New York State attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Steve Linick, the inspector general supervising Fannie and Freddie and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) have joined forces giving the NY AG access to documents and depositions taken by the FHFA Office of Inspector General as part of its investigation into mortgage and securities fraud perpetrated against Fannie and Freddie. As Yves Smith at naked capitalism points out this is a “well deserved slap in the case to the Department of Justice”:
I’m not certain of the precise scope of powers of the FHFA inspector general. But typically, federal inspector generals have limited scope of action. They can only subpoena documents and cannot subpoena witnesses. And, of course, they are not prosecutors and cannot launch cases. The theory of IGs is that if they uncover something unsavory, they’ll hand it off to the Department of Justice. But as a former IG has pointed out, the DoJ does not take case leads from the IGs unless they are fully fleshed out, and that is well nigh impossible to do in the absence of speaking to witnesses.
The Department of Justice has AWOL on the mortgage and banking beat, no doubt to avoid ruffling powerful possible Obama donors. Inspectors general are in theory independent, and on top of that, the FHFA is an independent agency and is not running the Administration playbook (I’ve been told by people involved in bank regulation that Geithner has tried pressuring FHFA acting chief DeMarco to no avail).
So what does the FHFA inspector general do, certain that Eric Holder will ignore any misdeeds he finds? Turn to another prosecutor who can bring cases that can bring cases that are national in scope.
According to Shahien Nasiripour writing for the Financial Times this alliance could “make it easier for authorities to bring fraud charges against Wall Street companies”.:
Investigators will be able to share documents and findings, and pool resources, according to people familiar with the co-operation agreement. It was signed in recent weeks by Eric Schneiderman, New York attorney-general, and Steve Linick, the inspector general supervising Fannie and Freddie as well as the Federal Housing Finance Agency , the regulator responsible for the two taxpayer-owned home loan financiers.
The collaboration escalates Mr Schneiderman’s probe of about a dozen banks and mortgage insurers as part of a broad investigation into whether banks properly bundled hundreds of billions of dollars worth of home loans into now-soured securities sold to investors.
The New York attorney-general is armed with the state’s Martin Act, considered one of the most powerful prosecutorial tools in the country. The law allows Mr Schneiderman to investigate anyone doing business in New York and to bring cases without having to show that the accused intended to commit fraud. State prosecutors need only prove that a fraud was committed, which state courts have defined as “all deceitful practices contrary to the plain rules of common honesty”.
The law allows Mr Schneiderman to pursue civil and criminal probes, and to seek felony criminal convictions. The Martin Act confers broader powers than federal securities laws used by agencies like the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which must show intent when bringing fraud cases. Previous New York prosecutors such as Eliot Spitzer have wielded the law to extract billions of dollars from Wall Street firms for alleged wrongdoing.
In conjunction with with lawsuits from Delaware’s Beau Biden, Massachusetts’ Martha Coakley and Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto, this is really great news. As David Dayen at FDL says “this is an end run around the justice department”:
Recall that Linick has recently come out with some explosive reports, including a report that the GSEs know about foreclosure fraud back in 2003. So that’s a wealth of knowledge from which to draw, and the IG can compel some more of it, though as said above they are somewhat limited. If Schneiderman sought these documents and depositions by himself, federal regulators could have overruled him. Now he can just use Linick as a conduit.
The FHFA, over which Linick monitors, sued 17 banks for securities fraud earlier this year. So you’re almost seeing a consolidation of lawsuits and actions between Schneiderman and a rogue independent housing agency. It’s really nice to see.
Another step in getting justice for homeowners.