By Albert Samaha
By Amanda Dingyuan
By Anna Merlan
By Anna Merlan
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By Tessa Stuart
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Breuer's connection to Freddie Mac is especially troubling. One of the executives at the heart of the global meltdown was Franklin Raines, the CEO of Freddie's older sister, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae). Freddie and Fannie bought and securitized mortgages from other banks at a breakneck pace that fueled the bubble and led to their federal bailouts and takeovers in September 2008. Politically wired—he was Bill Clinton's director of the Office of Management and Budget—Raines aided and abetted the process by orchestrating massive accounting and compensation fraud at Fannie Mae. He paid a small civil settlement and has never been criminally charged. Will the DOJ indict him? That would be a problem for the Obama administration: Although Freddie was set up to compete with Fannie, the two often operated similarly, so an investigation of Fannie and Raines's practices could spread to Freddie, which is not something Breuer or any other lawyer would want for a former client. The Justice Department refused requests from the Voice to interview Breuer and Holder. Asked whether Raines will be indicted, a senior DOJ spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny it.
Obama played the populism card during the campaign, making fodder of Countrywide, then the nation's largest mortgage company and a dominant player in the subprime scandal: "These are the folks who are responsible for infecting the economy and helping to create a home foreclosure crisis—2 million people may end up losing their homes." We are, in fact, north of 3 million, and the widely expected criminal prosecution of Angelo Mozilo, Countrywide's chief during the heyday of predatory home loans, hasn't materialized. Mozilo's case was merely channeled to the SEC for civil sanctions.
The SEC accused Mozilo and two top aides of selling $140 million in stock based on inside knowledge of the riskiness of credit that Countrywide extended while it told investors that the loans were secure. A Mozilo e-mail called one subprime loan "the most dangerous product in existence. . . . There can be nothing more toxic," and another "poison." It would seem as if a criminal securities fraud case could be made against Mozilo and his crew. The Justice Department wouldn't confirm or deny pending indictments, but Mozilo is probably safe. Usually, when there's going to be a prosecution, the SEC refers the case to the DOJ and doesn't press it alone.
You would think that AIG's Joseph Cassano would also be prosecuted for securities fraud. (See The Village Voice's "What Cooked the World's Economy?," January 28, 2009.) As boss of AIG Financial Products, Cassano made ungodly amounts of money by selling credit default swaps (CDS), which were side bets on collateralized debt obligations (CDO) swelled to the gills with subprime-mortgage toxins. In fact, the AIG arm sold so many credit default swaps that it lost track of the number, but they totaled more than the total value of AIG, which was one of the world's biggest companies. The ensuing collateral calls to satisfy the deals choked AIG nearly to death, triggered the financial crisis of September 2008, and led to the biggest bailout of all: $182.5 billion to keep AIG afloat as an 80 percent government-owned company.
A grand jury was reportedly convened to look at Cassano. Again, the DOJ won't confirm nor deny the existence of a probe, but given the remarks of Cassano's lawyer, F. Joseph Warin, in September, the grand jury probably exists. Warin said that his client was cooperating and that AIG had known about all of Cassano's deeds. Will the Justice Department seek to indict AIG's leadership, including its CEO, chief financial officer, and boardroom audit committee? No comment.
You have to go back to the Bush era for the only real prosecution related to the subprime crisis. Two Bear Stearns hedge fund managers, Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin, are accused of securities fraud for not telling investors in 2007 about the shaky nature of their fund—based on subprime mortgages—before it collapsed. While the act was typical of the times, the two are far from the top rungs of Wall Street, and there seems to be little else going on in the justice process. Elite white-collar defense attorneys report no clamor for their counsel from major financial managers. Regulators talk of no demand for their services and for evidence from prosecutors. As they say in the trade, there's no "buzz."
So far, then, the common person has reaped little relief. Well, maybe clearer credit card statements, plain-vanilla mortgages with slightly less fine print, and probably some "green" infrastructure jobs. But these have been slow to come on stream, and, so far, there is no great morality-based thrust as there was in the New Deal with the WPA, CCC, AAA, and TVA, the labor-intensive alphabet soup of that era that was fed to the bottom first. About a billion dollars have been dedicated to putting and keeping "cops on the street." Remember the poignant vignette during the State of the Union address in which Obama talked about saving 57 police jobs in Minneapolis? Well done and warranted, yes, but keeping the public safe from financial criminals is another story: The administration and Congress have failed to bulk up white-collar fraud enforcement with either new FBI agents or new forensic specialists.