FHFA Suits Try to Hold Individual Execs Accountable

Jonathan Stempel of Reuters points out something that the press has all but ignored about the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s big lawsuits last week: It’s suing the banks, sure, but it’s also suing individual executives.

Lots of them.

Stempel adds up the names from the lawsuits and reports that the FHFA, which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is suing 131 individuals in addition to the seventeen big banks. Which is important, as Stempel writes in his lede:

By suing 131 individuals in its effort to recover losses on $200 billion of mortgage debt that went sour, the federal agency overseeing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is doing one thing that the government has largely left alone.

It is trying to hold actual people, not just companies, responsible for their roles in the global financial crisis.

You can dispute his implication that the government actually has tried to hold companies responsible for their roles in the crisis, but you get the drift.

The lawsuits don’t target the biggest fish like Alan Schwartz, Dick Fuld, Ken Lewis, or Kerry Killinger—no “household names,” Stempel says. Those guys insulated themselves with some degree of plausible deniability regarding what their underlings were doing.

So who are the people targeted by the FHFA?

One name that stand out is Dan Sparks, who headed Goldman Sachs’s mortgage department and was famously grilled by Sen. Carl Levin, whose report this spring spurred the FHFA lawsuit, over his “shitty deals.”

Stempel points out Jeffrey Verschleiser, who was a mortgage executive at Bear Stearns:

In one case, the FHFA said former Bear Stearns mortgage executive and defendant Jeffrey Verschleiser “forcefully advocated” packaging loans into securities before homeowners started missing payments, triggering default provisions

The FHFA lawsuit says this (on page 80):

(Bear Stearns) executives, such as Defendant Jeffrey Verschleiser, forcefully advocated packaging loans purchased by EMC (Bear’s mortgage servicer) into securities as quickly as possible. In a recently published June 13, 2006 email, Mr. Verschleiser asserted that his office needed “to be certain we can securitize the loans with 1 month [early payment default] before the [early payment default] period expires.” Similarly, recently published documents show that, in or about December 2005, Mr. Verschleiser ordered Bear Stearns’ deal managers and traders to start securitizing all “the subprime loans closed in December for the conduit” by January.

Translation: Verschleiser and Bear were trying to unload loans before they could be red-flagged as fraudulent when a borrower missed the very first payment.

Teri Buhl had more on Verschleiser back in January when mortgage-bond insurer Ambac’s lawsuit revealed his emails (also read Buhl’s April 2010 Atlantic scoop on Bear analysts falsifying loan information to give the ratings firms):

In 2007, when Ambac started to realize something was very wrong with its high-rated bonds, it demanded Bear provide loan-level detail and reviewed 695 non-performing loans in its portfolio. Ambac’s audit concluded that 80 percent of the loans showed an early payment default. This meant they should have never have been packed in the bonds Bear sold and were required to be repurchased. Bear refused, and of course had already been pocketing buyback money for itself from the originators. Bear also never told investors that its auditor Price Waterhouse and Coopers submitted an internal review in August 2006 that this repurchase process was not in-line with its due diligence standards and not typical for the industry. By January 2007, a Bear internal audit also reported the firm had collected $1.7 billion in repurchase claims — a 227% increase over the previous year. Yet Marano’s group of traders continued their double-dip payment scheme and kept selling the toxic loans with full awareness of the poor quality of the due diligence.

Jeffrey Verschleiser even said in an e-mail that he knew this was an issue. He wrote to his peer Mike Nierenberg in March 2006, “[we] are wasting way too much money on Bad Due Diligence.” Yet a year later nothing had changed. In March 2007, Verschleiser wrote to Nierenberg again about the same due diligence firm, “[w]e are just burning money hiring them.”

Then in November 2007, Verschleiser wrote to his risk committee that he knew insurers for mortgage securities were going to have big financial problems. He suggested they multiply by ten times the short bet he’d just made against stocks like Ambac. These e-mails show Verschleiser’s trading desk bragging to firm leadership that he made $55 million off shorting insurers’ stock in just three weeks.

Where’s Verschleiser now? He heads the mortgage department at Goldman Sachs.

We could use some more reporting on who these 131 individuals are. Good for Stempel and Reuters for pointing them out.

(h/t Yves Smith)

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,