Articles Posted in Countrywide Financial

The U.S. Attorney for Manhattan’s Southern District is asking the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to look at a ruling that overturned the jury verdict that held Countrywide Home Loans liable for mortgage fraud. Countrywide, which is now owned by Bank of America (BAC), made billions of dollars on home loans that went into default following the 2008 financial crisis.

It was in 2007 that the mortgage provider introduced a new program, referred to as the “high-speed swim lane,” to process applications for mortgages. Within Countrywide, the program was dubbed the “hustle.”

The program did not include the majority of conditions required to make sure loans would be paid back after Wall Street banks, Freddie Mac, or Fannie Mae sold them to investors. Unfortunately, Freddie and Fannie were not told that these conditions had become more relaxed or that loans no longer met certain criteria. The two mortgage finance firms had tightened their own loan buying requirements and underwriting guidelines. As a result of the loosened restrictions by Countrywide, contended the Justice Department, “rampant instances of fraud” resulted.

Despite the 2013 jury verdict that found Countrywide and a Bank of America executive liable for mortgage fraud, a Second Circuit judge panel overruled the decision. It found that even though Countrywide purposely breached contracts, this was not fraud because the lender had not intended to fool customers at the time that contracts were signed.

Now, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wants a Second Circuit panel of judges to consider that Countrywide made false statements when selling loan bundles to customers, including Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. He said that the court bypassed evidence at trial that showed how the defendants made fraudulent misrepresentations when selling the loans and while the contracts were being executed. Prosecutors are arguing that the language in the contract refers to each mortgage sale during the actual sale and not upon the writing of the contract.

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Deutsche Bank Reaches Swaps Violation Settlement with CFTC
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Deutsche Bank AG (DB) have reached a settlement over the regulator’s order accusing the firm of not properly reporting its swaps transactions from 1/13 through 7/15. The regulator also said there were supervisory failures and that the bank failed to modify the reporting errors at issue until after it found out that the CFTC was conducting a probe.

According to the regulator, Deutche Bank did not properly report swap transaction cancellations in all asset classes, resulting in somewhere between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of reporting errors, violations, and oppositions in its reporting of swaps. CFTC believes that the bank knew about the problem but did not notify its Swap Data Repository in a timely manner, nor did it properly probe, deal with, and modify the information deficiencies until last year when it became aware of the investigation. As a result of the reporting failures, the wrong information was put out to the public.

The CFTC believes that the bank’s reporting failures were partly because of deficiencies in its swaps supervisory system. A more adequate system could have better supervised Deutsche Bank’s activities involving compliance with reporting requirements.

Because the bank is a provisionally registered Swap Dealer, it has to abide by certain recordkeeping, disclosure, and reporting duties related to swap transactions. These requirements are supposed to improve transparency, encourage standardization, and lower systemic risk in swaps trading.

Investors File Class Action Securities Case Against Fifth Street Finance
An investor has filed a class action securities fraud case against Fifth Street Finance Corp. on behalf of shareholders. According to the plaintiff, and for those who bought Fifth Street Finance common shares between 7/7/14 and 2/6/15, the company, Fifth Street Asset Management, Inc., and specific directors and officers violated federal securities laws by allegedly taking part in a fraudulent scam to artificially inflate Fifth Street Finance assets and investment income to raise revenue of Fifth Street Management.

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The state of Virginia is suing 13 of the biggest banks in the U.S. for $1.15 billion. The state’s Attorney General Mark R. Herring claims that they misled the Virginia Retirement System about the quality of bonds in residential mortgages. The retirement fund bought the mortgage bonds between 2004 and 2010.

The defendants include Citigroup (C), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Credit Suisse AG (CS), Bank of America Corp. (BAC), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), Morgan Stanley (MS), Deutsche Bank (DB), RBS Securities (RBS), HSBC Holdings Inc. (HSBC), Barclays Group (BARC), Countrywide Securities, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc., and WAMU Capital (WAMUQ). According to Herring, nearly 40% of the 785,000 mortgages backing the 220 securities that the retirement fund bought were misrepresented as at lower risk of default than they actually were. When the Virginia Retirement System ended up having to sell the securities, it lost $383 million.

The mortgage bond fraud claims are based on allegations from Integra REC, which is a financial modeling firm and the identified whistleblower in this fraud case. Herring’s office wants each bank to pay $5,000 or greater per violation. As a whistleblower, Integra could get 15-25% of any recovery for its whistleblower claims.

A judge has approved an $8.5B mortgage-bond settlement between Bank of America (BAC) and investors. The agreement should settle most of the bank’s liability from when it acquired Countrywide Financial Corp. while the financial crisis was happening and resolves contentions that the loans behind the bonds were not up to par in quality as promised. Included among the 22 investors in the mortgage-bond deal: Pacific Investment Management Co., BlackRock Inc. (BLK), and MetLife Inc. (MET.N). Under the agreement, investors can still go ahead with their loan-modification claims.

The trustee for over 500 residential mortgage-securitization trusts is Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BK), which had turned in a petition seeking approval for the deal nearly three years ago for investors who had about $174 million of mortgage-backed securities from Countrywide. Now, Judge Barbara Kapnick of the New York State Supreme Court Justice has approved the mortgage-bond deal.

Kapnick believes that the trustee had, for the most part, acted in good faith and reasonably when determining the settlement and whether it was in investors’ best interests. However, she is allowing plaintiffs to continue with their claims related to loan-modification because, she says, Bank of New York Mellon Corp “abused its discretion” on the matter in that even though the trustee purportedly knew about the issue, it didn’t evaluate the possible claims. Also, the judge said that it makes sense for this one-time payment because it was evident that Bank of New York Mellon was worried Countrywide wouldn’t be able to pay a judgment in the future that came close to the $8.5 billion settlement.

According to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Countrywide Securities Corp. (CFC) will pay $17 million to settle residential mortgage backed securities claims. The settlement includes $6 million to be paid to the Commonwealth and $11.3 million to investors with the Pension Reserves Investment Management Board. Countrywide is a Bank of America (BAC) unit.

Coakley’s office was the first in the US to start probing and pursuing Wall Street securitization firms for their involvement in the subprime mortgage crisis. Other RMBS settlements Massachusetts has reached include: $34M from JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), $36M from Barclays Bank (ADR), $52 million from Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), $102 million from Morgan Stanley (MS), and $60 million from Goldman Sachs. (GS).

Meantime, a federal judge is expected to rule soon on how much Bank of America will pay in a securities fraud verdict related to the faulty mortgages that Countrywide sold investors. A jury had found the bank and ex-Countrywide executive Rebecca Mairone liable for defrauding Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae via the sale of loans through that banking unit. The US government wants Bank of America to pay $863.6 million in damages. Mairone denies any wrongdoing.

Class action securities plaintiffs, led by the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System, have settled their mortgage-backed securities lawsuit against Countrywide for $500 million. This is the largest federal class action MBS securities case in the US that has been resolved to date, even exceeding the $315 million settlement reached with Bank of America’s (BAC) Merrill Lynch (MER) last year.

Per the investors, Countryside, which was acquired by BofA, sold them billions of dollars in MBS certificates that were backed by defective loans. Toward the end of 2008, nearly all of the certificates were relegated to junk bond status.

The plaintiffs allege that offering documents for the mortgage-backed bonds failed to disclose that Countrywide was ignoring its own guidelines regarding home loan originating. In their consolidated class action securities case, investors sought over $351 billion of the Countrywide MBS that had been downgraded after the subprime collapse in 2007. (A district judge would go on to narrow the mortgage-backed securities lawsuit to $2.6 billion in bonds and Bank of America was dismissed as a defendant.)

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has decided that investors can sue Bank of New York Mellon (BK) over its role as trustee in Countrywide Financial Corp.’s mortgage-backed securities that they say cost billions of dollars in damages. While Judge William Pauley threw out some of the clams filed in the securities fraud lawsuit submitted by the pension funds, he said that the remaining ones could proceed. The complaint was filed by the Benefit Fund of the City of Chicago, the Retirement Board of the Policemen’s Annuity, and the City of Grand Rapids General Retirement System. The retirement board and Chicago’s benefit fund hold certificates that 25 New York trusts and one Delaware trust had issued, and BNY Mellon is the indentured trustee for both. Pooling and servicing agreements govern how money is allocated to certificate holders.

In Retirement Board of Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of City of Chicago v. Bank of New York Mellon, the plaintiffs are accusing BNYM of ignoring its responsibility as the investors’ trustee. They believe that the bank neglected to review the loan files for mortgages that were backing the securities to make sure that there were no defective or missing documents. The bank also allegedly did not act for investors to ensure that loans having “irregularities” were taken from the mortgage pools. As a result, bondholders sustained massive losses and were forced to experience a great deal of uncertainty about investors’ ownership interest in the mortgage loans. The plaintiffs are saying that it was BNYM’s job to perfect the assignment of mortgages to the trusts, certify that documentation was correct, review loan files, and make sure that the trust’s master servicer executed its duties and remedied or bought back defective loans. Countrywide Home Loans Inc. had originally been master servicer until it merged with Bank of America (BAC).

The district court, in granting its motion, limited the lawsuit to the trusts in which the pension fund had interests. It also held that the fund only claimed “injury in fact” in regards to the trusts in which it held certificates. The court found that the certificates from New York are debt securities and not equity and are covered under the Trust Indenture Act. The plaintiffs not only did an adequate job of pleading that Bank of America and Countrywide were in breach of the PSAs, but also they adequately pleaded that defaults of the PSAs were enough to trigger BNYM’s responsibilities under Sections 315(b) and (c). The court, however, threw out the claims that BNYM violated Section 315(a) by not performing certain duties under the PSAs and certain other agreements.

BNYM says it will defend itself against the claims that remain.

Bank of NY Mellon must face lawsuit on Countrywide, Reuters, April 3, 2012

Judge Rejects Bank Of NY Mellon Motion To Dismiss Countrywide Suit, Fox, April 3, 2012

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Citigroup to Pay $285M to Settle SEC Lawsuit Alleging Securities Fraud in $1B Derivatives Deal, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, October 20, 2011

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Bank of America Corp. has agreed to a record $335 million settlement to pay back Countrywide Financial Corp. borrowers who were billed more for loans because of their nationality and race, while creditworthiness and other objective criteria took a back seat. All borrowers that were discriminated against qualified to receive mortgage loans under Countrywide’s own underwriting standards.

The settlement is larger than any past fair-lending settlements (totaling $30M) that the US Justice Department has been able to obtain to date. Countrywide was acquired by Bank of America in 2008.

According to the Justice Department, Countrywide charged higher fees and interest rates to over 200,000 Hispanic and black borrowers while directing minorities to more costly subprime mortgages despite the fact that they qualified for prime loans. Meantime, the latter were given to non-Hispanic white borrowers who had similar credit profiles.

Not long after bowing out of talks over a possible $25 billion dollar settlement between state and federal officials and the country’s largest banks (including Bank of America Corp, Citigroup, and JP Morgan Chase & Co.) over alleged foreclosure abuses, California’s Attorney General’s office has subpoenaed BofA as part of its investigation into whether it and subsidiary Countrywide Financial employed false pretenses to get private and institutional investors to purchase risky mortgage-backed securities. By walking out of the negotiations on the grounds that the banks weren’t offering a big enough settlement, the state of California has given itself the option of arriving at a larger settlement.

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has called the proposed settlement “inadequate” for the homeowners in her state. She has also has set up a mortgage fraud strike force tasked with investigating all areas of mortgage fraud.

Countrywide is credited with playing a role in the housing boom and its later collapse because of subprime loans it gave clients with poor/no credit histories, mortgages that let borrowers pay such a small amount that their loan balances went up instead of down, and “liar” loans that were issued without assets and income being confirmed. Also, a lot of the most high-risk loans were bundled up to support private-label securities that became highly toxic for investors and banks.

Meantime, Federal and state officials are trying to get California to rejoin the larger talks. Just this week, they presented the possibility of helping troubled creditworthy owners refinance their loans. California’s involvement is key for any deal because the state so many borrowers that owe more than the value of their homes, are in foreclosure, or are running behind on mortgages.

New York, too, has backed out of the group—a move that proved to be another blow for negotiations, as well as for the Obama Administration. Officials from other states, such as Nevada, Delaware, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Kentucky, have also expressed worry about the breadth of the settlement and whether all potential misconduct has been investigated.

With its acquisition of Countrywide in 2008, BofA has sustained high losses over settlements as a result of its subsidiary’s loans. According to the Los Angeles Times, these settlements include:

• A promise to forgive up to $3 billion in principal for Massachusetts Countrywide borrowers
• $600 million to former Countrywide shareholders
• Billions of dollars to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae over buybacks of bad home loans
• $8.5 billion to institutional investors over the repurchase of Countrywide mortgage-backed bonds
• $5.5 billion reserved for mortgage bond investors with similar claims

California reportedly subpoenas BofA over toxic securities, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2011

California Pulls Out of Foreclosure Talks, Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2011

More Blog Posts:
$63 Million Mortgage-Backed Securities Lawsuit Against Bank of America is Second One Filed by Western and Southern Life Insurance Co. Against the Financial Firm, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, August 29, 2011

Federal Home Loan Banks Say Countrywide Financial Corp Mortgage Bond Investors May Be Owed Way More than What $8.5B Securities Settlement with Bank of America Corp. is Offering, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 22, 2011

Bank of America and Countrywide Financial Sued by Allstate over $700M in Bad Mortgaged-Backed Securities, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, December 29, 2010

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In the State Supreme Court of New York, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has fled an objection to Bank of America proposed $8.5 billion mortgage-backed securities settlement. The FDIC, which is the receiver for failed banks and owns the securities that the settlement is supposed to cover, says it doesn’t have sufficient information to assess the settlement.

Per the agreement, Bank of America would pay to resolve claims brought by investors of mortgage bonds from Countrywide Financial Corp., which the investment bank acquired in 2008 for $4 billion. Already, the claims related to the Countrywide MBS has cost Bank of America over $30 billion.

The $8.5 billion securities settlement with Bank of America is over $424 billion in mortgages from Countrywide and was reached with 22 institutional investors, including:

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