biggest U.S. banks who declined to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Counterparties demanding collateral helped speed the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, according to a New York Fed report published in January. Those that had posted collateral with Lehman were often in the same position as unsecured creditors when they tried to recover funds from the bankrupt firm, the report said.

“When the collateral is posted to a derivatives dealer like Goldman or any of the others, those funds are not segregated, which means that the dealer bank gets to use them to finance itself,” said Darrell Duffie, a professor of finance at Stanford University in Palo Alto. “That’s all fine until a crisis comes along and counterparties pull back and the money that dealer banks thought they had disappears.”

‘Greater Push Back’

While some hedge-fund firms have pushed for banks to put up more cash after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and other survivors of the credit crisis have benefited from the drop in competition.

“When the crisis started developing, I definitely thought it was going to be an opportunity for our fund clients to make some headway in negotiating, and actually the exact opposite has happened,” said Schulte Roth’s Stein. “Post-financial crisis, I’ve definitely seen a greater push back on their side.”

Hedge-fund firms that don’t have the negotiating power to strike two-way collateral agreements with banks have more to gain from a clearinghouse than those that do, said Stein.

Regulators should encourage banks to post more collateral to their counterparties to lower the impact of a single bank’s failure, according to the January New York Fed report. Pressure from regulators and a move to greater use of clearinghouses may mean the banks’ advantage has peaked.

“Before the financial crisis, collateral was very unevenly demanded and somewhat insufficiently demanded,” Stanford’s Duffie said. A clearinghouse “should reduce the asymmetry and raise the total amount of collateral.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael J. Moore in New York at mmoore55@bloomberg.net; Christine Harper in New York at charper@bloomberg.net.

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