POCKET CHANGE!! BofA’s Countrywide settles with FTC for $108 million

(Reuters) – Bank of America Corp has agreed to pay $108 million to settle government charges that its Countrywide unit, the mortgage lender that became synonymous with risky lending practices, bilked borrowers with misleading and excessive fees.

Housing Market

The Federal Trade Commission said two Countrywide mortgage servicing units deceived cash-strapped homeowners by overcharging them by hundreds or thousands of dollars, sometimes when they were already in bankruptcy.

The alleged activity took place before Bank of America acquired the distressed lender in 2008.

The settlement is a small win for regulators trying to hold to account those who contributed to the deep financial crisis.

The agency called the $108 million settlement one of the largest in an FTC case and the largest in a mortgage servicing case. The FTC has no jurisdiction over banks but does have jurisdiction over deceptive practices by non-bank financial services and products firms.

Countrywide, which was once the nation’s top mortgage lender, “profited from making risky loans to homeowners during the boom years, and then profited again when the loans failed,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, noting that some fees during the foreclosure process were marked up more than 400 percent.

Bank of America said in a statement that it agreed to the settlement to void the expense and distraction of litigating the case. There was no admission of wrongdoing.

The FTC said the $108 million, which represents the amount consumers were overcharged, would be used to repay borrowers but could take months to sort out.

“The record-keeping of Countrywide was abysmal,” said Leibowitz. “Most frat houses have better record-keeping than Countrywide.”

In May, Countrywide agreed to a $624 million settlement of a class action lawsuit accusing it of misleading investors about its lending practices. The case was led by several pension funds, including the New York State Common Retirement Fund, that state’s $129.4 billion public pension fund, and five New York City pension funds.

Once the largest U.S. mortgage lender, Countrywide and its long-time chief executive, Angelo Mozilo, became known for risky lending practices that helped fuel the U.S. housing boom and subsequent bust.

Countrywide nearly collapsed as credit markets tightened, before Bank of America agreed to buy it in January 2008 in a stock deal valued at about $4 billion.

Mozilo and two other former Countrywide executives remain defendants in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission civil fraud lawsuit.

The SEC alleges that Mozilo hid from investors the deteriorating prospects of Countrywide, and conducted insider trading by entering a systematic stock selling plan in late 2006, knowing that the mortgage lender’s prospects would worsen.

The SEC claimed Mozilo violated insider trading rules in generating a $139 million profit by exercising stock options in 2006 and 2007.

It said the exercises came after he admitted in an email to colleagues that Countrywide was “flying blind” as to the quality of its loans.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat and a member of the panel working out final wording on a comprehensive overhaul of Wall Street, called the FTC settlement “a major breakthrough that closes one of the ugliest chapters of the entire subprime mortgage crisis.”

“Anyone who believes the blame for the housing crisis rests with borrowers should read this settlement and learn just how shameless these lenders were during these years,” Schumer said.

(Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and by Joe Rauch in Charlotte; editing by John Wallace and Gerald E. McCormick)

VICTORY IN MONTANA: PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION ISSUED AGAINST MERS, RECONTRUST, AND COUNTRYWIDE

May 25, 2010

A Montana Circuit Judge entered a preliminary injunction yesterday enjoining MERS, Recontrust, and Countrywide from undertaking any action to sell, encumber, or transfer the borrower’s property during the pendency of the borrower’s lawsuit challenging a non-judicial foreclosure. The Notice of Trustee’s Sale fraudulently represented that there was an “obligation owed to MERS” when there was never any such obligation, and there is no evidence of any lawful assignment of either the Note or the Deed of Trust from the original lender to anyone. None of the Defendants appeared for the hearing.

The borrower had previously obtained a Temporary Restraining Order which stopped the Trustee’s Sale. Yesterday’s ruling converted the TRO into a preliminary injunction for the duration of the litigation.

This is FDN’s second victory in Montana. The borrowers in both cases are represented by Jeff Barnes, Esq. (who personally appeared at the hearing yesterday and prepared the lawsuit, Motions, and legal memoranda), assisted by local Montana counsel Eric Hummel, Esq.

Jeff Barnes, Esq., www/ForeclosureDefenseNationwide.com

SEC KNEW ABOUT SUBPRIME ACCOUNTING FRAUD A DECADE AGO

by Elizabeth MacDonald FoxBusiness

The Securities and Exchange  Commission is missing a bigger fraud while it chases the banks. Even though it knew about this massive, plain old fashioned accounting fraud back in 1998.
Instead, the market cops are probing simpler disclosure cases that could charge bank and Wall Street with not telling investors about their conflicts of interest in selling securities they knew were damaged while making bets against those same securities behind the scenes, via credit default swaps.
Those probes have gotten headlines, but there aren’t too many signs that this will lead to anything close to massive settlements or fines.

For instance, the SEC doesn’t appear to be investigating how banks frontloaded their profits via channel stuffing — securitizing loans and shoving paper securitizations onto investors, while booking those revenues immediately, even though the mortgage payments underlying those paper daisy chains were coming in the door years, even decades, later. Those moves helped lead to $2.4 trillion in writedowns worldwide.
The agency said it  believed banks were committing subprime securitization accounting frauds back in 1998 and claimed to be ‘probing’ them.
I had written about these SEC probes into potential frauds while covering corporate accounting abuses at The Wall Street Journal. The rules essentially let banks frontload into their revenue the sale of subprime mortgages or other loans that they then packaged and sold off as securities, even though the payments on those underlying loans were coming in the door over the next seven, 10, 20, or 30 years.
Estimating those revenues based on the value of future mortgage payments involved plenty of guesswork.

Securitization: Free Market Became a Free For All
The total amount of overall mortgage-backed securities generated by Wall Street virtually tripled between 1996 and 2007, to $7.3 trillion. Subprime mortgage securitizations increased from 54% in 2001, to 75% in 2006. Back in 1998, the SEC had warned a dozen top accounting firms that they must do a  better job policing how subprime lenders book profits from loans that are repackaged as securities and sold on the secondary market. The SEC “is becoming increasingly concerned” over the way lenders use what are called “gain on sale” accounting rules when they securitize these loans, Jane B. Adams, the SEC’s deputy chief accountant, said in a letter sent to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the nation’s chief accounting rule makers.
At that time, subprime lenders had come under fire from consumer groups and Congress, who said banks were using aggressive accounting to frontload profits from securitizing subprime loans. Subprime auto lender Mercury Finance collapsed after a spectacular accounting fraud and shareholder suits, New Century Financial was tanking as well for the same reason.

SEC Knew About Subprime Fraud More than a Decade Ago
The SEC more than a decade ago believed that subprime lenders were abusing the accounting rules.
When lenders repackage consumer loans as asset-backed securities, they must book the fair value of profits or losses from the deals. But regulators said lenders were overvaluing the loan assets they kept on their books in order to inflate current profits. Others delayed booking assets in order to increase future earnings. Lenders were also using poor default and prepayment rate assumptions to overestimate the fair value of their securitizations.
Counting future revenue was perfectly legal under too lax rules.
But without it many lenders that are in an objective sense doing quite well would look as if they were headed for bankruptcy.
At that time, the SEC’s eyebrows were raised when Dan Phillips, chief executive officer of FirstPlus Financial Group, a Dallas subprime home equity lenders, had said the poor accounting actually levitated profits at lenders.
“The reality is that companies like us wouldn’t be here without gain on sale,” he said, adding, “a lot of people abuse it.”
But this much larger accounting trick, one that has exacerbated the ties that blind between company and auditor, is more difficult to nail down because it involves wading through a lot of math, a calculus that Wall Street stretched it until it snapped.

Impenetrably Absurd Accounting
These were the most idiotic accounting rules known to man, rules manufactured by a quiescent Financial Accounting Standards Board [FASB] that let bank executives make up profits out of thin air.
It resulted in a folie à deux between Wall Street and complicit accounting firms that swallowed whole guesstimates pulled out of the atmosphere.
Their accounting gamesmanship set alight the most massive off-balance sheet bubble of all, a rule that helped tear the stock market off its moorings.
The rules helped five Wall Street firms – Bear Stearns, Lehman Bros., Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch – earn an estimated $312 billion based on fictitious profits during the bubble years.

Who Used the Rule?
Banks and investment firms including Citigroup, Bank of America and Merrill all used this “legit” rule.
Countrywide Financial made widespread use of this accounting chicanery (see below). So did Washington Mutual. So did IndyMac Bancorp. So did FirstPlus Financial Group, and as noted Mercury Finance Co. and New Century Financial Corp.
Brought to the cliff’s edge, these banks were either bailed out, taken over or went through bankruptcies.
Many banks sold those securitized loans to Enron-style off-balance sheet trusts, otherwise called “structured investment vehicles” (SIVs), again booking profits immediately (Citigroup invented the SIV in 1988).
So, presto-change-o, banks got to dump loans off their books, making their leverage ratios look a whole lot nicer, so in turn they could borrow more.
At the same time, the banks got to record immediate profits, even though those no-income, no-doc loans supporting those paper securities and paper gains were bellyflopping right and left.
The writedowns were then buried in obscure line items called “impairment charges,” and were then masked by new profits from issuing new loans or by refinancings.

Rulemakers Fight Back
The FASB has been fighting to restrict this and other types of accounting games, but the banks have been battling back with an army of lobbyists.
The FASB, which sets the rules for publicly traded companies, is still trying to hang tough and is trying to force all sorts of off-balance sheet borrowings back onto bank balance sheets.
But these “gain on sale” rules, along with the “fair value” or what are called “marked to market” rules, have either been watered down or have enough loopholes in them, escape hatches that were written into the rules by the accountants themselves, so that auditors can make a clean get away.
As the market turned down, banks got the FASB to back down on mark-to-market accounting, which had forced them to more immediately value these assets and take quarterly profit hits if those assets soured – even though they were booking immediate profits from this “gain on sale” rule on the way up.
Also, the FASB has clung fast to the Puritanism of their rulemaking by arguing a sale is a sale is a sale, so companies can immediately book the entire value of a sale of a loan turned into a bond, even though the cash from the underlying mortgage has yet to come in the door.

Old-Fashioned ‘Channel Stuffing’
This sanctioned “gain on sale” accounting is really old-fashioned “channel stuffing.”
The move lets companies pad their revenue and profit numbers by stuffing lots of goods and inventory (mortgages and subprime securities) into the system without actually getting the money in the door, and booking those channel-stuffed goods as actual sales in order to cook ever higher their earnings.
Sort of like what Sunbeam did with its barbecue grills in the ’90s.

Intergalactic Bank Justice League
Cleaning up the accounting rules is an easier fix instead of a new, belabored, top-heavy “Systemic Risk Council” of the heads of federal financial regulatory agencies, as Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn) envisions in financial regulatory reform.
An intergalactic Marvel Justice League of bank regulators can do nothing in the face of chicanery allowed in the rules.

Planes on a Tarmac
What happened was, banks and investment firms like Citigroup and Merrill Lynch who couldn’t sell these subprime bonds, or “collateralized debt obligations,” as well as other loan assets into these SIVs got caught out when the markets turned, stuck with this junk on their balance sheets like planes on a tarmac in a blizzard.
Bank of America saw its fourth-quarter 2007 profits plunge 95% largely due to SIV investments. SunTrust Banks’ earnings were nearly wiped out, a 98% drop in the same quarter, because of its SIVs.
Great Britain’s Northern Rock ran into huge problems in 2007 stemming from SIVs, and was later nationalized by the British government in February 2008.
Even the mortgage lending arm of tax preparer H&R Block used the move. Block sold its loans to off-balance-sheet vehicles so it could book gains about a month earlier than it otherwise would. Weee!
The company had $75 million of these items on its books at the end of its fiscal 2003 year. All totally within the rules.

Leverage Culture
The rampant fakery helped fuel a leverage culture that got a lot of homes put in hock.
Banks, for instance, started advertising home equity loans as “equity access,” or ways to “Live Richly” or as Fleet Bank once touted, “The smartest place to borrow? Your place.”
In fact, Washington Mutual and IndyMac got so excited by the gain on sale rules, they went so far as to count in profits futuristic gains even if they had only an “interest rate” commitment from a borrower, and not a final mortgage loan.
Talk about counting chickens before they hatch.

Closer Look at Wamu
Look at Wamu’s profits in just one year during the runup to the bubble. Such gains more than tripled in 2001 at Wamu, to just shy of $1 billion, or 22% of its pretax earnings before extraordinary items, up from $262 million, or 9%, in 2000.
But in 2001, Washington Mutual took $1.7 billion in charges, $1.1 billion of it in the final, fourth quarter, to reflect bleaker prospects for the revenue stream of all those servicing rights.
It papered over the hit with a nearly identical $1.8 billion gain on securitizations and portfolio sales.

Closer Look at Countrywide
The accounting fakery let Countrywide Financial Corp., the mortgage issuer now owned by Bank of America, triple its profit in 2003 to $2.4 billion on $8.5 billion in revenue.
At the height of the bubble, Countrywide booked $6.1 billion in gains from the sale of loans and securities. But this wasn’t cold, hard cash. No, this was potential future profits from servicing mortgage portfolios, meaning collecting monthly payments and late penalties.

LADOUCER v. BAC HOME LOANS SERVICING, LP, Dist. Court, SD Texas, Corpus Christi Div. 2010 “DO NOT BELIEVE A WORD THEY SAY”

Always follow your “INSTINCTS”

WILLIAM C LADOUCER, et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
BAC HOME LOANS SERVICING, LP, et al, Defendants.

Civil Action No. C-10-78.

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division.

 April 23, 2010.

 

ORDER

 

JANIS GRAHAM JACK, District Judge.

On this day came on to be considered the Court’s sua sponte review of its subject matter jurisdiction in the above-styled action. For the reasons discussed below, the Court REMANDS this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) to the 79th Judicial District of Jim Wells, Texas, where it was originally filed and assigned Cause No. 10-02-48732-CV.

 

I. Factual and Procedural Background

In their Original Petition, Plaintiffs William C. Ladoucer and Julie A. Ladoucer allege as follows:

Plaintiffs were the owners of a home located at 271 House Avenue in Sandia, Jim Wells County, Texas and that the Defendants BAC Home Loan Servicing, LP (“BAC”) and Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (“Countrywide”) were the respective servicer and holder of the mortgage on that property. (D.E. 1, Exh. 1 p. 2.) On December 29, 2008, Plaintiffs signed a resale contract to sell their property with a closing date set for February 27, 2009. (Id. at pp. 2-3.) Plaintiffs faxed the contract of sale to Defendant Countrywide. (Id. at p. 2.) Plaintiff Julie A. LaDoucer spoke to a representative at Countrywide’s Homeowner Retention Department to confirm receipt of the contract and was led to believe “that a foreclosure sale that the defendants had scheduled for January of 2009 was cancelled.” (Id. at pp. 2-3.) However, instead of cancelling the foreclosure, “Defendants foreclosed on the property on January 6, 2009.” (Id.) After the foreclosure, Plaintiffs claim that the potential buyers backed out of the sale and Plaintiffs “thereby lost almost $27,680.00 in equity which they would have realized from the sale of the property.” (Id. at p. 3.)

In February 2009, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants took possession of the property and changed the locks. (Id. at p. 3.) In March 2009, Plaintiffs allege that personal property had been taken from the home including a $4,500 shed that had been purchased by the Plaintiffs. (Id. at pp. 3-4.) Plaintiffs’ credit rating was also adversely affected by the foreclosure notation on their credit. (Id. at p. 4.)

Plaintiffs filed this action in state court on February 1, 2010. (D.E. 1, Exh. 1.) Defendants were served with process of February 16, 2010 and timely removed this case to federal court on March 12, 2010 on the grounds that this Court has diversity jurisdiction over this action. (D.E. 1.) Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on April 23, 2010.[1] (D.E. 11.)

II. Discussion

 A. General Removal Principles

 A defendant may remove an action from state court to federal court if the federal court possesses subject matter jurisdiction over the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); see Manguno v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002). A court, however, “must presume that a suit lies outside its limited jurisdiction.” Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 916 (5th Cir. 2001). The removing party, as the party seeking the federal forum, bears the burden of showing that federal jurisdiction is proper. See Manguno, 276 F.3d at 723. “Any ambiguities are construed against removal because the removal statute should be strictly construed in favor of remand.” Id. When subject matter jurisdiction is improper, a court may raise the issue sua sponte. See Lane v. Halliburton, 529 F.3d 548, 565 (5th Cir. 2008) (“We are duty-bound to examine the basis of subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte.” (citations omitted)); H&D Tire and Auto. Hardware v. Pitney Bowes Inc., 227 F.3d 326, 328 (5th Cir. 2000) (“We have a duty to raise the issue of subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte.”).

 B. Removal Based on Diversity Jurisdiction

When the alleged basis for federal jurisdiction is diversity under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, the removing defendant has the burden of demonstrating that there is: (1) complete diversity of citizenship; and (2) an amount-in-controversy greater than $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

 1. Diversity of Parties

 Section 1332(a) requires “complete diversity” of citizenship, and the district court cannot exercise diversity jurisdiction if one of the plaintiffs shares the same state citizenship as any one of the defendants. See Corfield v. Dallas Glen Hills LP, 355 F.3d 853, 857 (5th Cir. 2003). In removal cases, diversity of citizenship must exist both at the time of filing in state court and at the time of removal to federal court. See Coury v. Prot, 85 F.3d 244, 249 (5th Cir. 1996).

 In this case, complete diversity exists because Plaintiffs are residents of Texas and Defendant BAC is a resident of North Carolina while Defendant Countrywide is a New York corporation with its principal place of business in California. (D.E. 1.)

 2. Amount in Controversy

Generally, the amount in controversy for the purposes of establishing federal jurisdiction should be determined by the plaintiff’s complaint. See St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288 (1938); De Aguilar v. Boeing Co., 47 F.3d 1404, 1411-12 (5th Cir. 1995). Where the plaintiff has not made a specific monetary demand, the defendant has the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional amount. See Manguno, 276 F.3d at 723 (“where . . . the petition does not include a specific monetary demand, [the defendant] must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000”); St. Paul Reinsurance Co. v. Greenberg, 134 F.3d 1250, 1253 (5th Cir. 1998); Allen v. R&H Oil & Gas Co., 63 F.3d 1326, 1335 (5th Cir. 1995).

1. This Court Lacks Diversity Jurisdiction Over This Case

 Plaintiffs do not demand over $75,000, the minimum amount of damages necessary for federal diversity jurisdiction. (D.E. 1, Exh. 1.) Rather, Plaintiffs’ Original Petition states that the foreclosure of the home itself caused only $27,680 of damages in lost equity. (Id. at 3.) Further, Plaintiffs claim that the total damages for the wrongful foreclosure, fraud, and breach of contract claims, including the above-stated $27,680 damages in lost equity, are “at least $35,000.” (D.E. 1, Exh. 1, pp. 4-5.) Plaintiffs also claim “at least $20,000” for the exemplary damages claim, and “at least $5000” for reasonable attorneys’ fees. (D.E. 1, Exh. 1, pp. 4-5.) In total, Plaintiffs claim only $70,000 in damages. This is less than the $75,000 required for diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

 Defendants, in a conclusory manner, nonetheless assert that “[t]he face of the petition . . . reveals that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.” (D.E. 1, p. 3.) Defendants state that under Texas law, exemplary damages “could alone result in the recovery of more than $75,000.” (Id. (emphasis added).) However, Defendants ignore that Plaintiffs’ Petition specifies only $20,000 in exemplary damages, drastically less than Defendants’ assertions. (D.E. 1, Exh. 1, p. 4.) Based on Defendants’ claims alone, this Court cannot assume that exemplary damages will be so high that they would give this Court jurisdiction. This is especially true given that “[a]ny ambiguities are construed against removal because the removal statute should be strictly construed in favor of remand.” Manguno v. Prudential Property and Cas. Ins. Co., 276 F.3d 720, 723 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing Acuna v. Brown & Root, Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir. 2000)).

 Defendants have thus failed to establish that this action involves an amount in controversy of more than $75,000, exclusive of costs and interests, as required for this Court to have diversity jurisdiction over this suit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Therefore, Defendants have failed to meet their burden of showing that federal jurisdiction exists and that removal was proper. Frank v. Bear Stearns & Co., 128 F.3d 919, 921 (5th Cir. 1997) (“The party invoking the removal jurisdiction of federal courts bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction over the state court suit.”). Accordingly, this Court must remand this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). (“If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.”). See Lott v. Dutchmen Mfg., Inc., 422 F.Supp.2d 750, 752 (E.D. Tex. 2006) (citing Manguno, 276 F.3d at 723).

 III. Conclusion

 For the reasons stated above, this Court determines sua sponte that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the above-styled action. This case is hereby REMANDED pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) to the 79th Judicial District of Jim Wells, Texas, where it was originally filed and assigned Cause No. 10-02-48732-CV.

 SIGNED and ORDERED.

[1] Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on April 23, 2010, however, for purpose of removal, this Court looks only to the pleadings and allegations at the time of removal. See Adair v. Lease Partners, Inc., 587 F.3d 238, 243 (5th Cir. 2009) (“[T]he power to remove is evaluated at the time of removal.”); Cavallini v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 44 F.3d 256, 265 (5th Cir. 1995) (finding removal jurisdiction is based on complaint at the time of removal and a plaintiff cannot defeat removal by amending the complaint).

The People of the State of California vs CountryWide Financial, Universal American Mortgage Company,

Source: b.daviesmd6605

First Amended Complaint that lead to Countrywide Settlement. This is well written and shows the high pressure tactics without the ability to pay, over the top advertising.

The tactics are similar to the builder lenders who use the same tactics to create profits at the expense of the buyers. This was done with aggressive sales tactics, setting up homeowners to fail while collecting large fees at each level.

Universal American Mortgage the lender for Builder Lennar does the same, and it is mandatory to apply for their loan. There are restrictions of discounts only if their lender is used. Their loan advisors are real estate sales persons not financial lenders. It is steering at its best. Then the title company, insurance company, builder, lenders, escrow—all the same. It is really bad.

Move Over Fannie Mae…Revealing the “TRIPLETS” Maiden Lane, Maiden Lane II and Maiden Lane III

Fed Reveals Bear Stearns Assets It Swallowed in Firm’s Rescue (Bloomberg)

By Craig Torres, Bob Ivry and Scott Lanman

April 1 (Bloomberg) — After months of litigation and political scrutiny, the Federal Reserve yesterday ended a policy of secrecy over its Bear Stearns Cos. bailout.

In a 4:30 p.m. announcement in a week of congressional recess and religious holidays, the central bank released details of securities bought to aid Bear Stearns’s takeover by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Bloomberg News sued the Fed for that information.

The Fed’s vehicle known as Maiden Lane LLC has securities backed by mortgages from lenders including Washington Mutual Inc. and Countrywide Financial Corp., loans that were made with limited borrower documentation. More than $1 billion of them are backed by “jumbo” mortgages written by Thornburg Mortgage Inc., which now carry the lowest investment-grade rating. Jumbo loans were larger than government-sponsored mortgage buyers such as Fannie Mae could finance — $417,000 at the time.

“The Fed absorbed that risk on its balance sheet and is now seen to be holding problematic, legacy assets,” said Vincent Reinhart, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington who was the central bank’s monetary- affairs director from 2001 to 2007. “There is both an impairment to its balance sheet and its reputation.”

The Bear Stearns deal marked a turning point in the financial crisis for the Fed. By putting taxpayers at risk in financing the rescue, the central bank was engaging in fiscal policy, normally the domain of Congress and the U.S. Treasury, said Marvin Goodfriend, a former Richmond Fed policy adviser who is now an economist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

‘Panic’ Cause

“Lack of clarity on the boundary between responsibilities of the Fed and of the Congress as much as anything else created panic in the fall of 2008,” Goodfriend said. “That created a situation in which what had been a serious recession became something near a Great Depression.”

Central bankers also created moral hazard, or a perception for investors that any financial firm bigger than Bear Stearns wouldn’t be allowed to fail, said David Kotok, chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors Inc. in Vineland, New Jersey.

Policy makers’ resolve was tested months later by runs against the largest financial companies. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed into bankruptcy in September 2008. The ensuing panic caused the Fed to take even more emergency measures to push liquidity into markets and institutions. It rescued American International Group Inc. from collapse and allowed Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley to convert into bank holding companies, putting them under greater oversight by the central bank.

Early Failure

“Letting somebody fail early would have been a better choice,” Kotok said. “You would have ratcheted moral hazard lower and Lehman wouldn’t have been so severe.”

The Bear Stearns assets include bets against the credit of bond insurers such as MBIA Inc., Financial Security Assurance Holdings Ltd. and a unit of Ambac Financial Group, putting the Fed in the position of wagering companies will stop paying their debts.

The Fed disclosed that some of Maiden Lane’s assets were portions of commercial loans for hotels, including Short Hills Hilton LLC in New Jersey, Hilton Hawaiian Village LLC in Hawaii, and Hilton of Malaysia LLC, in addition to securities backed by residential mortgages.

More than a year after Washington Mutual, the largest U.S. savings and loan, was purchased by JPMorgan Chase in a distressed sale arranged by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the home loans that helped bring down the Seattle-based thrift live on in the Maiden Lane portfolio.

Lending Standards

For example, 94 percent of the mortgages in one security, called WAMU 06-A13 2XPPP, required limited documentation from borrowers, meaning the lender often didn’t ask customers for proof of their incomes. Almost 10 percent of the borrowers whose mortgages make up the security have been foreclosed on, and almost a quarter are more than two months late with payments, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The portfolio also includes $618.9 million of securities backed by Countrywide, mortgages now rated CCC, eight levels below investment grade. All the underlying loans are adjustable- rate mortgages, with about 88 percent requiring only limited borrower documentation, according to Bloomberg data. About 33.6 percent of the borrowers are at least 60 days late. Countrywide is now part of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America Corp.

CDO Holdings

Maiden Lane has $19.5 million of securities from a series of collateralized debt obligations called Tropic CDO that are backed by trust preferred securities of community banks and thrifts. CDOs are investment pools made up of a variety of assets that provide a flow of cash.

Trust preferred securities, or TruPS, have characteristics of debt and equity and their interest payments are tax- deductible.

The securities created by Bear Stearns are rated C, one level above default, by Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings.

CDO securities have tumbled in value as banks are failing at the fastest rate in 17 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The average price of TruPS CDO debt of this rating is pennies on the dollar, according to Citigroup Inc.

“The trust of the taxpayer was abused,” said Janet Tavakoli, president of Chicago-based financial consulting firm Tavakoli Structured Finance Inc. CDOs rated CCC and lower “have a high likelihood of default,” she said.

Bernanke Defense

Chairman Ben S. Bernanke defended the Bear Stearns deal as a rescue of the financial system. He said in a speech at the Kansas City Fed’s annual Jackson Hole, Wyoming conference in August 2008 that a sudden Bear Stearns failure would have caused a “vicious circle of forced selling” and increased volatility.

“The broader economy could hardly have remained immune from such severe financial disruptions,” Bernanke said in the speech. The Fed chief, who took office in 2006 and began his second term as chairman this year, also has repeatedly called for an overhaul of financial regulations that would allow authorities to take over a failing financial institution and oversee an orderly unwinding of its positions.

Bernanke said last year that nothing made him “more angry” than the AIG case, blaming the insurer for making “irresponsible bets” and a lack of regulatory oversight for the debacle. Officials “had no choice but to try and stabilize the system” by aiding the firm in September 2008, he said.

Yesterday’s release by the Fed, through its New York regional bank, also identified securities acquired in the bailout of AIG held in vehicles known as Maiden Lane II and III.

Market Value

Assets in Maiden Lane II totaled $34.8 billion, according to the Fed, which set their current market value in its weekly balance sheet at $15.3 billion. That means Maiden Lane II assets are worth 44 cents on the dollar, or 44 percent of their face value, according to the Fed.

Maiden Lane III, which has $56 billion of assets at face value, is worth $22.1 billion, or 39 cents on the dollar, according to the Fed’s weekly balance sheet. A similar calculation for the Bear Stearns portfolio couldn’t be made because of outstanding derivatives trades.

“The Federal Reserve recognizes the importance of transparency to its financial stability efforts and will continue to review disclosure practices with the goal of making additional information publicly available when possible,” the New York Fed said in yesterday’s statement.

Deal With Chase

The central bank said it reached agreement on “issues of confidentiality” for the assets with JPMorgan Chase, which bought Bear Stearns in 2008, and AIG. New York-based JPMorgan and AIG would incur the first losses on the portfolios.

Joe Evangelisti, a spokesman for JPMorgan, and Mark Herr, a spokesman for AIG, declined to comment.

In April 2008, Bloomberg News requested records under the federal Freedom of Information Act from the Fed’s Board of Governors related to JPMorgan’s acquisition of Bear Stearns. The central bank responded that records retained by the New York Fed “were proprietary records of the Reserve Bank, and not Board records subject” to the request, court records show.

Bloomberg filed suit in November 2008 in U.S. District Court in New York, challenging the Fed’s denial, as well as the denial of a separate request made in May 2008, seeking records of four other emergency lending programs.

The district court held that the Fed should release documents related to those four programs, and should search documents held by the New York regional bank to determine whether any of them should be considered records of the board of governors.

The U.S. Court of Appeals on March 19 upheld the district court’s ruling on the lending programs.

Representative Darrell Issa of California said in a statement that yesterday’s disclosure may “signal a new willingness to cooperate with Congress as we investigate how these bailout deals were structured and what the decision making process entailed.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Craig Torres in Washington at ctorres3@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: April 1, 2010 01:34 EDT

Mortgage Servicers: The TRUTH what they don’t want you to know.

Why do mortgage companies continue to buy defaulted loans where the borrowers are either dilinquent or stopped making payments completely? For those who also want to know as to why the banks do not want to work with you. Well this is why…