Prosecution of Financial Crisis Fraud Ends With a Whimper
One source of great frustration from the financial crisis has been the dearth of cases against individuals over subprime lending practices and the related securitization of bad loans that caused so much financial havoc. To heighten the frustration, I offer Aug. 22, 2016, as the day on which efforts to pursue cases related to subprime mortgages were put to rest with no individuals — save perhaps the unfortunate former Goldman Sachs trader Fabrice Tourre — held accountable.
On that date, the Securities and Exchange Commission settled its last remaining case against a former Fannie Mae chief executive for securities fraud related to the disclosure of the company’s subprime mortgage exposure. The agency accepted a mere token payment that will not even come out of the individual’s own pocket.
On the same day, a federal appeals court refused to reconsider its May ruling that Bank of America’s Countrywide mortgage unit and one of its former executives did not commit fraud by failing to disclose to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that the subprime loans it was selling to them did not come close to the contractual requirements for such transactions.
In December 2011, the S.E.C. publicized its civil securities fraud charges against top executives from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for understating their exposure to subprime mortgages, which resulted in the government taking them over. Robert Khuzami, then the head of the S.E.C.’s enforcement division, said that “all individuals, regardless of their rank or position, will be held accountable for perpetuating half-truths or misrepresentations about matters materially important to the interest of our country’s investors.”
That is not how it turned out, however. Five of the executives settled in 2015 by arranging for modest payments to be made on their behalf by the companies and their insurers, amounts that were never even described as penalties in the settlements.