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Economy

Taibbi Again: The Witness That Cost JP Morgan Chase $9 Billion

Matt Taibbi brings you a story of JP Morgan Chase and a witness who, he says, cost the bank $9 billion. They were willing to pay that much just to keep Alayne Fleischmann from giving her testimony in court.

Fleischmann is the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion (not $13 billion as regularly reported – more on that later) to keep the public from hearing.

Back in 2006, as a deal manager at the gigantic bank, Fleischmann first witnessed, then tried to stop, what she describes as “massive criminal securities fraud” in the bank’s mortgage operations.

In late 2006, not long after the “no e-mail” policy was implemented, Fleischmann and her group were asked to evaluate a packet of home loans from a mortgage originator called GreenPoint that was collectively worth about $900 million. Almost immediately, Fleischmann and some of the diligence managers who worked alongside her began to notice serious problems with this particular package of loans.

For one thing, the dates on many of them were suspiciously old. Normally, banks tried to turn loans into securities at warp speed. The idea was to go from a homeowner signing on the dotted line to an investor buying that loan in a pool of securities within two to three months. Thus it was a huge red flag to see Chase buying loans that were already seven or eight months old.

What this meant was that many of the loans in the GreenPoint deal had either been previously rejected by Chase or another bank, or were what are known as “early payment defaults.” EPDs are loans that have already been sold to another bank and have been returned after the borrowers missed multiple payments. That’s why the dates on them were so old.

In other words, this was the very bottom of the mortgage barrel. They were like used cars that had been towed back to the lot after throwing a rod. The industry had its own term for this sort of loan product: scratch and dent.

When Fleischmann and her team reviewed random samples of the loans, they found that around 40 percent of them were based on overstated incomes – an astronomically high defect rate for any pool of mortgages; Chase’s normal tolerance for error was five percent. One mortgage in particular that sticks out in Fleischmann’s mind involved a manicurist who claimed to have an annual income of $117,000. Fleischmann figured that even working seven days a week, this woman would have needed to work 488 days a year to make that much. “And that’s with no overhead,” Fleischmann says. “It wasn’t possible.”

Oh. You have to read this. And see this interview of Taibbi and Fleischmann:

 

If you thought India was where the big guys got away with phone calls, winks and nudges, America’s not too far behind.

The problem really, is that we aren’t willing to let big banks fail. But yes, this would be a great time to start.

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  • DJ says:

    The most disappointing thing about the crisis, was not the behavior by banks (which is kinda expected) but the spinelessness or complicity of the Fed/SEC/Attorney General, etc. Which is why… more regulation or change in rules (unless it is clear and precise regulation like Glass Steagall) to put more power in bureaucracies would be an even worse outcome. Its been disappointing to not see any verdicts (rather than settlements). There needs to be a change in the law to force a verdict.