Too Big To Jail? Executives Unscathed As Regulators Let Banks Report Criminal Fraud: HUFFINGTON POST

Huffington Post Investigative Fund |  David Heath First Posted: 05- 3-10 09:24 PM   |   Updated: 05- 3-10 09:44 PM

Republished from the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.

The financial crisis has spawned hundreds of criminal prosecutions for alleged fraud. Yet so far, defendants have been mostly minor players such as real-estate agents, mortgage brokers, borrowers and a few low-level bank employees. No senior executives at large financial institutions face criminal charges.

Too Big To JailThats in stark contrast to prosecutions during the savings and loan scandal two decades ago, when the government’s strategy targeted and snagged some of banking’s most powerful players. The approach back then succeeded in sending scores of S&L executives to prison, as well as junk-bond king Michael Milken and business tycoon Charles Keating Jr.

One explanation for the difference may be that key bank regulators — who did the detective work during the S&L crisis and sent more than 1,000 criminal referrals to prosecutors — have this time left reporting fraud up to the banks themselves.

Spokesmen for two chief regulators, the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision, say that they have not sent prosecutors a single case for criminal prosecution.

An OTS spokesman said the agency, much like the banks themselves, does not see much evidence of criminal fraud inside the financial institutions. The spokesman, Bill Ruberry, citing the agency’s enforcement director, said, “There may be some isolated cases, but certainly there’s no widespread patterns.”

That surprises William K. Black, a former OTS official who helped coordinate criminal investigations during the S&L crisis.

“Dear God,” Black said when told bank regulators haven’t made any criminal referrals. “Not a single one?”

Black sees many signs the the government is less aggressive than during the S&L era — and could result in more bad behavior.

“This crisis was not bad luck,” he said. “It was done to us. When you bring those convictions, you hope that at least for a while to deter.”

Banks have reported massive amounts of fraud to the Treasury Department but have not held themselves — or their top executives — responsible, instead pinning blame on borrowers, independent mortgage brokers, and others.

That may account for the dearth of prosections against big fry. For instance, in California, among states where the mortgage meltdown hit hardest, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund identified 170 mortgage fraud prosecutions in federal courts. Only two are against employees of a regulated lender.

An Investigative Fund analysis shows that two-thirds of the 170 prosecutions are against mortgage brokers, real-estate professionals or borrowers — the same groups blamed by the banks when they report suspicious activities to regulators.

Besides the absence of criminal referrals, other plausible factors for the lack of major prosecutions may include a skittishness among prosecutors about filing cases they could have trouble winning, and a severe decline in investigative resources. The FBI dramatically shifted resources away from white-collar crime after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

To be sure, there are also notable differences between the S&L and current financial crisis, in the behavior of lenders during both periods, and between civil allegations of fraud and proving that someone committed a crime — all of which could account for the lack of big prosecutions.

But interviews with several law enforcement authorities suggest another explanation: A lack of active assistance to prosecutors by bank regulators who played key roles during the S&L crackdown. Those regulators sent detailed reports to prosecutors of known and suspicious criminal activity.

“Only the regulators can make a lot of these cases,” Black said. “The FBI can make a few, but the regulators are the ones that understand the industry.”

Under intense political pressure in the late 1980s, the Justice Department and thrift regulators developed a strategy to thoroughly investigate failed S&Ls for evidence of fraud and to focus their resources on the highest ranking executives.

In the early years, between 1987 and 1989, there were more than 300 prosecutions. Some bank executives were already behind bars. In 1989, Woody Lemons, chairman of Vernon Savings and Loan in Texas, was sentenced to 30 years.

In June 1990, then-OTS director Timothy Ryan told Congress that his agency had established criminal-referral units in each of 12 district offices. In addition, more than 30 OTS employees were assigned as full-time agents of grand juries or assistant US attorneys to help prosecutions. And the agency prioritized prosecutions to a Top 100 list, targeting senior S&L executives and directors.

While data on criminal referrals during the S&L crisis is spotty, the Government Accountability Office reported that in the first ten months of 1992 alone — a random snapshot — financial regulators sent the Justice Department more than 1,000 cases for criminal prosecution.

One study showed that 35 percent of criminal referrals in Texas — ground zero for the S&L problems — were against officers and directors.

This time, prosecutors are relying more heavily on banks to report suspicious activity to the Treasury Department. Banks are required to report known or suspected criminal violations, including fraud, on Suspicious Activity Reports designed for the purpose. In effect, the reports, which can be many pages in length, provide substantive leads for criminal investigations.

Black scoffs at the strategy of leaving it to banks to ferret out all the fraud. “Institutions will not make criminal referrals against the people who control the institutions,” said Black.

A white-collar criminologist and law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, he argues that there’s ample evidence of fraud. Insiders working for lenders openly referred to loans they made without proof of income as “liar loans.” Many banks actively sought inflated appraisals in their rush to make as many loans as possible. As previously reported by the Investigative Fund, such lending practices contributed to the demise of Washington Mutual.

Not everyone agrees that such a case can be successful. Benjamin Wagner, a U.S. Attorney who is actively prosecuting mortgage fraud cases in Sacramento, Calif., points out that banks lose money when a loan turns out to be fraudulent. An investor in loans who documents fraud can force a bank to buy the loan back. But convincing a jury that executives intended to make fraudulent loans, and thus should be held criminally responsible, may be too difficult of a hurdle for prosecutors.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me that they would be deliberately defrauding themselves,” Wagner said.

So far, only sporadic news reports suggest that the Justice Department has ongoing criminal investigations against major banks such as Washington Mutual and Countrywide, as well as investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Fewer Cops on the Beat

The Justice Department, in response to written questions from the Investigative Fund, acknowledged the absence of criminal referrals from financial regulators. Months into the financial crisis, a new Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, formed by President Obama last fall, was trying to work out communication problems between Justice and the regulatory agencies, according to the head of the task force, Robb Adkins. Adkins has said that criminal referrals from regulators have been “too often the exception to the rule.”

At a Congressional hearing in December, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer was asked why there have been no criminal cases brought yet against CEOs. “Don’t for a moment think [these cases] aren’t being investigated,” Breuer replied. “They are complicated cases. It took a long time in hatching them and developing them. But they will be brought.”

The system that tracks Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, detected a dramatic increase in mortgage fraud starting in 2003, when reports of mortgage fraud nearly doubled within a year from 5,400 to 9,500. By 2007, the number had exploded to 53,000. During those same years, many mortgage lenders dramatically lowered their lending standards. Banks often required no proof of income. Borrowers could even get loans without be able to repay them.

Yet in their reports, banks overwhelmingly have blamed others for fraud. Whenever a borrower’s income was wrong on a loan application, the banks fingered borrowers 87 percent of the time and independent mortgage brokers 64 percent of the time, according to a 2006 Treasury analysis of the SARs. But the bank’s own employees were almost never blamed — only about four times in every 1,000 reports.

That might explain why so few prosecutions have targeted bank insiders.

Another reason for fewer prosecutions against bank employees is that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has far fewer agents working on the current crisis. Deputy Director John Pistole testified before Congress last year that the bureau had 1,000 people working on the S&L crisis at its height. That compares to about 240 agents working on mortgage fraud cases last year.

The FBI dramatically shifted its resources away from white-collar crime and to terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We just didn’t have the cops on the beat” during the recent crisis, said Sen. Ted Kaufman, the Delaware Democrat who conducted a hearing on the lack of criminal prosecutions. “I was around during the savings and loan crisis [as a Congressional aide] and we had a lot more folks working it when it went down.”

Even with additional funding from Congress, which Kaufman helped push through, the FBI is budgeted to have 377 people working mortgage fraud cases this year, about a third as many as during the S&L investigations.

Charges Harder to Prove?

Charges in the recent banking crisis may be harder to prove, said Robert H. Tillman, who teaches at St. John’s University and who analyzed data about S&L prosecutions. Savings and loan executives who were convicted often personally approved large commercial loans for projects doomed to fail. Some would use federally insured deposits to pay themselves excessive salaries or to lend money to their own real estate projects. A few even took kickbacks.

This time, lending executives may have encouraged the making of bad loans, but they generally did not personally approve the loans, Tillman said. They didn’t send emails telling the troops to make fraudulent loans but paid big commissions to loan offers who made risky loans. Then the executives were able to reap huge bonuses for making the company look so profitable.

So far, the biggest cases have been civil lawsuits brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission, including most recently a highly publicized securities fraud case against Goldman Sachs and one of its vice presidents, Fabrice P. Tourre. News reports suggest that a referral from the SEC’s enforcement division to the Justice Department has led to a criminal inquiry.

Typically, federal authorities deal with massive financial scandals by picking a few cases they are confident they can win, said Henry Pontell, an expert on fraud at the University of California — Irvine.

This time, the administration may have been more focused on saving failing banks — and an entire financial system — than in prosecuting bank executives, Pontell said. Giving billions in bailout dollars to executives who encouraged fraudulent practices not only could complicate a case, it could prove embarrasing, he added.

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BOY WERE WE SCREWED! Bailout Tally $4.6 TRILLION

To think we all lost and keep losing our homes!

Comprehensive Bailout Tally: $4.6 Trillion Spent on the Bailout to Date

Submitted by Mary Bottari on April 1, 2010 – 7:05am. PRWATCH.org

Today, the Real Economy Project of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) released an assessment of the total cost to taxpayers of the Wall Street bailout. CMD concludes that multiple federal agencies have disbursed $4.6 trillion dollars in supporting the financial sector since the meltdown in 2007-2008. Of that, $2 trillion is still outstanding. Our tally shows that the Federal Reserve is the real source of the bailout funds.

CMD’s assessment demonstrates that while the press has focused its attention on the $700 billion TARP bill passed by Congress, the Federal Reserve has provided by far the bulk of the funding for the bailout in the form of loans amounting to $3.8 trillion. Little information has been disclosed about what collateral taxpayers have received in return for these loans, sparking the Bloomberg News lawsuit covered earlier. CMD also concludes that the bailout is far from over as the government has active programs authorized to cost up to $2.9 trillion and still has $2 trillion in outstanding investments and loans.

Learn more about the 35 programs included in the CMD tally by visiting our Total Wall Street Bailout Cost Table, which contains links to pages on each bailout program with details including the current balance sheet for each program.

Treasury Department Self-Congratulations Premature

While the Treasury Department has been patting itself on the back for recouping some of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds and allegedly making money off of its aid to Citigroup, the CMD accounting shows that TARP is only a small fraction of the federal funds that have gone out the door in support of the financial sector. Far more has been done to aid Wall Street through the back door of the Federal Reserve than through the front door of Congressional appropriations.

The tally shows that more scrutiny needs to be given by policymakers and the media to the role of the Federal Reserve especially as the Fed has accounted for the vast majority of the bailout funds, yet provides far less disclosure and is far less directly accountable than the Treasury.

Download the Financial Crisis Tracker

In addition to a comprehensive here Wall Street Bailout Table which will be updated monthly as a resource for press and the public, CMD is also making available a Financial Crisis Tracker, a widget that links to the table that can be downloaded to websites and provides up–to-date numbers on the financial crisis and the bailout. The Financial Crisis Tracker shows unemployment rates, housing foreclosure rates and the bailout total on a monthly basis. It is a more accurate measure of how we are doing as a nation than any Wall Street ticker.

* Key Findings

* Wall Street Bailout Table

* Financial Crisis Tracker

Among the Key Findings:

1) $4.6 Trillion in Taxpayer Funds Have Been Disbursed

All together, $4.6 trillion of taxpayer funds have been disbursed in the form of direct loans to Wall Street companies and banks, purchases of toxic assets, and support for the mortgage and mortgage-backed securities markets through federal housing agencies. This is an astonishing 32% of our GDP (2008) 130% of the federal budget (FY 2009).

2) TARP vs. Non-TARP Funding

Most accountings of the financial bailout focus on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), enacted by Congress with the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. However, a complete analysis of the activities of all the agencies involved in the bailout including the FDIC, Federal Reserve and the Treasury reveals that TARP, which ended up disbursing about $410 billion was less than a tenth of the total U.S. government effort to contain the financial crisis. TARP funds only account for about 20% of the maximum commitments made through the bailout and less than 10% of the actual funds disbursed.

3) The Federal Reserve has Played the Primary Role in the Bailout

The Federal Reserve has provided by far the bulk of the funding for the bailout in the form of loans — $3.8 trillion in total. Little information has been disclosed about what collateral taxpayers have received in return for many of these loans. Bloomberg News is suing the Federal Reserve to make this information public. On March 19, 2010 Bloomberg won its suit in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, but it is not clear if this case will continue to be litigated to the Supreme Court.

4) Federal Support for the Housing Market is on the Rise

A key component of the bailout has been the federal support for mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, primarily through the Federal Reserve. All together, the government has disbursed more than $1.5 trillion in non-TARP funds to directly support the mortgage and housing market since 2007.

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

Fed’s Mortgage Purchase Program Sunsets (Exits)

 The TRILLION dollar question – if the Fed bought those *securities*, who is the Real Party in Interest/Holder in Due Course of the right to *foreclose*?

And were the assignments legally enforceable and *recorded*??  (Obviously not!!!!!!) 

By: Carrie Bay (DSNEWS)

The Federal Reserve’s role as buttress, crutch, and benefactor of the nation’s mortgage debt market came to an end Wednesday. Since November 2008, the central bank has been the market’s No. 1 patron, buying up $1.25 trillion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS) from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae.

There’s been chatter that the Fed’s exit could leave a gaping hole in the secondary market for mortgage bonds, causing interest rates for home loans to spike and buyer demand to dwindle. But the central bank has been prepping the market for its absence for some time now in the hopes of diminishing such effects, and has indicated that it will be keeping a close eye on market reactions, hinting that it could step back in if conditions begin to falter.

Most market observers, though, are predicting that won’t be necessary. It appears that private investors’ appetites for agencies’ mortgage bonds are piquing. Analysts are

saying private equity will step in to pick up the slack and mortgage interest rates will rise less than a quarter of a percentage point over the next quarter.

It’s expected that there may be some price volatility in the mortgage securities space after the Fed’s withdrawal, but analysts don’t expect prices to plunge or issuers’ yields to start heading upwards. One reason for this assumption is that traditional MBS buyers now have money to burn.

Christian Cooper, an interest rate strategist at Royal Bank of Canada’s RBC Capital Markets, explained to American Banker, “As the [U.S.] government has become the world’s largest buyer of mortgage securities in the last year, they’ve effectively squeezed all other buyers out of the market. The natural mortgage-backed securities buyer has been accumulating cash, effectively waiting for the program to end.”

Economists also say that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s decision to pull seriously delinquent loans from securitized pools, which they announced in February, is making the prospect of purchasing such bonds more appealing to investors. Over the next few months, the GSEs plan to buy back loans in MBS that are 120 days or more overdue – some $127 billion in loans for Fannie, and $70 billion for Freddie.

The New York Times noted that while the mortgage market appears to be taking the end of the Federal Reserve’s MBS buying in stride, any talk from the central bank about actually selling its recently-acquired holdings should be a cause for greater concern than the Fed simply ending further purchases, since the Fed now owns about 25 percent of the outstanding stock of mortgage bonds.

Greenspan, Rubin, Prince to Testify for Financial Crisis Panel: Bloomberg

I wonder if wifey Andrea Mitchell will report? NBC?

March 31, 2010, 9:29 PM EDT

By Jesse Westbrook

March 31 (Bloomberg) — Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, ex-U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Charles Prince, who stepped down as Citigroup Inc. chief executive officer in 2007, will testify next week before the panel probing the financial crisis.

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission will hear from Greenspan on April 7, the panel said in a statement today. Rubin and Prince will testify the following day.

The FCIC, charged with determining what caused the worst U.S. economic slump since the Great Depression, is investigating the roles banks and regulators played in spurring or failing to prevent a crisis that led to more than $1.7 trillion in writedowns and credit losses at financial companies worldwide.

Testimony from Greenspan, Rubin and Prince shows the panel is shifting its focus to the Fed, where Greenspan served until 2006, and Citigroup, where Rubin became a senior adviser after serving in the Treasury post under President Bill Clinton. Citigroup got $45 billion in U.S. government bailout funds in 2008 after the collapse of the mortgage market froze credit.

U.S. Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan, whose agency oversees national banks, will also testify on April 8. Former Fannie Mae Chief Executive officer Daniel Mudd will appear April 9 along with former directors of the Office of the Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.

The U.S. government rescued Fannie Mae in August 2008 after the housing slump threatened the survival of the government- sponsored company.

The FCIC, whose members were appointed by Congress, has been investigating the financial crisis since last year. It is supposed to deliver its findings to lawmakers in December.

–Editors: Gregory Mott, William Ahearn

To contact the reporter on this story: Jesse Westbrook in Washington at jwestbrook1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alec McCabe at amccabe@bloomberg.net.

Federal Reserve Must Disclose Bank Bailout Records (Update5): We love Bloomberg.com

SHOCK & AWE …I’m betting! Thanks to Bloomberg for the lawsuit to DISCLOSE! Notice how both Bloomberg & Huffington are always the ones who go after the banksters…Because they probably don’t use the banksters to fund them!

By David Glovin and Bob Van Voris

March 19 (Bloomberg) — The Federal Reserve Board must disclose documents identifying financial firms that might have collapsed without the largest U.S. government bailout ever, a federal appeals court said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled today that the Fed must release records of the unprecedented $2 trillion U.S. loan program launched primarily after the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. The ruling upholds a decision of a lower-court judge, who in August ordered that the information be released.

The Fed had argued that disclosure of the documents threatens to stigmatize borrowers and cause them “severe and irreparable competitive injury,” discouraging banks in distress from seeking help. A three-judge panel of the appeals court rejected that argument in a unanimous decision.

The U.S. Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, “sets forth no basis for the exemption the Board asks us to read into it,” U.S. Circuit Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote in the opinion. “If the Board believes such an exemption would better serve the national interest, it should ask Congress to amend the statute.”

The opinion may not be the final word in the bid for the documents, which was launched by Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, with a November 2008 lawsuit. The Fed may seek a rehearing or appeal to the full appeals court and eventually petition the U.S. Supreme Court.

Right to Know

If today’s ruling is upheld or not appealed by the Fed, it will have to disclose the requested records. That may lead to “catastrophic” results, including demands for the instant disclosure of banks seeking help from the Fed, resulting in a “death sentence” for such financial institutions, said Chris Kotowski, a bank analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York.

“Whenever the Fed extends funds to a bank, it should be disclosed in private to the Congressional oversight committees, but to release it to the public I think would be a horrific mistake,” Kotowski said in an interview. “It would stigmatize the banks, it would lead to all kinds of second-guessing of the Fed, and I don’t see what public purpose is served by it.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, said the decision was a “major victory” for U.S. taxpayers.

“This money does not belong to the Federal Reserve,” Sanders said in a statement. “It belongs to the American people, and the American people have a right to know where more than $2 trillion of their money has gone.”

Fed Review

The Fed is reviewing the decision and considering its options for reconsideration or appeal, Fed spokesman David Skidmore said.

“We’re obviously pleased with the court’s decision, which is an important affirmation of the public’s right to know what its government is up to,” said Thomas Golden, a partner at New York-based Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and Bloomberg’s outside counsel.

The court was asked to decide whether loan records are covered by FOIA. Historically, the type of government documents sought in the case has been protected from public disclosure because they might reveal competitive trade secrets.

The Fed had argued that it could withhold the information under an exemption that allows federal agencies to refuse disclosure of “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential.”

Payment Processors

The Clearing House Association, which processes payments among banks, joined the case and sided with the Fed. The group includes ABN Amro Bank NV, a unit of Royal Bank of Scotland Plc, Bank of America Corp., The Bank of New York Mellon Corp., Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank AG, HSBC Holdings Plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co., US Bancorp and Wells Fargo & Co.

Paul Saltzman, general counsel for the Clearing House, said the decision did not address the “fundamental issue” of whether disclosure would “competitively harm” borrower banks.

“The Second Circuit declined to follow the decisions of other circuit courts recognizing that disclosure of certain confidential information can impair the effectiveness of government programs, such as lending programs,” Saltzman said in a statement.

The Clearing House is considering whether to ask for a rehearing by the full Second Circuit and, ultimately, review by the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

Deep Crisis

Oscar Suris, a spokesman for Wells Fargo, JPMorgan spokeswoman Jennifer Zuccarelli, Bank of New York Mellon spokesman Kevin Heine, HSBC spokeswoman Juanita Gutierrez and RBS spokeswoman Linda Harper all declined to comment. Deutsche Bank spokesman Ronald Weichert couldn’t immediately comment. Bank of America declined to comment, Scott Silvestri said. Citigroup spokeswoman Shannon Bell declined to comment. U.S. Bancorp spokesman Steve Dale didn’t return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

Bloomberg, majority-owned by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sued after the Fed refused to name the firms it lent to or disclose loan amounts or assets used as collateral under its lending programs. Most of the loans were made in response to the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Lawyers for Bloomberg argued in court that the public has the right to know basic information about the “unprecedented and highly controversial use” of public money.

“Bloomberg has been trying for almost two years to break down a brick wall of secrecy in order to vindicate the public’s right to learn basic information,” Golden wrote in court filings.

Potential Harm

Banks and the Fed warned that bailed-out lenders may be hurt if the documents are made public, causing a run or a sell- off by investors. Disclosure may hamstring the Fed’s ability to deal with another crisis, they also argued.

Much of the debate at the appeals court argument on Jan. 11 centered on the potential harm to banks if it was revealed that they borrowed from the Fed’s so-called discount window. Matthew Collette, a lawyer for the government, said banks don’t do that unless they have liquidity problems.

FOIA requires federal agencies to make government documents available to the press and public. An exception to the statute protects trade secrets and privileged or confidential financial data. In her Aug. 24 ruling, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska in New York said the exception didn’t apply because there’s no proof banks would suffer.

Tripartite Test

In its opinion today, the appeals court said that the exception applies only if the agency can satisfy a three-part test. The information must be a trade secret or commercial or financial in character; must be obtained from a person; and must be privileged or confidential, according to the opinion.

The court said that the information sought by Bloomberg was not “obtained from” the borrowing banks. It rejected an alternative argument the individual Federal Reserve Banks are “persons,” for purposes of the law because they would not suffer the kind of harm required under the “privileged and confidential” requirement of the exemption.

In a related case, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in New York previously sided with the Fed and refused to order the agency to release Fed documents that Fox News Network sought. The appeals court today returned that case to Hellerstein and told him to order the Fed to conduct further searches for documents and determine whether the documents should be disclosed.

“We are pleased that this information is finally, and rightfully, going to be made available to the American public,” said Kevin Magee, Executive Vice President of Fox Business Network, in a statement.

Balance Sheet Debt

The Fed’s balance sheet debt doubled after lending standards were relaxed following Lehman’s failure on Sept. 15, 2008. That year, the Fed began extending credit directly to companies that weren’t banks for the first time since the 1930s. Total central bank lending exceeded $2 trillion for the first time on Nov. 6, 2008, reaching $2.14 trillion on Sept. 23, 2009.

More than a dozen other groups or companies filed friend- of-the-court briefs. Those arguing for disclosure of the records included the American Society of News Editors and individual news organizations.

“It’s gratifying that the court recognizes the considerable interest in knowing what is being done with our tax dollars,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Virginia.

“We’ve learned some powerful lessons in the last 18 months that citizens need to pay more attention to what’s going on in the financial world. This decision will make it easier to do that.”

The case is Bloomberg LP v. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 09-04083, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (New York).

To contact the reporters on this story: David Glovin in New York at dglovin@bloomberg.net; Bob Van Voris in New York at vanvoris@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: March 19, 2010 16:15 EDT

also see  huffington post articles on this

‘Hail Mary’ to Warren Buffett: Untold Details of Lehman’s Fall

March 11, 2010, 6:15 PM ET

‘Hail Mary’ to Warren Buffett: Untold Details of Lehman’s Fall

By Matt Phillips

Doubtless, historians will be going over the mammoth 2,200 page report from the Lehman bankruptcy examiner for years to come.

But we bloggers are writing the first draft now. And there’s plenty of good fodder on Lehman’s final days, including fresh details on its effort to get support from billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

Now, it’s well known that Lehman reached out to Buffett in its final months. The Journal’s Scott Patterson wrote about the Oracle’s decision to pass on Lehman in a story back in December.

But the level of detail provided by this report is pretty astounding. It offers a pretty amazing snapshot of Buffett’s conversation with Lehman CEO Dick Fuld as well as a remarkable window on how the Oracle negotiates during times of crisis.

The report really reads like a novel, so we’ll just give you the sections here:

Fuld and Buffett spoke on Friday, March 28, 2008. They discussed Buffett investing at least $2 billion in Lehman. Two items immediately concerned Buffet during his conversation with Fuld. First, Buffett wanted Lehman executives to buy under the same terms as Buffett. Fuld explained to the Examiner that he was reluctant to require a significant buy‐in from Lehman executives, because they already received much of their compensation in stock. However, Buffett took it as a negative that Fuld suggested that Lehman executives were not willing to participate in a significant way. Second, Buffett did not like that Fuld complained about short sellers. Buffett thought that blaming short sellers was indicative of a failure to admit one’s own problems.

Following his conversation with Buffett, Fuld asked Paulson to call Buffett, which Paulson reluctantly did. Buffett told the Examiner that during that call, Paulson signaled that he would like Buffett to invest in Lehman, but Paulson “did not load the dice.” Buffett spent the rest of Friday, March 28, 2008, reviewing Lehman’s 10‐K and noting problems with some of Lehman’s assets. Buffett’s concerns centered around Lehman’s real estate and high yield investments, lending‐related commitments derivatives and their related credit‐market risk, Level III assets and Lehman’s securitization activity. On Saturday, March 29, 2008, Buffett learned of a $100 million problem in Japan that Fuld had not mentioned during their discussions, and Buffett was concerned that Fuld had not been forthcoming about the issue. The problems Buffett saw in the 10‐K along with Fuld’s failure to alert Buffett to the issue in Japan cemented Buffett’s decision not to invest in Lehman.

At some point in their conversations, Fuld and Buffett also discovered that there had been a miscommunication about the conversion price. Buffett was interested only in convertible preferred shares. Buffett told Fuld that he was willing to agree to a $40 conversion price per share, while Fuld thought Buffett was offering to buy in at “up‐ 40,” or 40% above the current market price, which would have been about $56 per share. On Friday, March 28, 2008, Lehman’s stock closed at $37.87. Fuld spoke to Lehman’s Executive Committee and several Board members about his conversations with Buffett. Lehman recognized that an investment by Buffett would provide a “stamp of approval.” However, Lehman already had better offers for its April capital raise, and Lehman did not think it could give a better deal to Buffett at the same time it gave a less attractive deal to others. On Monday, March 31, 2008, before Buffett could tell Fuld that he was not interested, Fuld called Buffett to say that Lehman could not accept his terms.

Last‐Ditch Effort with Buffett

[Hugh “Skip” E. McGee, III, the head of Lehman’s Investment Banking Division] contacted [President David L. Sokol, president of Berkshire Hathaway’s MidAmerican Energy] again in late August or early September 2008 and outlined Lehman’s “Gameplan” for survival, specifically SpinCo. During a subsequent telephone call with Sokol, McGee explained the “good bank/bad bank” scenario and stated that Lehman would need an investor. Sokol believed the e‐mail and call were intended to induce Sokol to pass that information on to Buffett, so Sokol briefed Buffett on SpinCo. Buffett thought the idea would not solve Lehman’s problems.

Sometime during the week prior to Lehman’s bankruptcy, McGee again reached out to Sokol with what both Sokol and McGee described to the Examiner as a “Hail Mary” pass. McGee asked, “Do you have any ideas to save us?” Sokol, who was bear hunting in Alaska at the time, told McGee that he did not.

Judging by the inclusion of the largely irrelevant bear hunting detail at the end, we can tell that this report was written by a frustrated novelist. (And they did an amazing job.) But what we find most remarkable is the insight these sections offer on how Buffett assesses companies.

It’s simple–but not easy–as he combines 10-K analysis with probing questions to management.

Are they willing to put their own money at risk? Are they being upfront? Are they giving investors the full story?

Clearly Buffett didn’t think so.